Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thailand. We did it.

Kent and I thought we would avoid the whole Thailand affair while we were in southwest Asia. Anyone who calls themselves a backpacker travels Thailand and we're not the type to do the popular things just because that's what people do. HOWEVER... we loved Thailand, despite the massive hordes of tourists and the all-too-frequent sightings of old,white men with young, gorgeous Thai girls. There still is a lot to discover in Thailand, if you can accept that you won't be the one discovering it first. 

We posted a video of the sleeping train to Bangkok. The Beds Master can fix a bunk bed or slam it away in under 3 minutes. Amazing. Too bad for Kent that in the Beds Master's haste, Kent's neck pillow was torn. Previously, they had not been friendly with one another, but actually noone was friendly with anyone (if that makes sense) since the air con in our train car with out of order. That's 15 sweaty hours, 8 of which we were supposed to be sleeping. We booked out hotel for the first night in Bangkok so we could come into town and rest. It had air con and a shower and some cable TV so we were feeling pretty good. Later in the evening, I noticed that our decorative bed runner had an unfortunately identifiable stain on it. It was from a previous patron's "One night in Bangkok, duh, duh, DUH. duh.duh-duh...." (ick- if you know what I mean). Kent to the rescue. He got us a new runner and free buffet breakfast in the hotel's restaurant. Does the end always justify the means? You be the judge.

We found another room for the rest of our 6 days in the Khaosan area, the backpacker zone. $5 per night, barred window, fan and shared bath... our usual modus operandi. We enjoyed travling up and down the river via river taxi. We visited temples and palaces and in the end of it all, we were totally exhausted. A 2-hour Thai massage brought some life back into our bones but we knew we needed some city respite. We think we managed to escape unscammed in Bangkok, but time will tell. 

After Bangkok, we trained up to Chiang Mai and immediately hopped a minivan to a small placed called Pai. Pai has an incredible view of surrounding valleys and a plethora of streams and rivers. It's an ideal place for farming and permaculture in this area is really catching on. We stayed 6km south of the town, at TacomePai. It's a permaculturists paradise. You eat on bamboo trays, with bambook chopsticks and spoons and drink out of bambook cups. Sleeping under thatched roofs and atop bamboo framed beds. Please note the bambook theme. Lucky us, there was a workshop going on so we met people from all over the world. We also helped harvest the sticky rice!! That was one big goal for the trip. Rice. We also rented a motorbike and bombed around the mountain ridges and valleys in our off time, of which there was plenty. 

Free buffet breakfast.
We'll take away many lessons from our ThaiTime, like the cheap stuff in SE Asai is the cheapest in Bangkok and at the best quality. And like, BYOB (bring your own bedding... which we did). And like, Japanese Hippies are super AWESOME!! We met a few JH families in the northern Thailand area and I now belive that we are meant to dwell with JH for the rest of our lives. Evan or Julia, if/when you work in Japan, you know what souviner I want most. A whole village of Japanese Hippies, please.

Sweaty Kent, on the train to Bangkok.
A date night.
Street vendors + pad thai + Traveling Hutchu's = Happy Times

Wat Po
It's tastes WAAAAAY better than it looks.
River Taxi sinage.

You can see Buddha's toe prints! Another mystery revealed.

Happy Birthday to me with cake!

Kent at the gas station.

Harvesting cafe berries.

The flatware.

Giraffes for Nana.

"Bed-time for bonzos."

Thanks Koko, Yello and Tara for sharing so much with us.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Sa Bai Dee from Vientiane, Laos

For those of you who have followed our travels you will have noticed that it seems that we have forgotten to share about our 2 weeks in Thailand. We enjoyed ourselves so much in Bangkok and Pai that I entirely forgot to take any video. I have a few photos... but the rest will live on in our memories. To recap: We have traveled from Singapore to Kahang, Malaysia to Bangkok, Thailand then to Pai, Thailand. From Pai, to Vientiane, Laos and now I am currently writing from Hanoi, Vietnam. 

We will be Vlogging out of order because this video is about our time in Vientiane, Laos. I think you are all aware of how beackwards we can be sometimes.

While we were in Malaysia, Kent arranged for us to volunteer at Sunshine School in Vientiane, Laos, the capitol of Laos. From northern Thailand, in a town very near to Myannmar, we took a minivan ride to Laos. 12 hours later, we passed through immigration and landed ourselves a room for sweet deal. Didi, the Buddhist sister who Kent had been coordinaitng with, suggested the place. $56 USD/ month. Less than $2 a day! We decided we would stay for only 2 weeks but $4 is still a bargain. After a week of sleeping in a teak covered, sauna-like room we decided to slurge. We changed to a $7/ night room that had a private bathroom, 2 fans, a fridge and a kitchen sink. We were living the American dream, in Laos.

Simlutaneouly, I was asked to teach my ơwn class of 8th graders at the school, so I was feeling a little stressed out. After that first week, something clicked and we found a groove at the school and in the new apartment. The mural Kent came up with was a huge hit. He chose to incorporate endangered animals of Laos; the sun bear, the painted leopard, the touc (monkey one), the saola (the deer one) and the red panda. Students and volunteers worked on it and in the end, I think its awesomeness even surprised Kent.

As a super-bonus, we spent some good time learning about Buddhism and yoga as a life practice. We went from feeling very uncomfortable to refreshingly free. One of our last meals followed a group meditation session a Didi's (a sister) home. We were with 2 volunteer friends, 2 'sisters' and Filipino teachers who were apart of the practice as well. It was one the of most delicious vegetarian meals we've ever had and we will work diligently to re-create it once we're stateside. It was memorable for many reasons.  

Over the weeks we were there, we got to know the teachers and other volunteers, who all have incredible stories that inspired us. There was also a full moon festival at a temple, That Luang. It's the móst revered temple in the country and the stupa is said to contain Buddha's ashes. In November, on the full moon and the week leading up to it, there ís festival with food and music. I went the mổrning of the full moon to seeing the alms giving to the monks, which in turn are for the gods of Laos' Buddhism. Wherever there are giant groups òf people who are practicing a faith in something, it feels like a whole lotta power. We are very grateful for the whole experience. We continue to learn hơw to be the kind travelers we want to be.

Fun Facts:
Laos population 6.288.000
Wisconsin population 5.711.000
Laos surface area 236.800 km2
Wisconsin surface area 170.000 km2
Vientiane capitol population 210.000
Madison, WI capitol population 237.000

Begin the mural

There was an England project and for a few lessons,
the students made models of Nessie.

Nessie project

Babies on bikes EVERYWHERE! This is not special to Laos.
This tranportation practice is common throughout SE Asia

New friends from Madagascar. They speak French and
we speak Spanish so our friendship is only inevitable, no.

Alms giving around the That Luang stupa

Completed mural

Teacher room

Us and Didi Lee

Kent and Jock Teacher