Land of the Tuk Tuk
The hardest thing about travel, especially long term travel, is separation from the people you love. This week I received news of the unexpected, and much too soon, death of a friend back home. As we crossed the Andaman Sea my thoughts were squarely focused on the loss his family and close friends would be experiencing and felt completely helpless. This tragic event also helped to solidify our reasons for doing this trip now instead of "waiting" for a better or more convenient time. To coin the trite phrase: Shit Happens. Within the same week others back home have had a death or illness enter their lives. We are lucky to be healthy enough and financially able to undergo this journey and am reminded everyday of this fact in the discussions we have with fellow travelers who have experienced similar things.
The last couple weeks have also brought us great joy. MJ's eyes have continued to improve, allowing us to venture out more. We have made our way to Thailand and spent time in Krabi and its surrounding islands, and the northern city of Chang Mai. Some of the highlights of our time in Krabi were the great night markets, an Italian Restaurant that rivals any I have had to date, and a sunset cruise that turned into a monsoon cruise.
We began sailing from the north eastern part of Phuket Island into the Andaman Sea on a small schooner captained by a crusty old man, Captain Mark, who checked off every cliche in the book, he even had the corn cob pipe and white beard, sans mustache. Turned out he was a great guy, a transplant from Australia who married a Thai woman 15 years ago. His company, Phuket Sail Tours, was one of the best rated in the area and for good reason. He ran a simple operation, keeping the guest numbers small and staying to the least "touristy" areas. The crew and staff consisted of family and a small number of young locals. We swam and dove off the boats roof for a coupe hours before swimming into a small cove on a deserted island to have some drinks and snacks. The clouds began rolling in soon after and before we knew it was pouring. We made our way back to the boat to have a traditional Thai dinner which was cooked on board and floated around the rain while we ate and traded stories with the other guests and Captain Mark. We didn't get to see the sunset that night, but I have seen enough of those in my life...this was much more memorable.
While in Krabi (at the Italian joint of course) we struck up a conversation with the owner. We were leafing through a magazine and came across information for the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng Festivals. We decided to visit Chang Mai to experience the festivals as the northern part of the country tended to be more traditional and the celebrations more authentic. We couldn't be happier with the decision. The sights and general feeling of those around us can not be described in words or photographed properly. We were among several hundred thousand locals and travelers from around the world participating in a centuries old cultural and spiritual event we will never forget. The city of Chang Mai held many surprises for us. We stayed in the old city which is over 720 years old and still has much of the old walls that surrounded and protected it from invaders. Full of Wats (temples), great coffee, small restaurants and even smaller bars and music venues (the North Gate Jazz Coop being our favorite), teeming markets of all varieties, and designed with green spaces and water features dotted throughout. It was fun to explore all the nooks and crannies by foot and tuk-tuk as the streets within the old city wound around and sometimes ended unexpectedly. You never knew what you might find by turning down a narrow, one way street: cock-fights, soccer playing monks, Thai Elvis impersonators, and fashion photo-shoots. Chang Mai is one of the few places I have found on our journey which I would consider living in. After about a week in the city we decided it was time to check out the rural areas as Chang Mai sits at the foothills of a large chain of mountains. We hired a guide to take us trekking in the jungle, visiting mountain tribes, deserted villages, and hidden waterfalls along the way. We also spent time at a elephant park which neither of us were keen on at first but it turned out to be ok...the animals were treated well and were loved by their caretakers. What I found more disturbing was the small village of the so called Long Neck Tribe who lived in a small, walled off section of the camp. The men apparently worked in the camp while the women and children stayed at home to sell trinkets to visitors. As soon as we entered the village I wanted to leave...it felt like we were violating their homes and not at all what I expected when told we were going to visit a hill tribe village. I carried my camera as always, but quickly put it away as I felt like a voyeur. I only snapped a photo when one of the women said it was ok. We finished the day with a hour long float down a river on a bamboo raft...I couldn't help but think this is what Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn felt on their adventures down the Mississippi...only 12000 miles away.
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