High-class Backpackin’

Ahh, another day in Chiang Mai.  But what to do with it?  Sadly, this would be our last day in this great city before heading to Bangkok to catch our flight west.  We had done quite a few activities during our stay in Chiang Mai, so we decided to take it easy on this day.  First stop: breakfast.  We meandered our way over to the Peppermint Coffee House, which had some pretty good reviews on our friend Trip Advisor.  After enjoying some oversized American-style breakfasts and a quick (but short-lived) scooter-driving lesson for Nanner, we decided to make a run to the post office.

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First, we went back to the hotel and downsized our backpacks by separating all our souvenirs and otherwise useless belongings into a pile.  Each time we decide to ship stuff home, I have to fight the urge to send just about everything back.  I’d say we did pretty good in terms of packing only things we really want or need, but when you are on the road for this long, you always find you can use less.  So, along with my newly bought sueng and other gifts, I tossed my green sweater into the pile making the trek back to the Americas.  We gathered up all the dead weight and carefully drove our crap over to the post office.  Going to the post office in Thailand is always moderately confusing, but once you figure out what’s going on, it’s a surprisingly pleasant experience.  Those Thais sure know how to pack stuff up and get you out the door.

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Aside from shipping a few things home, we only have three additional requirements for the day: we need to figure out how to get to Bangkok, we need to get our asses to gym, and we need to offset the progress at the gym with more street food.  We had checked out different flights from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and decided against that mode of transportation.  We figured we could get a train or bus much cheaper and by doing so we would have traveled sixty-odd days around southeast Asia using only ground transportation…an arbitrary, but honorable achievement!

We first scoot our way over to the main train station to check out our options for the Bangkok-bound trains.  After missing our turn a few times, we finally locate said train station and discover all the seats on the earlier trains are full and the next available train would get us in too late.  Shucks.  In our experience, the trains are a bit more comfortable than the night buses, but nothing we can’t handle.  So, using our handy tourist map, we point our scoo in the general direction of the bus station and head out to get lost again!  After a few minutes of aimlessly turning down streets to find the station, we spot a car full of Thais and luggage and bet they are headed to the same place.  So, we turn around and creep behind the car and…behold!  The bus station!  Maybe we are getting the hang of this whole travel thing.  Within 5 minutes, we have booked our final leg of our southeast Asian adventure.

With bus tickets in hand, we head back to the old city just in time to drop off our beloved scooter.  She served us well.  Next stop: the gymnasium!  … Hold your criticism, good sir/madam!  Of course, you must be asking: “Why the hell are you going to the gym!? You are on a vacation of a lifetime!?”  Sure, maybe that Negative Nancy response is valid for people on a 9-day vacation, but we are on a 9-MONTH expedition!  When you straight outta’ Boulder and haven’t been very physically active in three and a half months (and all you eat is delicious sitr-fried foods all day), an hour at the gym sounds about right. Plus! This isn’t just any ole’ gym.  It’s a secret gym Alex told us about.  It has a pool, a sauna, yoga classes, and mojitos! It’s at the top of a classy hotel (Duangtawan Hotel Chiang Mai), where scrags like us are usually forbidden to enter, but since we didn’t have our backpacks we were able to sneak our way in.

We paid the entry fee of 9ish dollars (i.e. an exorbitant amount of money) per person and went to town.  After  getting a deep-burn from doing so many bicep curls (…I don’t know if you heard…I did over a thousand) we hit the pool outside on the roof.  Quite refreshing indeed. Once we had sufficiently pruned hands and feet, we had time left for one more activity: yoga.  Now Nanners is pretty excited, since she is an avid yoga enthusiast.  I, on the other hand, have attended one yoga class…for beginners…in English.  This yoga class, come to find out, is for Thai-speaking contortionists and acrobats.  After an hour of me flopping around on the ground, we have survived.  Anna is throughly stoked, but I’m not sure if I did more harm than good to my body.  An experience nonetheless.  Moving on!

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Last on the daily Chinag Mai checklist: a goodbye street-food meal.  We tuk tuk ourselves from the hotel back over to the street market for some delicious stir-frid noodles and Thai teas.  Mmmm.  Always so good.  Always so cheap.  Just before we head back to our hotel to pick up our belongings, we spot the mysterious-pancake-corn-ball lady!  We had seen this lady a few times before, but had yet to try her ball-shaped delights… Anyway, the food is just how it sounds: a pancake-like batter with cooked corn kernels poured over some type of modified waffle-maker-thingy that produces these delicious, sweet, corn-filled balls, with a molten center.  Man, they are good.  If only we tried them sooner…

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(Don’t you just love how unnecessarily long my blog posts are…I’m not even half done…)

To Bangkok!  We arrive at the bus station 20 minutes early and await our transport.  As we sit there, we begin to notice that these buses are pretty damn nice.  We realize, up until this point, we have always booked our bus tickets indirectly, either through our hotel or a travel agent.  Typically, we don’t go directly to the bus station because we either don’t have time or we don’t know where to go.  Normally (i.e. in Amurica), this wouldn’t be a problem, but in a place like Thailand where everyone is trying to make a dollar off of tourists, booking through a middleman is a recipe for (a) discomfort and (b) overpayment.  Twenty minutes later, our ride rolls up and we board this luxurious stallion of a bus.

A nice gentleman takes our bags, then a BUS attendant shows us to our seats.  A man.  Hired. To attend to bus riders.  Awesome.  Within minutes we are on the road and have been given snack boxes, complete with cookies and juice boxes.  I was perfectly content just eating my snacks while watching the second Hobbit on my personal television, but then the bus attendant came over to my seat.  He then proceeded to press a button on the side of my chair.  Could it be? I reached over Anna to press the button on the side of her chair: “What are you doing?!” she exclaims, “Just wait,” I reply…friggin’ massage chairs!  On a bus!  We couldn’t be happier.  We continued to watch our movie until we fell asleep…roughly 10 minutes later.

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Waking up in the wee morning hours to a Bangkok cityscape was bittersweet: bitter because we had to leave our massage chairs, which were still churning away at our soft back parts.  Sweet because even more luxurious things awaited us.  What I forgot to mention before now is that we decided to splurge on our last night in Thailand before we headed to the substantially less luxurious slums of New Delhi the following day.  You know that five star hotel in the movie Hangover 2 (you’d be forgiven if you hadn’t see that awful movie)?  Well, we booked a night there.

We scrape the crust from our eyes, deboard our bus, and start the usual banter with tuk tuk drivers and the like.  Unfortunately for us, our bargaining power is substantially reduced when you are asking someone to take you to a five star hotel.  So, after a few minutes, we give up and opt for a metered taxi: something we have been avoiding due to the abundance of taxi scams in Bangkok.  Continuing our usual penny-pinching behavior, we ask to be dropped off at the Bangkok light rail, so we can go the rest of the way to the hotel on the cheap.  Perhaps saving, hmmm, 2 dollars?  Once we get off the light rail, we still have a few blocks to go before we arrive at our skyrise palace.  On the way we see dozens of small family owned shops and businesses starting up for the day.  We stop at a tea and coffee stand to grab our last Thai tea before entering the hotel that we have no plans on exiting before our flight the next morning.

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There we were: in the lobby of the Lebua Bangkok Hotel.  Sweating profusely.  Still carrying our massive and stained backpacks.  Slurping the rest of our Thai teas from their plastic containers.  “We have a reservation!” we say.  We are told the Bangkok Homeless Shelter is just down the road….just kidding, they were very accommodating.  We are soon asked if we would like to upgrade to a room on the higher floor, which would also include “free” drinks and food in the Tower Club.  It takes some convincing, but Nanner gets onboard the high-class train that I’ve been riding since Chang Mai and we are sippin’ Mai Tais in no time.

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Let’s be real now. Our room.  Is pretty dope.  Fifty-odd floors up, with a view of the entire Bangkok skyline.  Keep in mind, it’s still only about 10AM, so we have minutes to spare until we can’t get that included breakfast buffet.  As I’m sure you know by now, that is not something we intend to miss. So, we soak up the view for 5 minutes and get the hell outta’ there to grab some omelets.  Dude.  Let’s talk about this buffet: it was awesome.  Fresh baked goods, eggs, omelets, yogurt, cereal, Thai curry, coffee, tea, juice, the works!  You want honey?  Oh, just go over to that table where they are currently draining the honey from a slab of fresh honeycomb into little tiny serving bowls.  You want bacon?  Head over to the other side of the room where a man will ask you how many slices you want then roast them over a open flame before gingerly placing them on your plate.  We stayed well past the normal closing time.  All the other normal rich folk were gone and we were left with the cleaning ladies and our plates of bacon.

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Now since we were already are off schedule with our late breakfast, we only have an hour or so before we need to run to the playa’s club and grab our free drinks and hors d’oeuvres before it ends.  Luckily, we have the bare essentials necessary to meet the dress code at the playa’s club, which includes pants and closed-toed shoes (or open-toed shoes that don’t make you look like poor backpackers).  We cruise on in and order some cocktails and dive into what looks like much more than hors d’oeuvres.  Two drinks and another whole buffet meal later, we return to our room quite uncomfortable.  But there is no time for discomfort when you are living’ the good life.  So, we put on our swim suits, suck in our guts, and head down to the pool for a refreshing dip.  We lounge for a bit, read our books, and before you know it, it’s time for round two of drinks and snacks up at the playa’s club.

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Our final activity for the evening was to head to the roof where they shot the famous scene from Hangover 2 and take in the sights.  We hoped to reenact the scene by shooting a few photos of me and Anna looking distraught and staring off into the Bangkok sunset.  Apparently, this is not only done constantly, it is very much frowned upon.  Upon exiting the elevator with my tripod, I am asked to leave the tripod with the hostess at the rooftop restaurant.  I reluctantly agree, as it appears I have no choice.  As you head out onto the rooftop near the stairs, there are at least four hotel staff making sure no one takes pictures of or even stops on the stairs where the movie scene was shot.  Man, minus points for Lebua.  Anyhow, the rooftop is awesome and full of people.  The skyline lights up as the sun goes down and it’s right about then when Nanners and I decide to call it a day.  We head back to the room and make final preparations for our early morning departure to New Delhi, India.

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