Day 4- Bangkok, Thailand- December 31, 2007

Morning brings me bright eyed and bushy tailed...another night of blissful sleep-Sweet! also brings us the last 3 of the group, Ted, Jilbert, and Steve. This is the first time I'm meeting these guys but they're friends with Helen, Mo, and Eric. Sometime after breakfast someone, I'm not sure exactly who came up with the idea, decided we should check out a longboating tour. I was game, as everyone else was. So we congregated in the T.A.T. and set up our little tour. About 20 min later we headed on our way to the pier to board the boat for a 2 hour tour of the canals of Bangkok. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, for we one took a route that there weren't 10 thousand other boats sightseeing, and there wasn't a guide blasting 'to your left is blah, blah, and if you look to the right is xxx'. I really dislike those kind of tours. It was one of those things that you got to see life lived. Kids batheing in the river, clothes on clothes lines drying, what we thought were birthday parties, but come to find out a little later they were just getting ready for New Year's parties, house boats, and even a women selling produce from a boat. Steve decided that he wanted to flag down this boat and purchase some fruit. He ended up getting some oranges and tamarind. I've had sauces made of tamarind but I've never actually had the root by itself. Delish. It kind of reminded me of a tart gummy candy. The oranges were phenom also, not your average FL or CA variety, sweeter close to a manderin or tangerine. We finished up on the water and were going to head the the Golden Palace. I guess in the package we booked we had our own personal guide, pretty cool. Problem with heading straight to the Palace was, there's a strict dress code to enter and not everyone was dressed in proper attire. So we had to make quick pit stop back at the hotel so anyone that needed to change could change. Steve and Jilbert decided to drop out so they could souviner shop, the rest of us forged on.

Ah the wonderous Golden Palace aka Disney theme park or any overly crowded tourist trap. Don't get me wrong it was definatley a beautiful sight with the ornate details constructed on the buildings as well as the illustrious Emerald Buddha, but personally I could have done without it. Not for nothing once you see one wat you've pretty much seen them all. After we left "watmania" we strolled down to a ferry that took us to yet another wat. On the way we made sure to grab a coconut, chopped open to drink some coconut milk and some fabulous little pancake looking things the size of a dollar coin. Oh course we had to keep an eye on Steve since he was on a spree to stop at all the little vendors and pick up the most random food items. At some point I think he must of had a dozen different things. I tried a few, one of them being a mangosten. I've never heard of such a fruit but it was one of the best tasting things I'd had by far. I can't remember what the other was, maybe because it wasn't good. After a joyous day of temple scaling and monk spotting, we tuk-tuked it back to the hotel to get ready for the NYE 07 extravaganza.

By the time we got back, it was getting pretty late. We still needed to shower and get gussied up, and I really was in need of a nap. It had been a long day-between the sun and walking to & fro, I didn't have too much juice left. Alas there wasn't enough time to get in the seista, making me quite cranky to say the least. We decided that we'd all meet in the lobby at 7p, so we could get dinner before partying it up. Now you'd think that the 3 girls would be the one's running late, we have so much more to do to get ready. Oh no we were ready long before the boys. So that said we did not leave @ 7 like we planned. From this point on in my book things began to get on the chaotic side (Note:this is my point view and experience...others may not have felt this way) We found out that we wouldn't be able to take a cab to the place we were going since the many of the roads were shut down...we were informed that we'd have to take a cab to the skytrain(subway) to our final destination. No problem. Because there were 7 of us we had to take 2 cabs, again no problem. Cab #1 contained myself, Helen, Eric, and Jilbert. Cab #2 contained Mo, Ted and Steve. Problem #1 we lost cab 2 somewhere in the mix. We got out waited and looked around for where the cab may be. No sign of them anywhere. Problem #2 Mo and I decided that we'd just take 1 purse between the two of us...she had the purse with all my money. Issue #3 we didn't have a exact place where we were going, just a vacinity. Oh and none of us had phones except Mo who had her "crackberry" so we could contact another friend that was supposed to meet up with us later. With no way to contact one another, and no sign of one another, my group decided to forge on to the skytrain to the final stop...praying that we'd happen to bump in to the rest of the group somewhere in the midst of everything. Walking around eyes open searching, we bumped into a baby elephant being paraded down the street. It was so cute, but quite disturbing to see this poor animal being put on show in the middle of the city. While trying to figure out how we were going to reunite, it all of the sudden hit me, duh, Mo has the "crackberry", we just need to email her and tell her where we are. Now we have to find an internet fitting as I say it, in front of us is an internet cafe...PERFECT! We get in touch and reunite with group#2. Yay! Now we've wasted a good amount of time in this moment of insanity, I'm starving which makes my crankiness escalate. We find a place to eat dinner. Things at this point downspiral for me. Now the boys have been drinking for some time now, making them a bit rowdy. At the restaurant a few of them begin to be in my mind rude and obnoxious, since I was sober and not ready to start drinking I think that this made it a little untolerable for me. Also I have huge pet peeves when it comes to unruly behavior in service place being that's the field I work in. Almost ready to call it a night because I was honestly just pissy, Mo and Helen talked me down from the ledge and I decided to not celebrate the evening at the hotel.
On to Bed Supper Club to ring in the New Year. This was discussed that we'd 99% be going here, which is an upscale nightclub. More problems arise. Jilbert forgot to bring an ID, something that he could have, with a bit of cash, remedied. And Ted was wearing flip flops, something that I pointed out before we left, but he didn't pay attention to me, money was not going to solve this one. Oh boy! I wasn't in any mood to deal with this. Helen assured me that that was their problem and we going in with or with out them. Jilbert managed to get in and Ted apparently found some random person and traded shoes with them...I wasn't asking questions. Inside was perfect except, alas more issues, the place was enrobbed in smoke. I started to have a hard time breathing and again wanted to leave. I stepped outside and and tried to get some fresh air. I managed to sort of get passed my bad mood and stay to sip champagne into 2008. I did have a few more downs of the night but honestly I'm done harking on them because it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to spend NYE in an exotic local and I did have fun once I let things go.
HAPPY 2008!!!!
*Apologizes go to my friends Helen, Eric, Mo, Ted, Jilbert, and Steve for my unpleasant mood this night. I'm so sorry guys!*

Day 3- Bangkok, Thailand-December 30, 2007

Last night was honestly the best sleep that I've had in ages. I don't know if it was because I was a bit sleep deprived from travel or I was truly able to relax, either way it was fantastic. I woke up at the crack of dawn with an attempt to work out (yes I realize that I'm on vaca but I can't help it). I wanted to run outside except the air quality and amount of traffic deemed to be a bit hazardous so I opted to try out the little fitness center in the hotel. That didn't work out as well as I had hoped. I'm guessing that the voltage conversion for the treadmill was not enough for me to run and it shut the machine down. Oops, so much for my plan B. I forwent my workout regimen and had breakfast instead. In that time my friend & roommate for the Bangkok duration, Mo, had arrived to the hotel. I was hoping to have a partner in crime to explore, except she was beat from her wild and crazy adventures prevailing her arrival to the city. So while she slept I set off on Plan C for my workout, walk excessively. Success!

I started off just taking in the sights then out of the blue some man starts to hold a conversation with me. In good spirits and knowing that the Thai people are super friendly, I let him talk. That my friends was mistake #1. He asked if I had a map, was telling me these stories about Thailand and the king, pointed out on my map where I should go, filled in a few extra places that I should visit, yada, yada, yada. He proceeded to tell me that the government for today only was paying for the gas for the tuk-tuk drivers because it was holiday, but it had to be a specific tuk-tuk, and the price was only 20B for 2 hours. Wait low and behold there's that specific tuk-tuk, magically appearing by my side, ready to take me to the sights. And that was one of the scams you are warned against. Me wanted to immerse myself in just going with the flow didn't realize this until after the fact. They tell you some cock-n-bull story then the tuk-tuk drivers take you jewelry stores, tailor shops & tour places(T.A.T), where they receive a commission. Then the driver lets you out at a wat(temple) and says that he has to go before the 2 hours are up. Okay so it's honestly not that bad and I don't regret it but it's still a scam no matter how you look at it. My first stop of the scam was "The Lucky Buddha", well come to find out later, there is no such buddha. I do believe however the temple is real, but who am I to know, I fell for the story in the first place. Off to stop #2, the tailor shop. I walked out with an order for custom made cashmere blend dress pants. I don't think that the guy in the shop was all that happy since I had started off with 3 pairs of pants and a dress, then he showed me the price and that was nixed very quickly. He was a hard seller, but I was able to stick to my guns and I think if I attempted to I could have had the price slashed more. I ended up paying 3500B (appx $105) I do feel that it was a good investment considering I have a really difficult time finding pants to fit my muscular thighs and small waist, they were made for me. I was measured and set up with a fitting day, then I was on to the next stop. My #3 brings me to a T.A.T. station. T.A.T. is a tourist help place, they are everywhere in Thailand. They help out tourist set up hotel reservations, tours, and any bookings that you may need to do that you don't want to deal with yourself. A super useful outlet. I knew that I wanted to go to Chiang Mai after the New Year but since I wasn't such a great planner before I left, I never set anything in stone. That and my friends changed their itinerary a few weeks before the trip, so originally we'd all go to Chiang Mai together, then they decided to go to Burma. Being more hassle than I wanted to deal with I stuck with flying by the seat of my pants. The T.A.T. was my booking savior. My agent Tong set me up with a sleeper train to and from, a hotel for the first night, and a 3 day 2 night trekking tour through the jungles of Northern Thailand. All this including most of my meals cost me 4500B. I didn't have to lift a finger, just told Tong what I wanted and she took care of the rest. Finished up there and was taken stop #4 and the finale of the scamdom, The Golden Mount. This is an enormous temple that to get to the top you climb somewhere around 2500 steps. It was an awesome veiw and the relics inside were amazing.

S0 after taking it all in I had to find my way back to the hotel and I had no idea where I was. I certainly wasn't going to take a tuk-tuk again, so I brought out the map (there was no use in trying to hide the fact that I was a tourist, seeing as I'm not Asian and I stuck out like a sore thumb) and attempted to figure out which direction I needed to go. Roughly 2 hours, 3 monuments, a dozen failed attempts at scams, an iced coffee, and a very hungry stomach I found my way back to the hotel.

Oh and the scammers I figured out all had the EXACT same opener "Hi! Where you from? What your name? Where you go? How long you in Thailand? You need help finding place?" It's like they have a manual which they learn only those broken English phrases. I was tempted at some point to start speaking in another language because I'm pretty sure that the only other language they knew was English.

When I got back to the hotel Mo was up. She too was hungry so we ventured out together in search of food and she wanted a massage. By now I was an expert at the area. Or atleast I could semi navigate my way around with the landmarks. We stopped at a street side stall/restaurant to enjoy a late lunch. We moved along in search of the Thieves Market as well as the Flower Market in Chinatown. A few turn arounds, flips of the map, and deciphering street signs, we found the Thieves Market or atleast that what we thought it was. Interesting is the least of what you could call this street market. I guess if you need something random you come here and hope that you find what you're looking for, since there's no rhyme or reason to the stalls. They were selling things like jigsaws, outdated remote controls, books, plenty of fake bags, you name it it was probably somewhere in the chaos. Here I begin adventure with trying odd foods. Starts off with ice cream, no ice cream is not unusual but this wasn't just plain ice cream. It had bits and chunks of, well to be honest I have no idea but it was yummy. We ate it in a cone, but there were rolls (bread) that people use instead of cones. I love bread but that seemed a tad bizarre. Next up mango, again not just any mango, an under-ripe mango that was super tart. Accompanying it was what looked like a sweet sugar, turned out to be sugar/salt/dried shrimp & chilies. I wasn't up for trying that one again. We also had a few pieces of some random dried fruit. I was done for the day on experimenting. Last thing I wanted was to get sick after only being in a place for 1 day. Our main search was to find the Flower Market, which is boasted to be best at night and an amazing sight. Well we didn't find the market. Between the 2 maps we had there wasn't a clear and concise direction. We walked, and walked and came up short. At one point we found ourselves at what looked like a highway, our only choice not to walk on to the freeway was to cross it. We were standing in a punchline- Why did the 2 American girls cross the busy road? To get to the other side. We had an audience on the other side probably taking bets on which of us wasn't going to make it. We made it safely across. Definitely a humorous event.

That was enough adventure for the day so we set off back to the hotel, to meet up with the rest of the gang that was slated to arrive later in the evening. While waiting for the arrival of our friends we went to get a fruit smoothie and foot massage next door. Sweet! After we finished up Helen & Eric had made it safely to the hotel. Perfect timing since it was dinner time and I was...imagine this...hungry again! We settled at the place next to the hotel where I had had dinner the previous night. Good food and good friends...what more could someone ask for. We finished dinner when for a short stroll to up the street, got ice cream again (Hey, I needed to satisfy my wretched sweet tooth and Eric wanted it too), and then called it a night. What a long day!

Day 2-Bangkok, Thailand-December 29, 2007

I have finally arrived at my destination after a long 10 1/2 hour flight from Paris, my total fly time from Boston was 17 hours. It's a 12 hour time difference ahead of the east coast. I'm a bit tired but overall not really jet-lagged. I make my way to immigration, thinking that I'd be able to go through 20 min no problem, yea that was totally not the case. I waited in a cramped and sweltering line for an eternity. There was no rhyme or reason to the form of this "line", it was a mass of hundreds of people pushing and shoving and touching each other with their sweaty bodies. It was so disgusting. To add to the drama of everyone trying to fight their way to "finish line", some girl puked all over the place. I gladly did not see it happen, because I think if I had I just might have done the same, but none the less no one came to clean it up, not that I think if they tried they wouldn't have been able to get through the chaos. People were still so resilient that they didn't care, stepped over the poor girl and her vomit to push their ways even more. After standing at a stand still for an hour, I looked behind me and saw that the masses had somehow dissipated yet the mass in front of me was not moving, then I looked to left and saw that there was a clearing. So I picked up my bag and followed left to clear defined lines that seemed to be moving at a more rapid pace than those down the center. I waited for about another 30 min and finally passed through immigration. It is now 3:30p, I deplaned at 1:15p. You do the math, not fun. I find the taxi stand, remember reading in my guide book to look for specific people that will translate where you are going for the taxis in Thai and make sure that they turn on the meter. Even though I have a printed map of exactly where the hotel is and the driver had been given the address in Thai, the man says he doesn't know where it is. Isn't it a prerequisite to know the city if you're a taxi driver. 40 min and 450 Baht later(which I forgot to tell him to turn the meter on which consequently meant I was over-charged) I made it to the hotel. I finally got to take a shower and change clothes, after 2 days of smelling like lord knows what. It was the best feeling, though the shower wasn't as hot as I would have liked it be, thankfully not cold either but still one of the few western amenities that I will come to realize that are all too taken for granted. After the whole immigration ordeal I didn't have too much left in me, but I couldn't spend the rest of my day in the hotel, so I strayed slightly askew and took a few pictures. As I was heading back to hotel I stopped at a place advertising foot massages and Thai massage (as the days progressed I found that they were everywhere) for super cheap, I couldn't resist so I stopped in and had the most amazing massage. It was great because it wasn't one of those caress and rub softly, instead it was prodding and stretching the muscles and limbs in every which direction that they would bend. Sounds torturous, and in some ways it is for the normal person, but for me it was fantastic since I have a hard time trying to find a masseuse that can break the knot that is my body. I was refreshed and cultured in an hour all for $5.62. Yea, no where in the US will you find a massage for that cheap, willingly. It was now dinner time, so time to have my first authentic Thai meal, and what better place to try out the cuisine than in a road side, or in this instance an alley side, eatery. I've honestly never seen so many street restaurants. There are tables and chairs chilling on the side of the road and the food is cooked out of the front of the "house". If I saw a place like these in Boston or anywhere in the US, I'd definitely think twice if not more before I sat and ate there, but here it's honestly the best place to find the best and freshest food. Though I opted for the simple route and had chicken with basil and the ever popular Singha beer, it was fantastic and I was done for the day.

Day 1-Paris, France-December 28, 2007

I left yesterday night for the start of my vaca to Thailand, which happens to be my very first overseas trip and first vacation longer than a week. It's also the first NYE since 1999 that I haven't worked. My layover lands me in Paris, France. I know that that is going the complete opposite way that everyone goes to get to Southeast Asia, but it was the best price that I found and I get to stop in Paris. My options were shorter flight, more layovers in so so places, & more money or little bit longer flight, 1 awesome layover place, & cheaper ticket...I went with the later for those reasons, and the fact that I have a tad bit of an obsession with the French/France. Normally connection flights are a couple hours, you sit and walk around the airport, it's all basically the same, nothing super exciting. My flight to Bangkok however wasn't leaving for 13 hours, which leaves me with a superb amount of time to mosey on in to the city. Of course that's exactly what I did.

I land at the airport at 6:30a, it was a 6 1/2 hour flight. Not jet-lagged. I love red-eye flights and the fact that I'm an insomniac and can get away with very little sleep. Sweet! I grab a map to the city, figure out which way to immigration, stand in immigration line for 20 min, get my passport stamped, and then head to the bus stop. I decided to take the Roissy bus, it was only 8 euro and would take me just as long to get into the city as the other options but cheaper.

The bus gets into Paris about 8a and drops me off at the Opera House. Since I've never been to Paris I had no idea where exactly I was, so I took a look at the map on the sly since I hate looking like "the tourist", might I add that minus the fact until I start to speak I look like the typical Parisien, and walk along to find the major sites. I had no plan except to wander to infamous landmarks and have breakfast & lunch in a cafe. It was overcast, still dark out (the sun didn't come up until 9a, assumingly since there's no such thing as daylight savings in Europe) and about 10*C. After being turned around a few times my first monument that I found was the Place de la Concorde. I finally took my camera out fighting the urge to look super cheesy and touristy. My love of taking pictures and not wanting to leave a beautiful place with no documentation won that battle. I did however keep my camera hidden in the pocket and only took it out when the moment called necessary. I realized that a few hundred feet away and a quite a few crosswalks to cross was the renowned Avenue de Champs-Elysees, it was quite a remarkable street/avenue. At this point I was staving and had been walking for an hour, so I decided to make it my mission to find a cozy cafe for some breakfast. I found one near the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, off a side street. I was excited and nervous to attempt my franglais, despite taking about 7 years of French, I'm only able to throw out a few catch phrases, but I was successful in executed one of them..."Je voudrais un cafe noir et un pain au chocolat, sil vous plait" -I would like a black coffee(espresso) and a chocolate croissant, please. So proud of myself, that is until a little old man entered and then proceeded to have a conversation with me. Ah oui that's when I put my key phrase to work..."Je ne comprend pas. Je parle anglais"- I do not understand, I speak English. So much for my little French act, I was caught. I finished my petite de'juener then headed off into the unknown again. I found a bridge that when you looked to right just over the tops of the tops of the buildings you could catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. It was an awesome sight because since it was an overcast day the top of the tower was fogged over and all you could see the middle part of it. Seeing as I really wasn't super keen on going to the monument itself, I took it for what it was worth, a great photo opt.

I found my way back to the Champs-Elysees, to but of course find some shopping. I was kind of bummed because when I arrived to the shops were, they were all still closed. I'm so used to things in the US opening no later than 9a during the week that I assumed Paris was the same. Nope shops didn't open until the earliest 10:30a most 11am, it was only 10. So off to more wandering for me. Found the Arc de Triomphe, continued walking down random little streets, at this point I wasn't searching for any big monuments, just wanted to take in the beauty of just being in a beautiful city, and to kill time before the stores opened. Finally it was 11 and I could SHOP! First stops were synonymous with French- Louis Vuittton, Dior, and Hermes. I was in heaven, even though all these are in Boston, they just don't even hold a flame to the one's here. I was so dead set on buying something while I was here. Though I had a complete urge to spend ridiculous amounts of money, I decided to hold off and wait until my return trip since I was afraid of losing something while I was in Thailand. It was tough but I think the right choice. After a bout of window shopping, I was getting hungry again. Once more I went on the search for a place to have a bite to eat. It wasn't hard to find since it was lunch time and that is the meal the French revolve around. I was hungry but I really didn't want to sit for a 5 course meal, so I opted to grab another espresso and a baguette with ham, cheese, and oddly butter, from a small cafe. Phenomenally yummy! I ate then strolled down some more random streets, stopped at what else but a chocolate shop, La Maison du Chocolat, and purchased a divine treat. It was about 1:15p and I decided that I probably should head back to the airport, since I didn't know how bad traffic would be and how long it would take me to go through immigration or security. I unwilling found my way back to the Opera House and took the bus back. I realized when I flew through immigration and security and it was only 2:30p, that I came back too soon. My flight didn't depart until 7:45p. I could have stayed for at least another hour of so and taken in more sights. Oh well I guess that means that I'll have to go back.

So going the opposite was by far the best decision I could have made. Who would have thunk it. So glad I did!