Thursday, April 9, 2009

At Least it Happened on the Way Home. . . .

The night-bus back to Bangkok was a bit depressing as all the people shared stories about where they were off to, with Ko Phangan being the favorite of our group.

We arrived in Bangkok back on Khao San road and immediately fell asleep.
We only had a few hours left before we had to go to the airport, so did some last-minute shopping and repacked our bags. We now have our original two backpacks, my daypack, a large black duffel bag, a white/pink roller suitcase and matching smaller bag, Leslie’s daypack bag, the “northface” bag from Hoi An we used to carry our suits and a larger backpack to use as the “carryon” for the plane. Believe it or not, we got all our stuff into the duffel, suitcase, two backpacks and carry-ons so we do not have to pay a fine :)
We were a sight with all of the bags being carried at once with the two of us. Finally, the “where you going?” and “buy my suit” lines dissappeared. Instead we got “going home?” and “have good flight”.
Our negotiation with the taxi driver showed how far our negotiating has come. It was obvious we were going to the airport and knew the price should be 400. I asked him how much and he said “650″.
“How about 600?” he replied. “How about 400?” I asked. “550?” he tried. At that point we left Leslie with the bags and I went to look for another taxi. “400 okay” he then said.
We knew that the “red shirts”, which are a political group supporting ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra were supposed to be protesting that day, so we left rather early. Thaksin had called for protest on that specific day. I think he was just trying to screw us up ;)
The “yellow shirts” are their opposition and had shut down the airport a few weeks before we came in and as a result we were nervous about what we’d see.
Turns out there were some scattered red shirts that were very peaceable. Our driver was wearing a red shirt as well. He warned us that it would take awhile due to the massive protest. I think he hoped the protests were larger than they were.
As a result, we got to the airport VERY early. It’s a good thing too. We checked in and got some food. About two hours before the flight we went looking for our gate.
One of our tricks for keeping the weight of our checked baggage down was putting the heavy stuff into our carry-ons. My carry-on now weighs more than my entire pack in Chaing Mai. As a result, we had a cart to push around our backpacks. The cart was like one of those small shopping carts at the grocery store. There was an advertising panel on the side of the cart. It was shaped kind of like the letter “D” except half the width. The corners on top and bottom were abou 40% angles and “held on” by screws.
Leslie said “come here”, so I turned and dragged the cart behind me over towards her. Suddenly, the advertising sign became disengaged on the bottom, swung forward and caught me on the right side of my ankle sinking 3/4 of an inch in and almost to the bone. Ever had someone run into your heels with a shopping cart? It was like that except instead of a bar it was more of a blunt knife. The impact was enough that it knocked the sign the rest of the way off the cart.
I did okay at first and checked for our first aid kit, which we’d conveniently checked. I saw an information booth and limped over, standing in line. We got to the front and the woman got me some cotton swabs and alcohol. I started providing pressure while on my feet and then slowly sunk to the ground. Then, the parade started.
First, a manager for the airport showed up. He took one look and made a phone call. The someone from the airport hospital showed up with a wheelchair. At first I didn’t want it, but quickly realized it was necessary.
The four of us were off to the internal airport hospital. We were joined by two nurses and soon a doctor. I was rather impressed with the efficiency as the nurse quickly started cleaning the wound. A few minutes later the doctor showed up and said I’d need to be sutured. He asked Leslie if she had problems with blood. If so she could leave. I asked him if she could stay and I could leave.
The wound isn’t very wide, but pretty deep. I don’t know how many stitches I ended up with but I think it’s two layers of three or four. First, he gave me a shot right on the ankle-bone to numb the thing, That hurt.
After the stitches he asked where I was from. I told him I was from the US and he said that US insurance usually doesn’t cover people for more than 1 month overseas. He then stepped outside to look something up and when he returned, he informed me that Bankok airport would pick up the tab.
I hobbled out of the room, trying to walk and noticed that the crowd had multiplied to about 15 people. A nurse was presenting a wheelchair, which I again was grateful for.
There was about 5 people from the doc’s office, two nurses and a few administrators. There were representatives of Bangkok airport who were getting prepared to whisk us across the airport. There was representatives of Asiana. One I recognized as manager of the check-in counter and a few I didn’t recognize. They informed me that they’d hold the plane for me. (WOW!)
There were a few guys I didn’t know where they were from, but I think one was from the legal department judging by his clothes. Suing over something like this is not our style though, it was a random accident as far as I’m concerned and when the manager asked me if there was anything else he could do I said that he could make sure it didn’t happen to anyone else.
Finally, there was Sepawot (or something like that). He was maybe 50, wearing some sort of fancy uniform that looked to me like a mark of authority. He also was talking, making everyone laugh and basically acting like a good manager. He got me some water and made sure there was a motor vehicle coming. He was constantly rubbing my shoulders, which I think was supposed to be comforting but was really kinda weird. Leslie still had the original cart and someone had gotten another cart that had the bottom part of the advertising sign disengaged like ours was right before the incident.
After the nurse had given me directions for the meds (anti-biotics, anti-swelling, pain) they whooshed us into the motor-vehicle and took off across the airport. We made it with about three minutes before scheduled takeoff.
Unfortunately, this leg of the flight was full, so I could not elevate my foot and as a result this was an incredibly painful flight. However, Asiana did their best and would help me as much as possible. Too bad extra customer service couldn’t remove the pain.
Have we mentioned how much we love Asiana Airlines? The next thing that absolutely blew us away was the fact that they put us up in a free hotel because our layover was more than 8 hours. Big thanks to Ron, whos’ my Seattle Sounders FC buddy from for tipping us off about that.
We got off the plane and they again had a wheelchair waiting for me as Leslie carried all of our extra-heavy baggage. They whisked us into a mini-van to the hotel with eight others from the flight. Once we realized that one guy was from Renton and another from Lacey we decided we were again surrounded by Cascadians of the Pacific Northwest and it was time to stop telling everyone we were from Seattle, as others now knew where Bellingham and Lacey were.
The hotel was BY FAR the nicest hotel we’d seen this entire trip. It had a flat-screen TV with HDTV, a computer inthe room, a shower with eight shower heads and an electric steam room. To top it off, everything was Korean, which is definitely part of the first world. As a result, there were odd things happening every once in awhile. When I turned on the light switch a video game “you’ve turned on the nintendo” type noise started. Turning the lights off at night produced a “game over” type noise.
I was still in a great deal of pain and Leslie doesn’t sleep well on train, planes or automobiles, so we hit the sack for a few hours before taking advantage of the free buffet lunch.
Pride is definitely a down-fall of mine and I continued to try and get myself around as much as possible. This was at odds with the staff of the hotel who wanted to push me everywhere. Eventually, I did okay at resigning myself to the fact that I should allow them to do their job.
We then came to the realization that we had “misread” our itinerary. We thought we were going to land on the 8th, but it was actually the 9th. I’ll claim that it wasn’t my fault because the guy who we changed the flight with didn’t speak much English.
Me: “What time do we land?”
Airline guy: “You confirmation number is CN392002″
Me: “No, when do we get to Seattle?”
Airline guy: “You confirmation number is CN392002″
Me: “Thank you.”
I called Dad and he said that they’d figured it out as it was already 10pm on the West Coast. We felt really bad, but there wasn’t much we could do. Aunt Lynn made me feel better because she said my Uncle Bill (who’s traveled all over the world, and quite often) has made the same mistake.
The hotel and airline did a tag-team of helping me get to the plane as Leslie hoofed all of our carry-on items along.
Fortunately, this time the plane wasn’t too full so both Leslie and I got three chairs to lay down and I could elevate my leg. I could again see strangers talking and about half the accents were ours. The amount of beards had multiplied, people were being friendly and talkative for no good reason and I saw a few pairs of birkenstocks. When I heard an Asian man speak with our accent I knew we were almost home.
Funny enough, when we got off the plane in SeaTac, Mr. Huong who worked for the airport rushed to help me. He was born in Vietnam but lived in West Seattle and loved talking about our experiences. He had been here for about 15 years, but used to live by the Mekong Delta. “How much is pho now?” was his first question.
It took awhile to get our baggage, but it wasn’t too bad. Customs were really easy, too. It was more difficult than most of the Asian countries, but not as bad as we expected. That could be because I was in a wheelchair though.
We hopped in SeaTac Airport’s underground train and whisked off to reception. Leslie went marching up the stairs as I heard a “WOOOOOOOOOOO!” that was obviously Mom as I waited for the elevator. I shared it with a woman back to the war who had an “I REALLY don’t want to go look on her face.” I wished her luck.
As we came around the corner I saw Mom and Aunt Lynn holding and waving Seattle Sounders and chatting with Leslie. Everyone had a big smile on their face.
After getting the stuff in the car, Mom rushed us to the thing that we missed most about the USA . . . . . Mexican food.
We absolutely loved the trip and will do something similar again in the future, but it’s really good to see family and friends again.
I’m heading to the doc today to get my ankle checked out. Also, big news for those who haven’t heard is Michael asked Jenn to marry him in Hawaii so my l’il sister will soon be a Boehm.
This is likely the last blog entry until we get ourselves out on the road again. Next up is finding a spot to live in Bellingham, returning to work on at RidgeStar for me, job hunting for Leslie and the wedding in August.

Thanks for reading and we love you all!
Sawasdee, khrap,
Bryan and Leslie

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Elephant Nature Park

After Pai we went back to Chiang Mai for three more days of relaxing and visiting the Elephant Nature Park. It was a bit expensive to spend the day here, but the money was well worth it. 100% of our money goes towards the benefit of the elephants.

The Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for endangered Asian elephants who were previously abused or neglected as domestic elephants. There are really no laws or regulations for elephants in Thailand. Owners can work elephants for long periods of time during the day for logging, transportation, trekking, and elephant street begging purposes.
We arrived at the park around 9 am and met several volunteers and staff who taught us a little more about the elephants and why the foundation is important to them. I was a little disappointed because the founder, Lek, was not there that day. She was at the Thai/Burma border looking at elephants to take back to the sanctuary. Lek has been in several documentaries about the work she has done for elephants. She was actually born into one of the hill-tribes in Northern Thailand and can influence the thinking of many of the Thai people in the hill tribes that have a long tradition of  initially abusing the animals during the process of “domestication.” We watched a documentary about this and it was incredibly hard to watch. Basically, they put the elephants in a small looking cage and are continuously abused by several people from the tribes until they start obeying the owners commands. Elephants are incredibly intelligent creatures and can feel emotion. At the end of the domestication process, the elephant was crying and had  wounds everywhere. Many people in the world have not seen this process, but it was all filmed in one of the documentaries. I had to look down a couple of times as it was hard seeing these intelligent and kind animals treated in this way.
If you visit and you can learn a little more about the elephants living at the santurary and how they got there. You can also understand what Lek and other volunteers are doing on a daily basis to try and change the way these elephants are treated in Thailand.
Basically, we spent the day feeding the elephants buckets of bananas (they eat 1/10 of their body weight), playing with them in the water and helping bathe them (basically pouring buckets of water and scrubbing them), and observing them during the day (including playing in the mud with the other elephants.) It was an unforgettable experience.
It was nice to see these massive and intelligent mammels living in their natural habitat free from chains and working. Basically, they are at this sanctuary to recover from abuse and live the rest of their life in peace.
I will never forget this experience.
See you all soon,

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The End of the Road: Pai Land

So we spent another few days in Chaing Mai, which were an absolute blast. It should be noted that the reason wasn’t becaus we did anything very special, but because we stayed at an amazing hostel and met some great people. 

“Hostels” in much of the world are communal, with dorm beds and large, inviting guest rooms.  Throughout Asia, the hostels have been more like guesthouses, which tend to have people sequestered in their room as opposed to herded into communal tv-watching, dining, cooking and chilling locations. 
Julie’s Guest House is the coolest place we stayed in so far.  The room wasn’t special besides it’s price (180 baht / $5).  There was three large common rooms where people would discuss the benefits of various treks (hikes), elephant adventures, cooking classes and the like.  There are three common rooms at Julie’s and we spent many hours chit-chatting in the common room with new-found friends from across the globe. 
Throw in a massage and a visit or two to the bazaar and that was a few days before we headed off to Pai (pronouced like “pie).
Pai’s a small community of 3000 people in the northwest corner of Thailand.  For us, this is also the end of the road as we have decided that there’s not enough time for Mae Hong Son and instead we’re heading back to Chaing Mai and Bangkok before the flight home. 
The place is known for trekking (what “hiking” is known as by the Thais and Europeans) so we immediately signed up for a two day trek.  The trek was filled with very high highs and very low lows.
It began with us meeting our crew, Mai from China, Nichola from Switzerland, Christian and Charlene from Quebec, Canada (French-Canadian) and something like “Louth” who was French, but living in New Caladonia.  Our guide was Chuh, who was born in the Lisu tribe and lived in Pai.
Chuh was a blast and made the trip worth it.  He spoke the language of both tribes we visited, Thai, English and some French.  At the end I even whipped out some Spanish on him and he made a joke en Espanol. 
We began in the back of a pickup truck and headed about 30 minutes west of Pai, about twenty minutes from the Myanmar (don’t call it Burma) border.  We started with about a hour and a half hike and headed into a Lisu village.  There are six (give or take) ethnic minority village in northeast Thailand.  The most common throughout the rest of the country are the Akha, who are always coming up to people in Bangkok and trying to sell wooden frogs.  The best known world-wide are probably the Karen, whose women lengthen their necks with golden bands. 
Anyway, our first stop was Lisu, where we were given some noodle soup that was pretty good and got to watch the goings on around the village.  It’s interesting being in a tour group for one of these things because it’s interesting to look around, but we’re definitely not part of the local customs, can’t speak the language and can barely interact with the locals, who probably aren’t interested in talking to us anyway.  As a result, our interaction with the villagers was mostly with our guides who were of a few different groups and Chuh’s family.  His sister married a man from the Lahu village, which is where we stayed there.
The first thing I noticed was that all the huts were pretty sturdy, usually with 2-3 rooms and an open area.  Bathrooms were squat toilets, but there was running water.  Chuh attempted to keep up the appearance of rustic living but I could catch glances of him text-messaging and the solar-panels and satellite dishes stuck out.  Yes, the “hill tribe” had solar power and satelite TV. 
We then checked out a cave that was pretty cool, but would definitely NOT be up to US safety standards.
A few more hours and we found a waterful that we were to camp at.  We went swimming and Chuh and his cousins got to work building a shelter.  I didn’t notice what was happening until I got out of the water, but they were halfway done in fifteen minutes.  Banana leaves covered the roof and floor and the whole thing was up in about a half hour.  Next came tea.  Water heated in a fire in bamboo and poured into bamboo cups.  Dinner was started as chicken was skewered on bamboo as other tubes made a BBQ.  Sticky rice was put in bamboo and steamed along with vegetables.  The entire thing was served in bamboo plates (made by chopping 1 segment in half length-wise).  When it got dark they made candle holders. 
The whole thing turned into the most posh camping experience I’ve ever heard of.  It was a bit rediculous.  I’m usually pretty helpful around a campsite but soon realized that I’d just get in their way. 
That night turned into a nightmare though.  For starters, I had some sort of ear problem, that kept me from sleeping.  I thought my head would explode and I had flashbacks to when I was a kid and my eardrum burst.  After watching fireflies for three hours I finally got a little sleep.
My head was better upon waking, but Leslie had been absolutely eaten alive by some bugs and has had an allergic reaction.  We later counted and discovered 135 (yes, 135) bites.  We did our best to be in good spirits, but with my ear-infection type thing and Leslie’s bites we were a somber pair in the morning. 
Chuh told me to put water in my mouth to warm it up, spit it into my hand and then pour it in my ear as it was something from the waterfall.  I didn’t think it would do anything, but didn’t think it would hurt so tried it and it helped a bit. 
We then hiked on to the Laho village where we had fried rice and saw another hill tribe.  It was interesting, but we really just wanted to get back, with my head ringing and my hands tearing Leslie’s away from itching (she’s done pretty good). 
Two more hours of hiking and we returned to the truck to take us back to town.  We split ways with the group, but have already seen Mai and Nicolas, as the towns quite small. 
We’ve also invested in two large tubes of anti-histimine for Leslie and I’m back on anti-biotics.  We’re going to take stock tomorrow and go to the doc if needed. 
It also seemed prudent to check into a nicer place, which we’ve done.  The place is a “rustic” looking bungalow and reminds me of home, as it’s clean and decorated with dark stained wood.  It has hot water and we were almost fooled into thinking we could be in the States .. . .. . until we saw the 9″ lizard in the shower. We figured we’d leave it alone and it’d leave us alone, so last check it was still there.
Don’t want lizards in your shower?  Tough. This is Thailand.