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Day 0: Dec 30

As soon as I arrived, Tom and Allison wanted to go to McDonald’s on the Democratic Monument circle. Allison, having not had fast food in months ate two fish sandwiches. We caught up a little, then headed to bed. Having no experience in Bangkok, I felt safer walking around at night with both of them than by myself.

Day 1: Dec 31

I woke up at 7:30am, 1.5 hours before Tom's alarm. I stretched and did 30 push-ups before waking up Tom. We jumped on Allison's bed in our boxers to wake her up. Then, it was down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. I had an omelet with bacon and sausage. Tom had Pad Tai, and Allison had a rice dish. The restaurant was really just some set up tables partially enclosed by empty bookcases in building next door, open to the street. We are staying on a little side street just of the Democracy Monument roundabout. There are several feral cats that fight one another outside the front entrance and a dog who I believe belongs to the poor family who operates a street cart on the circle's edge. Almost all the street food in Thailand is cooked over an open flame.

Our plan was to go to Chinatown for the day, but after a nearby tuk-tuk driver tried to scam us, we decided to walk to the Temples instead. The more famous temples around the Royal Palace do have admission fees, but it is well worth it. We saw the Golden Buddha and Giant Reclining Buddha and I took an excessive amount of pictures. “The admission to this temple should come with Glacier Goggles,” said Tom. We stop for some snack/lunch at a street market and that's where Tom and I realized that the Thais REALLY like hot dogs. They dip or drizzle them in spicy Thai sauce and BBQ soy sauce. At all of the temples required bare feet and adequate clothing coverage, so Allison needed a Sharah.

After the temples, we took a tuk-tuk (my first) to Centerworld which is a seven story western style mall complete with restaurants like Dairy Queen and Mrs. Fields. We got ice cream and Tom and I bought some clothes at UNI QLO. A giant Christmas Tree extended upward in the center of the mall. Outside, a band was playing in the square where the Bangkok equivalent of the ball drop would occur later that day. The countdown had already begun on several of the oversized LCD screens when we left to return to the hotel. The tuk-tuk ride back to the hotel was quoted at 200 baht (a metered taxi would be 65 baht).

At the hotel, we caught some air conditioning and played the card game Bao, which filled any waiting/recovery time throughout the trip. We drank almost an entire bottle of Johnny Walker Black to celebrate the new year and then drunkenly walked to a giant field near the temples we visited in the morning. There, tens of thousands of Buddhist Thais were praying; it is good luck to connect the departing and incoming year in prayer in Buddhist culture. At the end of the countdown, many lanterns were launched from the traffic circles and sidewalks surrounding the prayer area. Tom and I looked for Allison, but couldn’t find her. We walked back to the hotel to see if she was there, learning only after that she watched us walk away from the prayer gathering. Tom and I then went to dance and party on Kao San Road into the early morning.

Day 2: Jan 1

I woke Allison up at around 9am and we had breakfast at 10am. This time I went with Pad Thai. Tom was nowhere to be seen. Allison hypothesized him to have met an amazing girl the night before and that he wanted to spend the day with her. I assumed Tom was still somewhere on Kao San Road. Allison and I went to MSB center to see the Hobbit. MSB center is another large mall (8 stories), but is made up entirely of thousands of stalls with street vendors selling things. On the seventh floor is a collection of restaurants and the box office for the eighth floor SF Cinema. Before the movie we had to stand and pay homage to the King’s Anthem. This was a little surreal and really brought to light some of the differences between Thailand’s constitutional monarchy and the USA republic. The anthem was played over a moving picture film of the good that the king has done throughout his life. The Kind is revered in Thailand, not resented and is often the source of political compromise and motivation within the country. After the film, we ate the massive food court (I had my favorite Thai dish - cashew chicken), and then we had some desserts on the first floor before taking a tuk tuk back to the hotel. At this point, we were getting better at bargaining to prices slightly higher than what Thais are used to. Tom was back at the hotel when we returned!

Day 3: Jan 2

This day is missing from my journal, but we spent it in Bankok

Day 4/5: Jan 3/4

In the morning, we walked to Kao San Rd (much to Tom's dismay) and bought train tickets to Krabi Province. Next, we walked to Chinatown, but didn't find it quite as quickly as we thought. In 40 minutes of wandering we found several streets worth of speaker system and asian porn salesmen. We tried to peer pressure Tom into buying a bunch of porn and having his pledges write ratings for them, but he didn't find our suggestion worth the purchase. We also found a vast street market selling textiles, food, knick knacks, cheap electronica, and more on a narrow street converted to a covered bazaar with corrugated metal and plastic. Tom bought a literal ice cream sandwich at the end of the sweaty marketplace. Next, we found a ferry stop where word had got out that people were feeding the fish and the fish were swarming the docks. Finally, we found Chinatown which had shops selling silly baseball hats with cat ears and street food ladies selling grilled squid. Most of Chinatown's commercial market is in the gold and jewelry business. Next was a taxi back to Kao San Rd, then chilling in the hotel lobby for 2 hours playing Bao.

We took a METERED taxi to the train station and bought some snacks for the ride south leaving at 5pm. While leaving Bangkok, we passed through some slums where the poorest people I have ever seen lived. Some lived in abandoned railroad cars and many had pictures of the king in their tiny shacks. On the train, there was a karaoke car and a dinner service, but we used neither. The toilet in each car was a squat toilet that emptied onto the tracks below. The train ride was twelve hours and we had upper bunk 2nd class tickets with a/c. Tom and Allison stayed up late talking about a mutual friend of ours, forgiveness, and Tom's night in Bangkok. Allison and I especially got little to no sleep. When we arrived at a small southern town around 5:45am, we waited for about 20 minutes for a pickup truck converted to carry people in the back to pick us up. We rode for about 45min at 75mph on benches in the open air bed of the shuttle; Tom and I found the experience hilarious. Next, we turned down a dirt road and entered what appeared to be a bus graveyard. "And this is the warehouse where no one hears you scream," Tom joked. The Europeans next to us laughed. We then chilled for about an hour at this poor excuse for a bus/boat station until an air conditioned bus took us to another sketchy bus station in Krabi Province.

At the bus station, the drivers were directing travelers bound for Koh Phi Phi by yelling what came out to be “PEE PEE” phonetically. We were so sleep deprived that we fell off our chairs laughing. “PEE PEE” became our call to one another for the rest of the trip. After another bus ride in the back of an open-air bus and a 200 Baht long boat ride, we arrived at Ton Sai beach. Ton Sai is a climbing Mecca which has very little development and is cut-off from the mainland by a jutting rock feature. We found a rather nice bungalow without A/C and settled in.

Day 6: Jan 5

Today we climbed on either side of Ton Sai beach using a guidebook Tom had. The climbing was really fun and challenging for me, though the ratings were inflated. In the afternoon, we escaped the midday heat by resting on the beach and swimming a little. We ate a one of the few cafes on the beach. That night, we all ate all you can eat BBQ chicken and rice with beer for a few hundred Baht. Tom and I played chess while Allison used the internet. As it turns out, we are pretty evenly matched. With our purchase we were entitled to free shrooms or weed, but we politely declined.

The day started with Tom’s statement, “I want to get a shake at Santa’s workshop.” It took Allison and I a second to recall that that was the name of one of the cafes on Ton Sai. Though we were supposed to go deep water soloing on Day 7, Tom and I got food poisoning instead from the BBQ chicken. Tom’s had actually started the night before, but I kept my food down for about 20 hours longer (which meant I was sick for longer). Allison and I got Thai massages before my sickness kicked in which help relieve a lot of my muscle sores form climbing. That night, heat lighting accompanied my body’s inability to control its own temperature. Tom concluded the day with another thought, “Asia smells and I cannot handle anything hotter than 8 degrees North in the winter”. We needed a break.

Day 8: Jan 7

Too tired to climb, we hiked all around the peninsula today, including East Raleigh, West Raleigh, and Phra Nang beaches. At night, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner struggled to find the rocky trail back to Ton Sai beach. I also bought a gift for Rachel. That night, we took a long boat to Ao Nang, the closest town on the mainland, which happens to be a bit of tourist trap. We booked an air-conditioned hotel room, talked about life, and went out for real western pizza.

Day 9: Jan 8 Koh Phi Phi

We woke up at 8am in our air conditioned hotel and packed-up quickly. By 9:15am we were outside on the curb. We all piled into a sidecar tuk-tuk again and made it to the port on the other side of Ao Nang for 40 Baht each. At the port, we quickly boarded a large boat bound for Koh Phi Phi, a party island in the Gulf of Thailand. We were happy to make the early ferry, but our haste prevented us from applying sunscreen before sitting on the bow of the boat to take pictures (also, the boat was over crowded). Tom and I paid the price. I took a bunch of neat photos on the 45min-1 hour ride, but I was unable to capture any of the jellyfish or flying fish we saw. Upon getting off the boat and recovering our bags, we had to pay a 20 Baht fee for “cleaning the island,” before getting off the pier. Once on the island, we quickly found an Australian we could trust at a local dive shop and asked for the Beta on finding a cheap hotel. Within half an hour, Tom, Allison, and I had nabbed a hotel with three beds, a tv, and air conditioning for $1800 Baht/night. We were very thankful for the air conditioning. We spent the day exploring Phi Phi village which is at the center of the island. We ate lunch at the Irish Pub and dinner at the “1992 Garlic Restaurant,” which I recommend. In the afternoon, Allison and I booked a morning snorkel trip for the three of us on the 9th and witnessed some Thais pouring their grey water through holes in the street. There seems to be an informal or unspoken union among the shop owners here and they all mostly sell the same merchandise. After Tom got a haircut and a shave, we plaid Bao in front of Asian MTV as we did the day before, and then went out to scout the nightlife for partying on the 9th.

Day 10: Jan 9

Today we went on our 250 Baht snorkel trip, and pretty much got what we paid for. A local took about 20 of us around Koh Phi Phi Lei in a long boat for a few hours. The local was 20 minutes late to the boat, our breakfast consisted of two pieces of white bread with runny egg between the slices, and the provided snorkels were few and dirty, floating in the excess water at our feet. Still, we saw the island and didn’t complain too much. The local charged us for the national park fee in addition to what we paid, which was a bit of a scam. One positive that came out of the day was the ability to practice using the underwater camera bag before our second snorkel trip out of Phuket. Afterwards, we went back to our hotel room, showered, and played Bao while watching Korean pop stars on Asian MTV.

That night, we went to club Slinky and the other beach clubs. Allison and I danced in the rain, but Tom’s iPhone initially prevented him from joining us. The locals juggled fire on the beach to attract party-goers. Eventually, Allison and I went to an anchored yacht to hang out and strategize about borrowing an inflatable we had been eyeing. Upon leaving the speedboat for pizza, we discovered a crew member had been sleeping a few feet from us the entire time! It was the walk back that I discovered Koh Phi Phi is a huge attraction for Australians, whose homeland is not far, and many Ausies return to Austria with tattoos they do not remember getting. Every third shop is a tattoo parlor in Phi Phi village.

Day 11: Jan 10

Today was a travel day to Phuket, on the other side of the Gulf of Thailand. When we arrived, Binji had just flown-in from India. He would go on to accompany Allison on the remainder of her travel to Cat Ba. That afternoon we found a hotel, went to 7-11, and relaxed a little bit. We then walked along the famous nightlife road and took and stroll on the beach. Tom and I bought a ton of different fruit to try from a small market

Day 12: Jan 11

Today, we went to beach and played in the sand! I gave in and bought milk and frosted flakes at 7-11 to make myself a massive bowl of cereal.

Day 13: Jan 12

Today we went on the Similian "Fantastic" snorkeling trip we had booked the day before. For 2100 THB (60USD), we got door to door service with a minibus to our hotel and the whole day's activities and food. We were picked up at 6:15am and napped poorly on the 2 hour drive north to a harbor opposite the islands. We then took a very rough speed boat ride for 120 minutes to the islands. We visited every island and snorkeled three times in the crystal clear water. The day included a delicious Thai buffet lunch, tons of fruit and snacks, water, orange juice, coffee, and tea. On the main island we hiked food 5 min up to a rock lookout point and got sunburned staring at the beautiful blue water. By far, the highlight of the trip was the incredible aquatic wildlife we encountered and photographed. On the bumpy speedboat trip back we saw several squid/jellyfish boats setting up their nets for the evening. At the harbor, fisherman cleaned their nets and naval ships sat idle. One of the fishing boats in dry dock had left since the morning. For dinner, we ate at Ned Kelly's again. Allison and I split rice, Pad Thai, and a pork Thai-style omelet.

Day 14: Jan 13

Today we visited the sitting Buddha and an Orchid farm in southern Phuket. At night, Tom had to depart for the States.

Day 15: Jan 14

At 2pm today, I took a minibus to the Phuket Airport and began my 40-hours of travel back to CT, USA. I will never complain about domestic flight times again. The time difference between Thailand and EDT is 12 hours, so it took me about a week to get back on the schedule of a student with class at 8am.