Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Waterfalls

This weekend was one of the best I've had in Thailand :)

Several friends and I went to a national park in Nakorn Nayok province for two days and a night. The main attraction, of course, was a picturesque waterfall cascading off a mountain cliff in the middle of the jungle. 

We left Bangkok on Saturday morning in a rental bus big enough for about fifty people, though there were only about 25 of us going. 

We were also accompanied by Gorilla, a baby hedgehog barely three weeks old

On the two-ish hour drive to the park, we played Thai car games (which can be painful!) and watched as the scenery slowly turned from a dirty concrete jungle to a vibrant green jungle full of wildlife, mountains, and foliage. 

Bangkok, you see, is as flat as a rock. There are absolutely no mountains, no hills, not even a 10cm elevation difference in any part of the city (or so it seems). This makes for great bike riding, but it's not so appealing to look at day after day. In addition, the entirety of Bangkok is a whopping one meter above sea level - in combination with the tiny bit of wind that reaches the city, the sheer density of the air is as much a choking hazard as a happy meal toy.

That was one of the best parts about this trip - the air. It was 'mountain fresh' as Glade would say, and the air was much less dense in the higher reaches of the mountains. 

We arrived at the province around midday and went to a little trickling river where we played football and frisbee in the water after completing an obstacle course near the banks. A footbridge we were resting on collapsed into the frigid water as several of us were sitting on it. You could hear the shrieks of surprise for miles kilometers around.

I had the best ever coconut ice cream here, at this bank next to a river in the middle of a jungle in central Thailand, an unusual place for such a feat but nevertheless it was the best I've ever tasted. Unlike in America, isa-creem maprao, or coconut ice cream, is made from the water from young coconuts combined with palm sugar and frozen into a creamy delishesness - meaning it's completely vegan. Also, it's served on a hot dog bun with sticky rice and peanuts. It sounds weird, but it wins the award for my favorite dessert of all time. Get owned, brownies ;)

We played in the river for a few hours before heading to the 'resort' (so it was called) for the rest of the night. Since this was a sort of retreat, there were activities planned for us when we arrived at the resort. The first plan of action was to create a skit with four randomly chosen teammates. 

Photo by Khem 
I didn't really understand my group's skit but that's okay, I was the only foreigner on my team. They planned it out in Thai as I listened attentively trying to pick out words I knew. I wasn't really sure of my role either, but it all worked out in the end lol. My group got the award for best dramatic acting!

The next morning, we packed our bags and headed to the waterfall in a national park called Kao Yai. After our bus parked we still had about a ten minute walk to the entrance of the park, and all along this path were vendors selling fruits, nuts, and a host of other treats. 

We ate lunch before going to the base of the waterfall - I had pad seyoo, which is stir-fried wide rice noodles with vegetables. It wasn't what I ordered but that tends to happen relatively often. Luckily there was no meat in it so I ate it anyway. One time I ordered stir-fried vegetables and received a chicken dish. I told the waitress what happened, and a few seconds later she handed me a new dish. I soon found out that she took it to the kitchen, where I couldn't see her, and picked out the chicken. I know because there were still little bits of chicken left under some of the vegetables. 

After lunch we climbed the hundred or so steps to the base of the waterfall. There was a small pool at the bottom where we played frisbee and swam around. 

Photo by Khem
Several people wanted to go to the top of the waterfall, and since we didn't know that there was a path at the time, we started to climb up the face of the mountain in nothing but flip flops. It was extremely hard to climb and I thought at two different times I was going to fall off the cliffside. Luckily a friend helped me through those parts and I lived lol. My friend Goi was in a similar position - she said if I hadn't been there she would have fallen off the cliff. Obviously there are no pictures of this part, nobody wanted to take their hands off the rock holds lol

When we finally reached the top, there was a smaller waterfall feeding the larger waterfall. It cascaded into a deep pool that was quite a bit larger than the pool at the base. Several of us climbed to the top of the smaller waterfall and jumped into the pool. It was an experience - and I can now safely say that I have done a front flip off the top of a world heritage site :)

We had to leave the falls a few hours before sunset to go back to Bangkok. On the way out I bought some boiled peanuts (they were purple/blue inside), quite possible the best peanuts I've ever tasted. 

I met a lot of new people on this trip, and I will never regret going. The scenery was fantastic and it was an altogether exciting weekend.

In other news, the cool season went as fast as it came. It only lasted about a week - it is now the hot season! The high has been in the 90's consistently over the past couple weeks and is steadily climbing. It still has not rained since the rainy season ended over thirty days ago. Luckily the sky is a bright blue every day, something of a mood booster after five months of constant rainfall :)

This morning was the first time in my life that I have ever swam outdoors during December. And let me tell you, I love it. Judging from all the statuses on facebook, it sounds like America is experiencing quite a bit of winter weather. That is one season I am not going to regret missing ;)

coconut ice cream source

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving in Thailand

Though Thanksgiving is not traditionally celebrated in Thailand, Grapevine (a Christian club run by Americans) hosted a Thanksgiving dinner last Wednesday evening on campus. 

There were about 60 guests from all around the world including Germany, Vietnam, Korea, China, and America (and, err, Thailand, of course). 

The food was great - there was salad, yeast rolls, biscuits, greens, smoked chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and apple cake. 

P'Un did the majority of the work for the yeast rolls lol

We even had homemade roasted pumpkin seeds - including two flavors: savory

And sweet

Everything was made from scratch since Grapevine runs on a tight budget. I arrived a few hours early to help cook the food but there were enough hands in the kitchen already. 

The tablecloths were, of course, homemade and decorated by various students :) They think it's weird all the way we eat carrots!

We taught the Thai students how we trace our hands and cut and decorate until the cutout somewhat resembles a turkey. I' not so sure they're convinced ;)

I think they may have thought we Americans are a little strange

I would, of course, prefer to be at home in Nashville for the holidays, but it is not economical nor practical to fly home and come back to Bangkok a couple days later. Also, I just started my second semester and there are no breaks for Thanksgiving or Christmas. There is, however, a three-day weekend coming up in honor of the King's birthday :)

Time to eat!

Of course, no Thanksgiving is complete without dessert!

Altogether it was a great Thanksgiving. We talked, ate, and played games for nearly five hours!

This time of year isn't entirely without local holidays, however, as this weekend marks the beginning of the three-day Loy Kratong Festival celebrated all throughout Thailand.

During this festival, Thais make (or buy) a small floating object made of banana leaves topped with burning incense and small amounts of money, called a Krathong (pronounced kra-tong), then float it out into the river, praying that their troubles will be taken away along with the raft. This festival is, of course, accompanied by copious amounts of food, games, and milling about. 

It rather resembles a state fair, only much better food and significantly more perilous rides. This festival is also a bit more sacred. 

Luckily, there is a celebration of this festival on campus so I did not have to go far to attend one of the most anticipated Thai traditions of the year! 

Seven or eight of my friends and I spent quite a few hours both Friday and Saturday night at Loy Krathong eating delicious food, playing games, and lighting sparklers. It was great!

But I wouldn't trust the structural integrity of the ferris wheel lol

Buying donuts (donuts are extremely popular in Thailand)

Jub and View

Making Kai Jeow, a quail egg rolled into grilled batter
The finished product

Fresh coconuts for coconut smoothies!

Grilled Squid, anyone?

Yes, they do indeed eat horeshoe crabs. Both grilled and boiled.
Sparklers are quite common at this festival, so we took some photos for our friends that left last week - Lucas and Megan

We had a great time at the festival - and tonight we will probably go again for the grand finale and closing ceremonies.

On another note, today was the fourth time in the past six months that I've electrocuted myself! I guess you could say I've felt a little more energized lately ;) Three, including today, were from wall outlets, and one requires a story to convey fully. 

I was in my bathroom, which was conveniently located on my balcony at the time, when I spotted the largest cockroach in the history of mankind. The nearest thing within reach was a glass jar, so I threw it at the roach and glass shattered everywhere. He escaped so I ran into my room through a sliding-glass door. Now - I happened to be cooking curry on my balcony at the time and had an extension cord running out onto the balcony from my room. Of course, when I slammed the door, it severed the extension cord and electricity temporarily coursed through the metal part of the door and into my hand. I blew the power out in my dormitory. 

The cockroach survived.

On a related note, the tribe of water buffalo living on campus has taken to the hills. They are no longer available to moo at me as I walk to class. Sad day :(

I think after having lived in Thailand for a few months now, I can accurately summarize my favorite vegetarian dishes. I've been meaning to take a picture of each one but I almost always forget to bring my camera to dinner. Therefore you will have to wait for the next blog so I can show you pictures!

1) Basil tofu with rice

2) Curry fried rice

3) Stir-fried vegetables with rice

4) Egg fried rice

5) Green curry over rice

Here are a few pictures of the foods I have tried recently - spicy fried tofu, chili fried rice, and I have no idea what to call the last dish (it was Goi's food, not mine!), but it had eggs, vegetables and rice.

Hope you enjoyed this post!