A few weeks ago, I finished the Thai Massage Level I (30 hour) course at the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai. I now know where NOT to press while giving a massage, and have a basic understanding of where energy lines are, how to properly apply the correct amount of pressure, and have a full appreciation for how tiring Thai massage can be! I was thrilled with my experience at massage school. Not only did I bond with the fellow massage students, but the course was hands-on and professional, and we learned a lot within a short 5 days. Some of my friends stayed on to complete the full 3 or even 5 weeks of the course and receive a full certification, and while part of me wishes I could have done that too, other parts of me were eager to continue on my adventure.
The Saturday after massage school ended, I boarded an overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. I had booked my ticket through 12goAsia and the process was seamless. I had a load of snacks from the market and 7-11 on hand (more on the marvel of 7-11 in Thailand at a later date), and the train left right on time. I rode in the Women and Children’s car, which had AC, and I was glad I brought along a sweater. Around 7:30 p.m., an attendant came through the car and made the beds (I had the lower bunk). It was as comfy, if not more comfortable, than a hostel bed, with a curtain for privacy. I fell asleep and only woke up to the 5:30 a.m. announcement that we had to get our beds turned back into chairs for arrival. I would highly recommend the overnight train (just bring your own snacks/meal!) for the journey from Chiang Mai to Bangkok!
I only spent a day in Bangkok, and during the day I met up with an alum from my school for lunch. We ate at a family restaurant and sampled tons of dishes, and I was so happy to have someone order in Thai. Plus, the restaurant had a very cute chicken-theme going on (left picture above). After lunch, I walked through Chinatown and saw a GIANT gold (real gold) Buddha. After gawking [respectfully] in the Wat, I wandered through the night stalls of Chinatown, oogling steamed buns and bowls of soup, finally settling on a simple, brothy, but delicious bowl of noodle soup that looked heavily frequented by locals.
The next day, I had a wild time getting to Don Mueang airport, trying first to take the train (delayed an hour) and a tuk tuk, and finally in a minute of desperation at the side of the highway next to an overheated tuk tuk, a taxi. I made my flight just as we were boarding, and landed in Trang, flying over rubber tree plantations and abundant jungle greenery. My friends met me at the airport, and we ate and explored for the next few days (shout-out to Sara and Emily for another fantastic tour of a city, food, and wonderful travel mates). Sara and I explored a cave while Emily went to work one day, and stumbled into a cave (no entrance fee) with the story of a baby elephant that had gotten lost and had its tail cut off ages ago. We were awed by the stalactites hanging down, sometimes so far that they joined with the equally impressive stalagmites growing from the floor into massive columns. We followed dimly lit pathways into chamber after chamber, and were glad to be walking together as bats flew down from their roost to check us out.
We ate a lot, and one of the wonders was a dessert called bingsu– a pile of ice cream but with a snowy, fluffy texture. We had mango bingsu to celebrate Emily’s birthday, and we poured coconut milk and condensed milk over the stop. It took four of us to finish the massive pile. For bingsu, go with friends! Also seen was a Mister Donut, which I have only ever seen in El Salvador, and apparently, now in Thailand!
We now come to the most tragic part of my journey: After a wild bus ride from Trang to Hat Yai (I would recommend just booking in Trang, and not try and book in advance as I did), where I scrambled to transfer to my bus to Penang, I arrived desperate to eat in the foodie capital of Malaysia. I wandered through Little India, excited for mango lassi, naan, and curry. This was my only meal in the two days I was there, because immediately after arriving at the Air BnB for the night, I had terrible food poisoning, and enjoyed the delicacies of butter crackers and Sprite the entire next day. It had to happen, and on my final night in Penang, I did manage to go out with a friend to eat some rice porridge near the Clan Jetties (congee, I think).
After a puddle jump over to Kota Bharu on Air Asia, I got an airport taxi to the pier (about an hour taxi, for 60 ringgit). I was dropped in front of a tour company, where I booked a seat to and from Perhentian Kecil for 35 ringgit each way. The boat dropped me off at Mari Mari, a lodging option constructed entirely out of recycled materials. I met my friends on this pristine beach, with brilliantly colored parrot fish swimming just offshore and monitor lizards handing in the trees. Eddy, the owner of the hostel/resort/shacks cooked us group dinners each night that we were able to help prepare. The beach community was easy.
I snorkeled two separate days, and saw black-tipped sharks (I was totally dismayed that some guides of other groups baited the sharks with some fish), turtles, dolphins in the distance, and schools of colorful fish. My friends and I took some island jungle walks to different beaches, and to a beautiful camp high up on the island with sweet coffee, and where we talked Malaysian and USA politics for a few hours. The mosquitoes were the biggest menace, but we burned some incense and stayed in our mosquito nets during the worst hours.
After four days of sandy toes, we took two flights and are now back in Bangkok, using internet to make plans and sign acceptance letters and eat pad thai before I head over to Myanmar to trek, gawk at temples in blazing heat, and sit in tea houses.