Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Asia Part 2

So after India, we headed to Thailand to meet up with my Mom and sister.  I wish I could say that all the travels went smoothly, but, well, they didn't.  Let's just say the number of international flights I've missed has now doubled.  My flight left at 1:30.  Now wouldn't you think (without actually thinking about it too much) that that meant 1:30 in the afternoon? Well you, my friend, would be wrong.  As was I.  So we flew into Delhi from Mumbai that morning, thinking that we had a couple of hours to kill at the airport.  But instead they looked at me very confusedly and let me know that I was 10 hours late for my flight.  Long story short, Kingfisher airlines are incredible, and they re-booked me for the flight at 1:30 the NEXT morning, without charge, and so I just had to chill at the airport for 12 hours.  That was quite a miracle.

Those 12 hours in the airport were pretty killer.  As usual, I was going off zero sleep, plus I was totally unprepared to spend the whole day in the terminal.  They actually wouldn't even let me in the terminal for the first couple of hours, so I was just sitting outside of security for a while.  The worst part though, was sitting there alone.  Katy was a responsible adult and did not miss her flight, so she was off to Bangkok without any issues, staying in our hotel (also alone though).  It was such a mix of emotions.  I was stressed and upset about missing the flight, and then by the time I had calmed down, it was just me.  And I was left there thinking about how India, this crazy and life-changing experience, was now over.  It was quite a low.

I made it through though, and eventually connected with Katy at the Bangkok airport (which is more like a runway than an airport...I've never seen so many high-heels in an airport).  Even after less than a day apart, we had so much to catch up on...we weren't used to being apart.  And then, finally, on to Phuket.

Phuket was gorgeous--definitely the vacation time we had been looking forward to.  It was so great to see my Mom and sister too--a little bit of comfort and home.  We managed to pack our time pretty full with Thai massages, jungle treks and elephant rides, a canoe ride, and lots of delicious Thai food.

We also made it down to Singapore for a couple of days.  I was completely surprised by Singapore.  It felt like we were back in the States.  No, maybe nicer than the States.  Again, it was such an extreme to go from India to Singapore.  India is by far the dirtiest place I have ever seen.  Lets just call a spade a spade-India is absolutely covered with trash.  Singapore was spotless.  On the other hand, it was also wildly expensive.  Glad that I did that part of the trip with my Mom, that's for sure. :)

One thing I didn't expect about Thailand and Singapore, is that the shopping there was so great.  And not just the markets--they had tons of enormous malls.  Seven stories tall, and they went on for days.  It was so overwhelming and disappointing that I don't have much room in my suitcase.  When we wanted to go shopping in India, all our Indian friends told us to wait for Thailand and we didn't listen...for shame. My advice if you are planning an Asia trip at all: pack very very light, go to Thailand first, and get all your clothes for traveling there. 

I also got to meet up with another friend from high school (Emma) who is living in Bangkok.  She helped me out and let me stay with her for 2 days while I waited to meet up with Suzanne and Emily.  Emma was such a sweetheart and a great hostess.  It really reminded me that I love being from a small town.  No matter where I am in the world, I still love being from good ol' Chesterland, Ohio.

I did finally get to connect with Suzanne and Emily though, and I'll be traveling with them for most of the rest of the trip! We went from Bangkok up to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.  I must say, Chiang Mai was gorgeous.  And such a friendly, comfortable town.  We found a hostel for about $3/night and it was incredible.  The people there were so nice and really did treat us like family.  They gave us rides when we needed them, and helped us to set up any tours or reservations we needed.  Plus, the town was super cute and we felt completely safe walking around, even by ourselves, even at night.  I spent my birthday in Chiang Mai, and we did a cooking class for the day.  It was a wonderful way to spend it-I love Thai food and I love cooking, and it was a lot of fun learning to make the dishes.  We are hoping to do a cooking class (or learn from a local) in Italy, so maybe when I get back I can throw an international cuisine party? Don't hold me to that though...

So now we are spending one night in Qatar as we had a 20 hour layover and decided not to spend the whole time in the airport.  It's been an unexpected stop, and a quick one, but Qatar is a memorable place.  I lived in Arizona for 6 years, but this is DESERT. Like desolate, nothing redemptive about it. And then this new, modern looking city right in the middle of it.  We also happened to arrive in the middle of Ramadan.  The last thing we heard as we were getting off the plane was "During the holy month of Ramadan, it is illegal to eat, drink, or smoke in public." So even in less than 24 hours, we have had a bit of a culture shock.  We went to the local shopping center here as well, and felt wildly out of place.  Since we didn't get to pick up our luggage, we are stuck wearing what we got on the plane in Bangkok wearing.  That unfortunately means I am walking around a Muslim country, during Ramadan, in shorts.  Super uncomfortable....

We head off to Rome tomorrow to start the European part of the trip.  We'll be mostly in Italy, with hopefully some side trips to Paris and maybe Austria/Germany.  We are also still hoping to get to Israel before we come back Stateside.  After Italy, I'm going to head to Denmark and Scotland to spend a couple days each with 2 of the volunteers that I lived with in India.  That's one of the greatest things I have gained from this trip--meeting tons of endlessly fascinating and wonderful people with whom I hope to stay in contact for many years to come.

One more thing--as we get farther and farther away from India, both in distance and time, I miss it more and more.  I miss traveling with such a large, fun, and diverse group of people.  I miss the family immeasurably.  I miss a lot of the cultural aspects--I still do some of the head nods and hand gestures, and I want to say Shukriya (thank you) or Koi Botany (No problem) to everyone.  I find myself drawn to some of the other Indian tourists that we've seen and I just want to talk with them for awhile. I get excited anytime I see something Indian or that reminds me of India.  I don't think I expected that when I first signed up to go to India....I'm sure I'll write more on this later. India seems to be on my mind quite a bit more these days. 

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