Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Koh Samet

After spending the last month preparing for my GRE, spending 48 hours in a cramped plane seat in the last 7 days and then coming home and spending 24 hours with a strange sickness that left me alternating between worshiping the porcelain throne and writhing in pain on the couch, I was totally ready to sit on a beach for a couple of days.

Luckilly Eric had Monday off because of the Thai holiday- King Chulalongkorn Day and we had already booked a beach vacation on Koh Samet- an island located two hours southeast of Bangkok.

The hotel we stayed at, Samet Ville Resort, was on Ao Wai- a private beach located on the southern tip of Koh Samet. When we booked the vacation, we selected  this resort because it was supposed to be secluded and romantic. Well, it was a lot more private than the other beaches on the island we passed as we rode the ferry to Ao Wai, it didn't have a ton of umbrellas covering the beach. However, a tip for those looking to have a romantic beach holiday- do not book it on a Thai holiday when hordes of Thai families are looking to escape the city for the weekend.

Ao Wai at Sunset
The beach at Ao Wai was very beautiful, the sand was like sugar and the staff at the resort worked very hard to keep the beach clean. We would see them out there every morning, sweeping the sand.

Much of our time on the beach was spent sitting in beach chairs and reading, taking a quick swim when we got too hot. Occasionally we would halfheartedly mention going for a walk, but we always came to the conclusion that the beach was much better. In other words, we were in full on lazy mode and it was excellent. We did spend hours watching crabs scurry around the beach, digging holes and fighting each other. As you can tell, we even named some of them. 

Big Mamajamma- one of our crabby friends
The winged insect actually escaped the clutches of the crab and lived to fly away.
View of the ocean from our cabin's porch.
All in all, it was a very relaxing vacation. There was only one thing that marred the otherwise awesome weekend. Some time during the weekend I was attacked by mysterious bugs that decided my legs looked like dinner. I never actually saw them, but they left quite an impression.
Why is Melanie making a sad panda face???

Because her legs look like this!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Frequent Flyer

Last week I hopped on an airplane in Bangkok and 24 hours later I landed in Portland, Oregon. The flight was pretty uneventful, considering this was the first time I've traveled alone internationally. I only had one small issue, I was tagged for an extra baggage search when I landed in Seattle because I have been back and forth to Thailand three times in the last six months and that seemed suspicious to the customs people.

I traveled back to the states to visit my mom, to attend my cousin's wedding, and to take my GRE test for graduate school. One week is definitely not enough time to do all of those things, but I made the best of it.

My cousin Karl's wedding was a great time. Family flew in from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado for the occasion. Hanging out with my family was so much fun. I enjoyed telling them all about my adventures in Thailand and catching up on family happenings while eating good food and drinking excellent beer. 

Unfortunately, I didn't get to go site seeing with the family after the wedding because I had to study for my GRE.  I did better than I thought I would but not as good as I hoped (is that vauge enough for you?), but I did get a wonderful note of encouragement and some beautiful roses from my mom the morning of the test.

I have the best Mom!
Being back in the states made me realize that not only did I miss hanging out with my family, but how much I missed orderly traffic that followed laws I understand, going into a store and knowing what everything is and where to find what I need, and being able to go outside without immediately breaking out in sweat.

While back in the US I stocked up on items that I can't find in Thailand (clothing and shoes that fit me, three seasons of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and items that are really expensive in Thailand (towels, pancake syrup, and yarn). I also picked up some pistachio pudding for my friend Elizabeth and some Command picture hanging strips for my friend Mary. Luckily I brought one completely empty suitcase and had a 70 pound weight limit for each bag, otherwise I would have had to leave some of this behind.

Shopping Spree!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How to get your Thai drivers license in 294 easy steps

Ok, so maybe it really wasn't 294 steps, but it sure felt like it. Eric and I had quite the adventure in getting our Thai drivers license. It began with each of us having to get a medical certificate to verify that we were free from the following conditions:

-Drug Addiction
-Chronic Alcoholism
I went to the BNH Hospital here in Bangkok and it cost 800 baht (about $20). Eric went to a hospital in Ayutthaya and he only had to pay 50 baht (about $1.75).

Once we had our medical certificate, we could now go to Thailand's version of the DMV- once we made copies of our passport, our US drivers license and Eric's work permit. We also had to have our US drivers license translated into Thai.

Armed with all of this paperwork, Eric and I traveled to a Thai "DMV" center located north east of Bangkok last Wednesday. During the initial paperwork check, I was informed that I was missing one piece of paperwork- a certified letter from the US embassy verifying my address in Thailand. So, I was not able to take my test that day. However, Eric took his test, paid 205 baht and was able to leave with his drivers license.

My adventure would take a few more steps. Last Thursday I walked to the US Embassy ( about a 15 minute walk from our condo) and asked about getting a certified letter for a Thai drivers license. The process was really easy, but very expensive- it cost me 1650 baht ($50) just to get one piece of paper signed and notarized! After forking over the money and waiting for 15 minutes, I walked out of the embassy with a $50 piece of paper that stated my Bangkok address.

Today was the last day of the adventure. I went back to the Thai DMV center, and I finally had all of the correct paperwork! So I was able to enter the testing room. There were four tests that I needed to pass in order to get my license. I think the weirdest part of the testing process was that is was done in a huge group, and you were corralled and ushered back and forth across a small room packed with people.

The first test is a "color test". There was a poster on the wall with hundreds of circles in red, yellow, and green and a DMV worker pointed to 4 or 5 circles and I had to say the color out loud. After passing that test, we had a 15 minute presentation on how to do the last three tests. Of course it was all in Thai, but it really wasn't that hard to figure out what I needed to do. 

The next test was a peripheral vision test. We had to put our faces on a machine that flashed red, yellow or green on the right and left side of our face. We had to say the color and the side that the light was flashing on. I had a rough time with this one because the yellow light they used looked green to me. I eventually passed this one and moved on to the last two tests.

The last two tests took place at the same station. A small student's desk with a brake pedal and gas pedal in front it and a box with buttons mounted to the top. About 15 feet away there was another box with red and green lights as well as two sticks mounted on a sliding track.

The gas and break pedal were used to judge how quickly you can go from stepping on the gas to stepping on the break. A green light would light up on the box 15 feet away as soon as I stepped on the gas pedal and when the light turned red I had to step on the break as quickly as possible. I saw a lot of Thai women that failed this test because they were wearing high heels, but because I was wearing sensible shoes I passed with flying colors!

And finally the last test was to use the buttons on my desk to move the two sticks in the box in front of me. Once they were perpendicular to each other I stopped and said "Ok". Since I put the sticks within an inch of each other, I passed the test. 

205 baht and a crappy photo later, I am now the proud owner of a Thai drivers license!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Random Photos

Since my brain is fried from studying math all day, every day for the last two weeks and because I feel like procrastinating ( I mean taking a break), I thought I would fill this post with some random photos taken during the last 6 weeks while out and about in Bangkok.

A Hindu temple on Silom.

 Entrance to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar.

 Random sculpture outside a shopping area along Silom.

Huge paper flowers decorating the entrance to Siam Paragon.

 One of the first things I "cooked" in Thailand- a salad with chicken and a mangosteen for desert.

There are A&W's in Bangkok! And they serve fish waffles!

 Sushi on a boat.

 I just noticed that my last three pictures were of food. I think that means it is time for lunch!!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

99 Red Balloons

We have finally moved into our new condo. It is only about two blocks from our other apartment, but the neighborhood feels really different. It seems like most of our time is spent looking out our windows at the city below. It is better than television! Last Sunday we were entertained for about an hour by a gathering of people in the street across from our building. Many of them were wearing red shirts  and a few people were passing out balloons. At first Eric was a little concerned, but I said "They are handing out balloons- how dangerous can they be?"

After about 40 minutes, everyone with a balloon walked up on top of the pedestrian bridge over Rama IV.

 They then counted down from 10 and released the balloons into the air.

Once the balloons were released every one left the area. When we walked over the same pedestrian bridge to get dinner later that night, we noticed that there were handmade signs attached to the railings. Eric took some pictures and had one of his Thai co-workers translate the signs on Monday. Apparently they were commemorating the death of some citizens that occurred during protests in the 1970s.