Snapshots: Arriving in Thailand

Writing about Chiang Mai has got me thinking about how it felt to arrive there after India.

Roman and I had said our goodbyes at the airport the night before in Cochin (after being driven there by the slowest cab driver in all of India!). Cochin is pretty touristy and felt more insulated than many of the places we’d been in India. Even so, landing in Singapore for my early morning transfer felt like arriving at a different world.

It was still dark as we landed, and the view from the plane of hundreds of glittering ship lights on the pitch-black water, followed by seeing the city itself all lit up was incredible. I will admit, stepping into the pristine, quiet, massive airport felt a bit like arriving at a lush oasis after crossing a desert. 😉 I made a bee line to the nearest Starbucks for a soy latte and then spent the rest of my layover enjoying the glittering temple of consumerism just outside my gate, the cleanest bathrooms I’d seen since leaving Switzerland and chatting with a nice guy who’d been living in Zürich but was on his way to Bali to coach the national football team.

The flight north to Chiang Mai was quick and easy. I loved watching the landscape change beneath the plane, watching scruffy green hills emerge from the plains as we got closer to our destination.

The airport in Chiang Mai seemed relatively simple (especially after Singapore!) but the team of people from the cell phone company handing out free sim cards to all the newly arrived tourists was a first indication that I wasn’t in India any more, Toto. 🙂

The hotel had arranged pick up and I was escorted into a spotless, air-conditioned little Honda that still had the smell of new car. The driver barely said a word and it almost all felt too quiet to be true (perhaps especially after the chatty driver in Cochin who had stopped when the urge struck him to pick up chewing tobacco).

Other things that left an impression that day:

how broad and clean the roads were (after India at least 😉 )

the number of 7-11s we passed on the way to the hotel – they seem to be everywhere in Thailand!

the large number of small trucks on the street (Apparently there is a tax in place that makes it more economic to buy a truck than a car.) which was funny to see after India, where for the most part the only trucks are the industrial-sized goods carriers

how good everything smelled. That first day it seemed like everyone I passed by was wearing pleasant perfume, and the resort especially smelled great, especially all the linens. It cost a bomb to have laundry done there, but it was worth every cent for how amazingly good the clothes smelled when they came back. 🙂

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India recap: Christmas

After the overnight in Bengalaru, we flew to Cochin where we’d arranged a two-day package that included an overnight on a houseboat – our Christmas present to ourselves, (from us and my sister – thank you Smoo!). The package was a bit pricey, but really well coordinated and it all felt incredibly indulgent. 😀

We were picked up at the airport and driven through small, tropical towns towards our first Kerala destination, Kumarakom. It was funny to see things like houses, gas stations and shops in the midst of what – to my inexperienced eye – looked rather like a jungle. It seems like the plant life in that part of Kerala definitely has the upper hand. As buildings and concrete tends to encroach upon any greenery in large cities, so the flora seemed to be crowding out all the man-made structures in the towns leading up to the Kerala backwaters.

After driving for well over an hour into the increasingly lush landscape, our car took a turn onto a narrow dirt path flanked by rice paddies on the right and the start of the backwaters on the left. We bumped along until we came to a simple but lovely hotel at the edge of the peninsula where we spent the night. Highlights that stand out in my mind:

-Enjoying the soft breeze on the roof of a boat during a “sunset cruise”. As the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, we watched as one by one, hundreds of massive fruit bats winged slowly out of the palm forest and flew out above the backwaters.

-Dinner of Karimeen (pearl fish – a typical Kerala dish) in the outdoor restaurant. Fun was when the power cut out and we were left in the pitch black, listening to all the sounds of the critters in and around the backwaters. 🙂

-Our room came with a very effective air conditioner. The exhaust for the AC went directly into the bathroom. After 5 minutes of the AC being on, the bathroom was hotter than an oven! Built in sauna! 😉

In the morning of Christmas Eve, our houseboat arrived to pick us up. It came with a three-man crew; two guys to man the ship and a cook who were all lovely. The boat was massive and I was excited by our on-board bedroom – one of the cleanest places we’ve stayed in India! 🙂

It was a bit surreal trip being on a houseboat again – I had done an overnight on one towards the end of the group trip and it had been such a highlight of that portion of my travels. It was wonderful to be able to share it with Roman as well but my mind did wander to the wonderful folks I traveled with during my first three weeks in India.

My thoughts were also very much with my family in the States. Christmas is my favorite holiday and I love celebrating it with them at home. But the past few years I’ve been in Switzerland for the holidays. Being on a boat in the tropics and knowing that they were all sharing in my nephew’s first Christmas, I felt further away than ever.

I know I am so blessed to be able to be doing this trip, to have the life that I do – I am so grateful for this. But sometimes I wonder how long it will be till I get to share Christmas with them again. Part of this big trip is about figuring out where to live next and daydreams of holidays with my family certainly factor into my speculation, but right now the journey is still feeling so new and I don’t have any sort of clarity on when I might next be passing out gifts from the under the tree at my parents’ house…

My pining aside, it was a magical Christmas Eve. The boat docked in a lagoon filled with water hyacinths and Roman and I watched the sun setting over the water and the fireflies emerge in the darkness. The peacefulness and splendor of the pristine nature were just amazing. Later in the evening we had a lovely meal on the boat, and were even visited by a group of local boys who sang us a very lively Christmas carol and passed out sweets. I have to say, the paper-mache Santa masks kind of gave me the creeps – felt a bit more like a visit from Halloween trick-or-treaters. 😉 Definitely a different Christmas! 🙂

Wildlife at the hotel in Kumarakom

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Dragonfly at the water’s edge

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The big blob in the middle of the shot is one of those massive fruit bats!

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The picture quality is not great, but here it is cropped so you can get a better look

Christmas on the houseboat

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Our houseboat pulling in! 🙂

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Look at that clean, lovely bed! 🙂

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Fishermen on the backwaters

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Soda for sale

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Docked for the night

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Sunset on the backwaters

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Trick or treat?

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Water hyacinth detail. These plants were all over on the backwaters and I just loved them. Hundreds of the flowers were open in the morning sunshine on Christmas day. This photo was taken with the digital zoom on Roman’s camera from very far away, so the quality is not the best, but  wanted a close up – I love the pattern on them, like a little flame on the top petal.

Photo impressions from the group trip: Part 5/5 (Kerela)

After four days in Mcleod Ganj, we flew to the southern state of Kerela, where we visited multiple destinations. Our first stop was Cochin, where it was amazing to see the huge Christian presence; there were churches everywhere and pharmacies and banks were often included something Christian sounding in the name.

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At the oldest European church in India, St. Francis.

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Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama used to be buried here.

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The Chinese fishing nets

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Men handling the rocks that counterbalance the nets

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At the fish market

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Pigeons looking for a snack

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On the way to the old synagogue

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Outside the Cochin Jewish Synagogue. Unfortunately we couldn’t go in, as it is closed on Fridays.

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Synagogue detail

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The next stop on the Kerala tour was Kumarakom, where we stayed at the most amazing hotel of the whole trip: the eco-resort Coconut Lagoon (http://www.cghearth.com/coconut_lagoon/index.htm). Accessible only by boat, focused on sustainability, local tradition, serenity and quality, this place was just amazing!

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Upon arrival, we were all handed coconuts with straws in them. After drinking the refreshing water, we could have them cracked open at the coconut hut so we could eat the meat inside.

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There is a butterfly garden on the grounds, which was full of the beautiful, fluttering things. This one was the largest – nearly as big as my hand, but it refused to stay still to have its picture taken. 🙂

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Kingfisher (the bird, not the beer 😉 ) hanging out by the butterfly garden.

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The food on offer was just great. My lunch: vegetable thali.

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As cool as everything about this place was, my personal favorite thing was the outdoor bathroom. 🙂 Too cool!

We were sad to leave Coconut Lagoon the next day already, but soon forgot our dismay when we saw our next form of accommodation: an incredible houseboat that would take us along the Kerala backwaters in Allepy! Incredible ambiance, service and food, this was possibly the most relaxing part of the whole group trip for me, as mostly I just lounged, ate and enjoyed the great scenery and company. 🙂

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View from our dining room at the front of the boat.

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View from the upstairs lounge.

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Lunch included local fish – delicious

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Along the backwaters

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Docked for the night

Our final stop in Kerala was Kovalam. We stayed at a massive hotel on a hill overlooking the Indian ocean. The beach was beautiful but the waves were massive and wild – nothing for a weak swimmer like me. Happily, the place had a beautiful pool, an ayurvedic spa, a fantastic restaurant, and my longed for Pina Coladas – I was a happy camper (and too busy lounging to take too many pictures ;-))!

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View of the Indian Ocean from the hotel grounds

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Statue of Ganesh in the lobby.

After the beautiful stay in Kovalam, it was time for the group to head to Delhi and then head on to our next destinations. I was so excited to meet Roman in Delhi, but was also sad that the group trip was coming to an end. For me then, it was a wonderful bonus that there was a mix up in the flights, and most of the group ended up spending an extra night and day in Delhi. It was such a gift to have some bonus time with them and with Roman that next day! 🙂 Thank you again everyone who was on the group trip with me for making those first three weeks in India so amazing. 🙂