Friday, July 25, 2008

Good news! No cancer!

After some less-than-fun mammograms and an ultrasound, the good news is I do not have breast cancer. (The lump is a cyst of some sort, benign.) I don't know if my doctor will advise me to have the cyst removed, but internet research suggests no. In any case I'm relieved!

Thanks for the prayers, ya'll.

Seminar with Grand Master Garcia

Finally got a picture from the seminar back in June... my instructor Sifu Tony Morel is just to my left, then Grand Master Garcia.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I went to my primary care physician (my OB/GYN) yesterday to get a referral-- get this, how crazy is insurance?? I don't even have an HMO! My OB/GYN's office has many times told me I should consider them a full-service doctor's office, not just for womens' issues, so if I am ever sick in a non-girly way, just call them. So I called about this pulled muscle/rib injury and asked if that was something they could deal with-- take an Xray etc. They laughed and said no, they're good at flu and splinters but not reading chest films. I asked if they could refer me to a sports medicine office, but I had to physically come in and be examined to verify that I needed a specialist! Which adds another $20 copay to my bill. Oh well...

So anyway, I went in, they took my blood pressure, and handed me a referral authorization form to see an orthopedist I'd selected from the Blue Cross list. Well and good. But I decided if I was spending the $20 anyway I might as well ask--- Mitch had found a lump in my breast that the doctor hadn't noticed during my annual exam in early May. I asked her to tell me what she thought-- she felt around, got a serious look on her face, and referred me for a mammogram and an ultrasound. So, please say a prayer for me... I have a horrible family history for cancer, though no other risk factors to speak of.

Some might wonder why the heck I'm blogging about this-- well, friends read it and sometimes I'm not as good at staying in touch as I'd like, and even a stranger's prayer is a help.

Of course I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Honeymoon in Thailand-- Pictures!!

We had a wonderful three weeks in Thailand! Fabulous honeymoon and so glad we didn't go right after the wedding.

It took 36 hours to get to Bangkok via Tokyo; after a good night's sleep in a hotel near the airport, we headed into town to find a place to stay and also locate the gym where I wanted to train in muay thai and BJJ. First we tried to find the gym-- unfortunately, Lonely Planet had a dated address for it, and I'd neglected to verify the street address with my acquaintance there, a (British?) girl named Jemima. We arrived at the gym to find it named differently and without any English-speakers. Undaunted, we figured on emailing Jemima, and started hunting for a place to lay our heads.

Fortunately or unfortunately, it turned out we were right around the corner from the Mecca for Bangkok backpackers, Khao San Road. Therefore, cheap eats and cheap sleep was plentiful. We found a spot quickly-- it was 550 baht (about $19) for a room with air con, a private bath with hot water, and even cable TV. Nothing fancy, just basic and clean. If you use Internet Explorer you can see the Four Sons Place guesthouse website here.

Khao San scenes-- Khao San Rd at night, the little alleyway where we found our guesthouse, our favorite street food lady, a nearby street lined with wedding-dress makers and silversmiths, decorated with cute flags overhead and the ambassador for capitalism, Ronald McDonald, performing the traditional Thai gesture of respect called a 'wai.'

Random note: a common taxicab color in Bangkok is hot pink! And on Mondays, many people wear yellow polo shirts (the King's color) while on Tuesdays, many wear them in pink (the Queen's color.)

After dropping off our bags, we emailed Jemima from the internet cafe in the lobby, grabbed the first of many pad thais, and headed off by tuk-tuk (motorscooter pedicab) to see the famous Chatuchak weekend market.

The Chatuchak market is enormous, covering many city blocks, and I'm sure we didn't see even half of it. We spent a fair amount of time in the pet area, where there were hundreds of puppies, cats, rabbits, squirrels, and fish. We also spent time in the clothing areas and the handicraft stalls. It was steamy hot after a while. Here I am enjoying a cold fruity beverage (with an orchid) in one of the many tiny restaurants serving Thai food and drinks.

Snacks of all kinds for our eating pleasure.

Fruits and hot chili dipping sauces.

After Chatuchak we were pooped, so we napped in our room and then roamed Khao San, people watching and eating pad thai (20 baht, or about $.60) and egg rolls (3 for $.70). We originally couldn't have cared less about having cable TV in the room, but due to time zone differences, it was nice to have something to do at 4am that, unlike all the other young folk up at that hour in our neighborhood, didn't involve a bucket of beer. Yes, they sell it (and drink it) by the bucket, no joke.

The next morning, we walked all over the city to see the "real" Bangkok. The weather was hot (about 90 degrees, and humid) but it was a nice walk anyway. Or at least now I look back and think it was nice. At the time I think I wasn't so chipper! Mitch always had a good attitude though.

I love that the bus stops are decorated with living plants, many of them orchids.

Some typical street scenes from Chinatown in Bangkok. Early in the day, the streets are relatively quiet. Many shops set out potted plants on their front sidewalks which adds to the ambience.

Later though, it's all hustle and bustle. It's amazing how people can set up a shop or stall selling something/anything in the tiniest of spaces.

A seafood stall with a fresh (?) catch of crabs.

Chinatown's market was like a rabbit-warren of dim trails, covered with tarps and umbrellas and full of Hello Kitty, plasticware, clothing, foods, handbags, etc...

After touring around Chinatown we decided to visit one of the many wats (Buddhist temples). On our way, we saw this scene-- a monk's robes hung out to dry on the laundry line. All men are supposed to become a monk for some portion of their life. Some Thais fulfill this duty at age ten, as pre-novitiates, and others wait until adulthood. We saw many, many monks through our travels, dressed in similar saffron robes.

The wats are artistically designed. We never did find out the significance of the eaves.

These are from Wat Pho, home of the famous Reclining Buddha as well as one thousand or so other Buddha images. We didn't actually get to see the Reclining Buddha though I don't know how we missed it-- one of the largest Buddhas in the world, it is 150 feet long, and covered in gold leaf and mother-of-pearl.

Before going in to pray or meditate before a Buddha, you must remove your shoes. Also, to show the soles of your feet to the Buddha or to point at anything with your foot is considered offensive, so you must be careful how you sit. (Another random cultural note- the King's image is on all the paper currency, so you'd better not step on a bill if you drop it in the street; the crime "lese majeste" carries a seven-year sentence. No joke.)

Everywhere you look, in or out of the wats, you'll find a pot of water lilies or orchids blooming like crazy.

In a comedy of errors, I didn't make it to the class at Jemima's gym.. we just never connected via email, and I couldn't reach her by phone, until we were about to leave Bangkok. I promised to try to make it back for some training when we were on our way out of Thailand though.

We decided to go to Kanchanaburi ("can-chah-NAH-buh-REE") next. It's in central Thailand, just a few hours' bus ride from Bangkok, so bright and early one morning we checked out of our guesthouse and started hoofing it across town to the bus station listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook. This was a cool suspension bridge in the distance, crossing one of many canals that gave this city its old nickname "Venice of the East."

As it turned out Lonely Planet was a little out of date-- the bus station we found (after a very long walk) looked like a stage set from an old west movie, complete with broken windows, tumbleweeds and old men sitting on tipped-back chairs. The scamps all assured us (in sign language) that this, that or the other as-yet unarrived bus would be going to Kanchanaburi soon. Fortunately the karma of travelers smiled on us in the form of a nice lady who shepherded us onto a cheap local bus going to the new bus station, where the real K'buri buses departed. Our tickets on a bus with air con cost 74 baht each (about $2) and in a few hours we were pulling into Kanchanaburi.

We got situated in a very pleasant, clean guesthouse run by Noi and Apple, two local ladies who (uncommonly, in Thailand) run the business themselves. They were fluent in English and super helpful. Here's the view from our front porch, looking out into the courtyard of the guesthouse. Though near the busy part of the town, the courtyard kept the noise to a minimum, except for the morning roosters and a strange bird that sounded just like a monkey. Yes, it's called the monkey bird.

The next day our first adventure was the seven-leveled waterfall at Erawan National Park. We didn't think we'd really see any monkeys but thought the sign was cute...

Waterfall number one... I am still full of energy.

Waterfall number two, about a 20 minute uphill hike from the first. It's hot, it's humid, but it's still good. Lots of bird calls, butterflies, and the delightful murmur of running water. We were visiting at the start of the rainy season, though, so the falls were substantially lower than peak.

Most of the time, the hiking was on rough trail, tree roots, and occasional plank bridges over creeks. One lengthy straight-up stretch, though, was on concrete steps about 4" too tall for a shorty like myself. I was a-huffin' and a-puffin' up these babies.

But we're still enjoying the view.

Waterfalls 3 and 4... or maybe 3a and 3b? I was told that when the water is higher, the falls cover these rocks completely.

At this point, I was either gazing at a gorgeous butterfly with happiness in my heart, or I was wondering if I could just skip the rest of the waterfalls and go swimming till Mitch came back down. Which do you think is more likely? :-)

I did keep going of course, albeit not always as quickly.

We did see monkeys on the way up-- they let me get about 15 feet away before scooting to the higher branches. Definitely not tame, which surprised me given the number of tourists.

After about a 2.5 hour hike we made it to the seventh fall. The water was very clean and cold-- with lots of nibbly fish in the limestone pools. It felt SO good.

On the way back down, lots of intense vegetation including these giant Tarzan vines, and some strange corrugated ones too.

I wore my bathing suit under my clothes, but hadn't considered what interesting looks I'd get when the water soaked through. How do you say "It's just water" in Thai?

Next adventure-- a visit to the elephant rescue camp. With mechanization, elephants and their mahouts are out of work all over SE Asia. Though I was not that keen on the "elephant ride" thing, I rationalized it as keeping these animals fed and cared for. Often their only alternative is to beg in the streets of Bangkok (literally.)

Then a quick ride in the back of a pickup to the River Kwai for some rafting and swimming.

We shared the raft with four French kids who'd been volunteering, teaching English to the Karen tribespeople in northern Thailand, for the last ten months.

Next stop-- a little WWII history lesson. The Japanese used forced labor and POWs to build a supply line railway and bridge between Thailand and Burma, later known as the Death Railway (and the subject of the great film "Bridge Over the River Kwai.") Of the 61,000 POWs, over 16,000 died during the construction; of 200,000 Asian laborers some 80,000 died. The original bridge over the River Kwai was destroyed by Allied bombers in 1943 but the railway is still operational and another bridge was built in the same location to commemorate the event. The memorial museum and bridge are about 5km north of Kanchanaburi. Near where we boarded the Death Railway train, we saw a Buddha in a cave...

And that's Mitch, on the bridge...

After a refreshing shower, we headed out to the Kanchanaburi night market. Of course if there's an all-you-can-eat buffet, we'll find it. This was great-- for 89 baht (about $3) we basically had our choice of unlimited raw materials and a charcoal grill/hot pot at our table. This was all under a tent in an empty city lot next to the market.

First you pick your noodles, vegetables, seasonings like lemongrass, garlic and ginger, and protein-- anything from chicken, pork and beef to tofu, organ meats, shellfish, even fake crab. This would never pass muster in the US-- nothing was on ice-- but surprisingly we didn't see flies and neither of us got sick.

Bring it back to your table, grease the grill part (the top) with a little margarine, and lay out the meats to sizzle. Then pour some hot broth in the trough around the grill and add your noodles, vegetables, and seasonings. When it's cooked to your taste, ladle it over your rice and get busy.

Some fabulous fresh fruits for dessert.

Then we explored the market. Like most others we saw, you could find almost anything here. This little girl wanted a pet mouse pretty badly.

Some stalls carried clothing (often bearing very strange English phrases like Winnie the Pooh exclaiming "I'm built to excite!") while others had bags, tools, books, houseplants or foods. I tried what looked like a chocolate-covered donut and was disappointed (duh!) but the Chinese "dough sticks" with sesame seeds were yummy, as was the fresh pineapple.

However, these treats were not my thing, nor Mitch's. That's right, they're bugs.

Gratefully I never saw bugs this big while still alive.

Care for some green onion with your mealworms?

The next day we took Noi's Thai cooking course. It was easily one of the highlights of the trip-- starting with a tour of the market and lengthy explanations, tastings, and instruction. The whole-day course cost just 950 baht (about $30) each. We followed Noi down the street like ducklings, stopping at street vendors' carts and trying random things, like deep fried tapioca and red bean squares...

... and then into the market itself. Noi taught us about traditional Thai foods, medicinal plants, and history. She emphasized how the introduction of Western foods and culture have changed the "old ways." For example, many young Thais now shop in grocery stores and buy pre-packaged foods, whereas Noi learned how to make the rice noodles from scratch, and still buys the curry paste her mother makes and sells. Nowadays if the hot chilis upset your stomach, you'll take Pepto-Bismol, but "back then" you knew to eat a particular dessert made of coconut shell charcoal and coconut milk gelatine (which we actually tried, and it wasn't bad.)

Here she is showing us coconut milk and rice flour pastries which are usually sold to be used as offerings at the small shrines found in front of most homes and businesses. One such shrine is seen in the background. Shrines are also honored with burning sticks of incense and small garlands of jasmine and marigold flowers.

Mitch, listening to Noi's lecture about this selection of curry spices..

During the Japanese occupation, many Thais were forced into labor camps. Those who attempted to escape were tortured to death with palm shoots like this one. They grow very fast, several inches a day, and the victims were tied into a sitting position on top of a palm shoot which eventually split them open.

Noi let us decide what dishes we'd make. The group (eight of us in all, the rest from Europe plus us two Yanks) decided to make pad thai, tom yom ka, green curry, and a ginger stir fry. While we shopped, Noi taught us about the ingredients and how they may differ in the markets back home, and she made substitution suggestions. I don't usually care for many Thai flavors, but it was all part of the adventure. On the left you'll see brown tamarind pods, long green lemongrass, and little chunks of galangal root.

I should have taken pictures in the meat section, where everything from beef, pork and chicken to rabbit, frog, fish, prawns, goat and ??? were available. The frog legs, quite unattached and skinless, were so fresh they were still twitching spasmodically. Again, surprisingly, very few flies.

Here on the right you see our chickens, long beans, and green eggplants.

Her facilities were amazing-- very high-end professional equipment that would have been at home in any 5-star restaurant kitchen, with sous chefs in the background chopping and dicing. It was an open-air setup overlooking a lovely river scene with hills in the background.

Noi made each dish first and demonstrated the techniques, letting us taste and smell at each step, and then we used her final product as a guide for our own creations.

The end result? I still don't care for the most essential Thai flavors (kaffir lime, cilantro, lemongrass, curry, chili, coconut milk) but the food was delicious anyway. A contradiction in terms, of course. I was suffering with the fourth migraine of the trip so it was impressive that I enjoyed it as much as I did.

I crashed for a few hours' nap and woke feeling much better. I had a wood-fired pizza (which was labeled "margherita" but was more like barbeque) for dinner. It was the first of many, what I later called the Pizza Tour of Thailand. When I wasn't in the mood for Thai (frequently) I found Thailand to have some of the best Italian cuisine... the spaghetti carbonara at Portobello in Koh Tao was the best I've ever had-- but I get ahead of myself.

Part of the theme of our trip was a desire to take every kind of transportation at least once. The next day we hired this pedicab driver to take us to the Bridge over the river for some shopping, and he ended up bringing us to the War Museum as well. Here's a scene of a Kanchanaburi street from the back of the pedicab.

We also visited the Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery, also known as the Tiger Temple, a retreat for rescued animals of all kinds run by Buddhist monks. It was a very regimented, assembly-line sort of experience-- every visitor accompanied by 3 or 4 Thai "guards" who hold your hands, take all the photos and who position every visitor quite strictly around the sleeping (drugged?) cats. They put leaves in the cats' mouths (as a joke? to display their sleeping-ness?) and get really irritated when you remove them.

Most people in Thailand for their first time make sure to visit Chiang Mai. We didn't, for a few reasons. The best summary, I guess, is that we wanted to see things that meant something to us and not go places because "you have to." For that reason we also skipped Phuket (wretched tourist hell). We also wanted to take our time and not be rushing around tied to a schedule or tour itinerary. When we arrived in Bangkok we hardly knew where we'd lay our head the first night, and that was it. So we enjoyed our days in Kanchanaburi until we felt we'd seen enough, and then decided not to go north. We would have, if we'd had more time in country, but since it was already July 3 and we were leaving on the 15th, we felt we'd just lose too much time in cross-country travel, and we wanted plenty of diving.

So, from Kanchanaburi (thanks to Apple's assistance with writing things out in Thai just to be sure) we took a bus to Nakom Prathom and had purchased, in Kanchanaburi, some sleeper train tickets for the overnight train to the coast, a small town called Chumporn. We planned to take the morning ferry from Chumporn to the tiny backpacker island Koh Tao and do some diving. Taking the night train enabled us to add one more "mode of travel" to our list of accomplishments.

When our bus dropped us in Nakom Prathom, it was night and raining, and it wasn't a station, it was a street corner. Our adventure continued with us marching around a huge beehive-shaped wat and through a night market, to a public toilet (a rare thing in Thailand) and then back to the market, following the often contradictory advice of people trying to point us to the train station. A guardian angel stranger collected us under his wing, finally, and drove us to the station in his car-- how sweet!

It would have gone much better if I'd been on top of 24-hour time... in other words, a train leaving at 20:56 is leaving at 8:56pm, not 11:56. We arrived at the station with time to spare, but blithely ignored the stationmaster who told us the train was coming in 30 minutes, assuming he was mistaken. (WHAT were we thinking?) We hunted through all the stalls of foodsellers for a one-block radius around the station, could not find fried chicken, ate some noodle soup, and returned to find the train 5 minutes gone. We thus had to buy a second pair of tickets (another $30!) and these for a seater train (no sleeping compartments) leaving at midnight. That night sucked. The train was freezing cold, brightly lit, I wasn't next to Mitch so I couldn't slouch and sleep on him, and in short I was happy to get off in Chumporn at 5-something in the morning.

The ferry left at 6am and we enjoyed a lovely, breezy 3 hour ride to Koh Tao, standing at the prow of the ship the whole time.

Local fishing boats lining the canal towards the sea..

Koh Tao...

The first thing we did was check in at Big Blue, who I'd researched and picked for our diving. Big Blue's bright, airy rooms (private bath, fan, for 200 baht a night, about $6-7) were off the main street, quiet, and had nice views of the island's peaks:

Here's the room, where we spent very little time..

This is the view we had every morning walking from our room to the dive shop. You can see the dip tanks for rinsing all the gear on the right-- then past these trees is the shop and restaurant, looking out onto the sea. On the left you can just make out one of the little Buddhist shrines, set up on a pedestal..

Second, we rented a scooter to explore the island. It was 200 baht for 24 hours, and a full tank of gas was only $3-4. We'd start diving the next day, so might as well toodle around a bit. This is not our scooter, but it's a typical example of the seats they use for kids, which I thought were cute!

Third, we got lunch. Here's the view from where we sat, on the southern end of the island, in a little restaurant. I had fried rice with cashews for $2, and Mitch had a fried fish with garlic and pepper for about $3.50. The floor was polished teak and we relaxed on traditional triangular floor pillows, eating off low tables and feeling like kings or Romans.

Mitch walked down a long set of steps to the southernmost shore, a rocky bay, and I rested on my butt at the top.

Most of the island's shoreline looked like this, with giant boulders, but there were a few sandy beaches.

When we weren't diving or eating, we were usually sitting on deck chairs at the restaurant connected with the dive shop, enjoying the shore breeze.

One of the trees giving us shade had these lovely powder-puff blooms that only lasted a day.

Sometimes we'd stop at a street vendor for breakfast-- rice porridge and egg or pork..

Other times I'd just have a cup of tea at the shop before we left.. and two local bakeries (New Heaven and Cafe Corner) made excellent sticky buns and pain au chocolat.

Loading the lanta which ferried us past the shallow shoreline reefs to the dive boat.. Dives were 700 baht (about $21) per tank, 400 baht extra for night dives, and despite big groups (often 20-40 people on a boat) the individual dive groups were usually 4-6 people per DM. Unfortunately, there just weren't that many dive sites on the island, so if you weren't the first boat there (and sometimes, even if you were) you'd be diving near about 40-50-60 other divers. Blech. The water was deliciously warm, at least 84 degrees and sometimes 86-87. Corals were in good condition with little to no bleaching.

One of my favorite divemasters, Church (aka Eberhardt Kirchner) from Austria. Behind me is Karina, daughter of our new dive friend Nic (also from Austria.) Nic and his 3 kids, and his girlfriend Sabina and her 2 boys, were all on holiday from Vienna. I can't believe I don't have any other above-water pictures of them!

Enjoying the sun during a surface interval. (Yes mom I was wearing sunblock.)

After a hard day's work keeping the fish in line, we'd chill out, watch the sun set, hold down a deck chair and enjoy a cocktail. We never did see a brilliant red sunset, but the partly cloudy days benefitted us with lower temperatures, refreshing winds, and occasional showers just enough to clean the air and streets.

At night all the beachfront bars lit up, burying torches in the sand and laying out mats, cushions and beanbag chairs to encourage passers-by to linger. Lotus Bar was tops for entertainment, with three very talented (and physically fit!) young men doing fire dancing of various sorts. Sadly, Lotus Bar was also tops for trash pollution, with plastic bags, straws, and cigarette butts layering the sand (occasionally around a passed-out partier) each morning.

Usually we went to bed early to be ready for the next morning's diving.

Low tide, early one morning...

Some of the dive shop employees in their favorite perch..

During surface intervals I learned to catch a few Z's when and wherever possible..

Our favorite DMT (divemaster in training) Mer, from Holland.. yes, Mer like mermaid..

Along the shore...

A nice little place for dinner--

And of course, the reason for being here in the first place! Sadly, most of the pictures I took did not come out well... I was using Church's point-and-shoot; much deeper than 10-15 feet, the water absorbs most of the spectrum of light, and without a powerful lighting setup, the pictures are totally blue-d out. Also, it's nearly impossible to stay still enough for a sharp picture because you must never touch the reef. This was a lucky shot.

This is a yellow boxfish..

Here's Mitch..

One of my favorite dives was a site called Chumporn Pinnacle, and reliably we'd see sharks on a sand patch around 90 feet down. This particular dive, two juvenile bull sharks attended the party. One persistently followed a rabbitfish around and up a spiral path, trying to get into position to take a bite. Notice in the second picture it looks like someone already had a bite of the rabbitfish, on his back in front of the tail... but the prey carefully stayed just in front and to the side where the shark apparently was unable to make the attack. Sorry for the blue-ness and lack of focus. I got a great dive computer on this trip (a Suunto Vytek DS) and so the good camera will have to wait.

When I took these shots, the sharks were about 10 feet away; it was exhilarating.

Here's Nic, clowning around..

And though horribly blue, this gives you a little idea of the quantity of schooling fish. Swimming above these anemones are damselfish, and they hover above the reef in clouds like reverse shadows. The babies are teeny, about 1/2" long, and you see every size damsel up to 3-4" long. If there's a sudden loud noise like an engine starting, or more commonly, a sudden movement of a large fish, the damsels all dart as one into any nook they can find in the coral, and just as suddenly they all pop out again. It's a beautiful thing.

A passable shot of a Christmas-tree worm poked out of the coral.

A blue-ringed angelfish, very common around Koh Tao.

Nic, fooling around during a safety stop, with his elder son Max.

The next few pictures were taken by Church during our nitrox dive together, again on Chumporn Pinnacle.. this is me, obviously...

A nice school of chevron barracuda..

A baby scorpionfish, only 2-3" long-- Church was lucky to spot this tiny fellow.

A longfin bannerfish-

A much better shot of the yellow boxfish-

A nice type of nudibranch (sea slug) commonly called a Magnificent Jeronah. The non-flash picture is much sharper but the flash version shows the true colors..

And Church's much-nicer shot of an array of Christmas-tree worms..

But all too soon it was time to head back to Bangkok. Our flight to Tokyo would leave at 11pm on Wednesday, so we left Koh Tao on Monday morning. This time we took the "faster" route... a high-speed catamaran to Chumporn and then an "express" bus to Bangkok. This cost about 850 baht (about double the "slow" way we did on the way to Koh Tao).

Here's the catamaran at the end of the pier...

The catamaran took an hour less to cross, and was air conditioned with comfortable seats. That part was great. Then, a 2 hr wait for the bus, spent drinking yummy watermelon puree and watching local chickens strut their stuff. The bus was less than great-- it was a double-decker and all the A/C settled in the downstairs, so up on our level it was like a sauna. Movies were played the whole way to Bangkok, but they were the worst drivel imaginable. UGH! We stopped for dinner at a roadside station with all the usual soup ladies, carts and stalls of interesting, undeciferable dishes-- and the restrooms at this rest stop had unique signs for "men" and "women"-- a banana and a sea shell. Which reminds me-- in Thailand often toilets are the "squat" kind not the "throne" kind. Balance is essential as are good quads.

Anyway, we made it back to Bangkok that evening and planned on spending the next two days shopping, getting a Thai massage, and finding Jemima's gym for some belated muay thai and BJJ. Again a comedy of errors interfered. I knew, from our visit to the Chatuchak market, that a taxi should cost 180 baht or so to that area (and her gym was next to the market.) A taxi driver wanted 500 baht, and Mitch and I said no, but eventually he agreed to 180 baht. We started, but the traffic was ugly, and he started making noises about wanting 200 baht instead. After 20 minutes of grumbling and not much progress in the traffic jam, he basically kicked us out of the car and left. We hadn't brought a map, which wouldn't have been super helpful since the street signs are all in the Thai alphabet anyway, and we couldn't find another taxi willing to take us to the market because of the traffic. After about an hour's meandering walk, somehow my wonderful husband led us back to our neighborhood.

The next day we shopped for gifts and went to the Pai Spa. It is located in a 140 year old house near the palace, built of exquisite polished teak, and originally was the home of highly-placed royal chefs. Later it was used by visiting heads of state to prepare before royal interviews, and is the only remaining teak house of its era in the city. What a treat! A two-hour massage (90 minutes whole-body, and 30 minutes just for the feet) was 500 baht (about $16) and was the perfect end to our vacation.

We were the only clients in the whole spa when we arrived at 11am. We began with a Thai lady washing our feet as we sipped cold green tea and wiped our faces with very cold moist towels that smelled of jasmine. Then we changed into loose cotton garments and laid down in a dim, high-ceilinged wood room draped with white cloths. Our masseuses started at our feet and worked their way up.

Everything was very luxurious and the details were the best part-- like this "origami" swan towel on my bed, sprinkled with orchids..

On the stairs was this beautiful bowl of water, covered in flower petals..

There was a different arrangement on the landing outside our massage room..

After our massage, we paid one last visit to "our pad thai lady." There were numerous carts like hers in the area... basically a propane tank on wheels, topped with an enormous wok. Along the front edge of the wok there would be piles of cooked noodles, and hanging on the side of the cart you'd find a large bag of shredded cabbage, carrots, and other vegetables. Your pad thai would be cooked to order, usually just with an egg though chicken was also an option.

Then we checked out of the guesthouse and hung out for a bit in a local coffeehouse. Mitch liked these lions in the intersection nearby.

Though it's almost impossible to capture the organic nature of Bangkok traffic flow in a still shot, Mitch did a good job. In the foreground, a vegetable-seller's cart, and behind him you see the flood of scooters jetting ahead of the slower cars. One thing I liked about Bangkok traffic-- the red lights all had countdown clocks letting you know just how much longer you would have to wait. Petty things like traffic lights never seemed to stop the scooter drivers though; they'd go through a red light if they could make it and even if they couldn't!

Reading a book and waiting for our airport bus.

Cute stone elephants. Notice how the streetlight posts are crawling with blooming orchids?

Ultimately when the airport shuttle arrived it was FULL! So the shuttle company flagged down a taxi and paid our fare. Traffic was so bad, it took over 90 min to reach the freeway, but we made it to the airport with hours to spare. Here I am in the taxi.

It was a fantastic journey over all. I can't wait to go again.