Why Do We Give Thanks?

I feel a strange pressure to write a post about how I’m thankful for stuff today. I do feel immense gratitude for a great many people, places, and things, but the conflict comes from my perceived expectation that I should share my thanks simply because it’s a holiday in the United States. However, I’m not in the United States.

Most people here in Thailand aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary today. People aren’t traveling to grandma’s house en masse, and grocery stores aren’t stocked up on inordinate amounts of cranberry sauce and turkey. But even still, I gathered for dinner with a group of friends to celebrate a holiday that isn’t even happening in the country in which I reside. Among the group were mostly people raised in the US, but also a handful of others from different countries. When asked about the meaning of Thanksgiving, I realized I have more questions about it than I have answers.

American Thanksgiving dinner at Cat House Restaurant in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

American Thanksgiving dinner at Cat House Restaurant in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Throughout the discussion, I found myself needing to explain the fairy tale version of Thanksgiving we’re taught in government schools, the more historically accurate version amalgamated from various texts by radical historians, and the more modern meaning that seems to broadly involve seeing people you like, eating tons of food, and posting about everything you’re thankful for on social media sites. And while our discussion was full of great cross-cultural insights, this last point is what has left me most puzzled.

Most of my Facebook friends are from the US, so most of my Facebook feed has been people sharing their thanks in their statuses. I almost posted a similar status myself about a recent trip to Pai, and moving into a new apartment today. But before I clicked the post button, I felt an internal nagging to question my own motives and intentions. When I stopped to listen to this nagging, I was greeted with a number of questions.

Do we share our thanks for the benefit of ourselves, for others, for both?

When we post our thanks each day in November or on Thanksgiving, are we actually more thankful during that time, or is it just that we’re making it a point to share the thanks we experience every other day of the year? And if that’s the case, why don’t we post our thanks every other day of the year?

Does sharing our thanks help us develop a habit of seeking out those things in our lives for which we have much gratitude? Or do we get a boost for a month or two that then fades when the US holiday season comes to a close?

Were all of us this thankful before social media allowed us to share our thanks with hundreds of family, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers with such ease?

Do we realize how much of a miracle it is that we have a way to share our thanks across the world with such little time, energy, and money?

These are a few of the questions that came to mind. I don’t have answers for any of them, and I’m sure the answers differ for each individual, but I’m thankful for the chance to ponder. Maybe you are, too.

Skinwalker’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide – Getting Around Within Cities Part II

In continuing with my theme of transportation within cities, for today’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide post I’ve decided to type a bit about renting motorbikes/motor-scooters!

I love renting motor-scooters – they’re pretty cheap (you can easily find a basic 125cc scooter for less than USD $10 per day), they’re super fun, they’re zippy, and they’re great for taking day trips out to waterfalls, temples, and mountains outside the cities. You don’t have to have a Thai or International Driver’s License to rent and use one, and it’s pretty easy to get the hang of riding them for most people.

If you decide to rent a motorbike or motor-scooter, do an online search for motorbike rental shops in your city to get an idea of what’s available, what kind of prices to expect, and which shops are reputable and which should be avoided (I had a particularly unpleasant experience with Mr. Mechanic in Chiang Mai). Also, ask your guesthouse staff for recommendations as they sometimes offer discounted rates through particular rental shops – some will even bring the motorbikes to your hostel for you, allowing you to check-out and return the motorbike right there where you’re staying.

There are several different types of motorbikes available at a range of different prices. I typically go with the 125cc scooters because I’m a jobless vagabond, and those are the cheapest to rent. However, you can rent anything from your basic in-town scooter to things that look like they came out of Tron – expect to pay significantly more for those, though, sometimes up to USD $40 per day or more. If a rental shop has a website, they often display a list of the types of motorbikes they have available as well as prices, so you should be able to get an idea of what you want before you even venture into a shop.

The Little Green motorbike I rode around Northern Thailand during one of my trips there.

The little teal motorbike I rode around on in Northern Thailand during one of my trips there.

When you go to rent your motor-scooter, bring a camera with you and a good set of eyes, as well as a copy of your passport. The companies will want to hold your passport there in case you either wreck the bike or run off with it/have it stolen. NEVER LEAVE YOUR PASSPORT WITH ANYBODY! This is why you bring a photo-copy of the main page of your passport – most companies will allow you to leave this with a deposit of 3000 baht (about USD $100). If the company insists on keeping your passport, walk thirty feet down the sidewalk to another rental company. As for the camera and good set of eyes, do a thorough check of all parts of the bike before signing anything, including the mirrors, handlebar end-caps, rims, tires, shocks, seat, plastic paneling, everything! And take photos of each part of the bike. This is for your protection so the company doesn’t try to charge you extraordinary fees for cosmetic repairs upon returning it. While not common, some companies will pull this on you and charge you the full repair amount for something as little as a scratch… which leads me to an important point about operating the motorbikes.

Be extremely cautious when riding on any sand, gravel, or on roadways that aren’t clean pavement, and only use your back brake when driving on these kinds of surfaces. The tires are often pretty slick and can easily slip out from under you if you’re not cautious on corners or if you’re relying too heavily on your front brake. I witnessed a minor accident when a person in front of me hit a small gravel patch while they were going fairly slowly around a corner. It was enough to cause the bike to skid out, resulting in quite a few scrapes and bruises for the driver and a few scratches on the plastic paneling of the scooter. That brings me to my next point – always purchase the additional insurance from the rental company for the scooter. In this case, the driver purchased extra insurance, which brought the “damage” charges down to a more manageable level (like USD $100, rather than the cost of an entire new bike). Still extraordinary for a few cosmetic scratches that were barely noticeable, but better than having to pay USD $1200, or whatever they felt like charging that day.

Another tip is to always lock the back wheel of the bike with the provided lock. While this won’t guarantee that your bike won’t be stolen, it will at least decrease the chance that a thief will pick your bike out of a line where others aren’t locked. Also, wear your helmet. While the law is rather lax around this point, if a police officer decides to stop you without your helmet, it’s an automatic fine. Also, it’s just far safer – the accident I saw may have been a bit worse if the rider hadn’t had their helmet on.

Regarding gasoline, the bikes will have none in them when you rent them, but filling up is cheap and the gas mileage is amazing. The stations have attendants that will help you fill up, and it shouldn’t cost more than a few US dollars to completely fill the tank on a small scooter. I filled up the tiny tank for about $4, which was more than enough to get me from Chiang Mai to Pai (about 85 miles). Also, driving is in the left lane in Thailand, but I think it’s easier to adjust to than one would expect. And lastly, road rules are more suggestions than anything, so stay aware of what’s going on around you and try not to let yourself become overwhelmed by the craziness that is Thai traffic.

Well, there’s a little info on renting motorbikes in Thailand. I hope it helps! Feel free to message me if you have questions I didn’t address, or if you have your own stories, advice, warnings, or amazing experiences. Also, keep checking back as I’ll be posting a part three soon with info on taxis, tuk-tuks, and songthaews!

Skinwalker’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide – Getting Around Within Cities Part I

Today, I decided to take a break from the newest song I’ve been writing so that I can post my first mini-article for my Skinwalker’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide series. I started brainstorming some ideas, and the first thing that came to mind was about getting around within cities, so I’m going to cover a couple methods of inner-city travel in today’s article. Today, I’m going to focus specifically on walking, renting bicycles, and taking mini-vans. I’ll soon write a few follow-ups that include taxis, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and songthaews!

Oh, walking – the oldest form of transportation known to humankind. I love walking through Thai cities because it’s cheap, healthful, and lets you catch every detail around you. There are many cities, or parts of cities, where walking is a great option. For example, if you visit Bangkok and stay near Khao San Road (a very popular tourist destination with a plethora of hostels, restaurants, shops, and street markets), it’s easy to spend an entire day walking around the area seeing the sights, temples, markets, and such. Also, in smaller towns like Pai, or on small islands like Koh Samet, walking is an optimal option.

Keep in mind, however, that the streets and sidewalks are likely going to be far dirtier than a common urban walkway in your quaint hometown neighborhood. So don’t wear your fanciest shoes (don’t bring your fanciest clothes, in general), and if you’re concerned about getting something gross on your feet, bring a pair of comfortable close-toed shoes as well as your sandals. While walking along the moat in Chiang Mai, there have been numerous times where rats or giant cockroaches have buzzed past my feet, resulting in quite a start because of my propensity toward wearing sandals. I’ve also slipped into slimy puddles and gunky goop wearing sandals, which is quite a disgusting feeling, so be cautious where you step.

Beautiful ruins in Ayutthaya - these and many other great sights can be seen within a day by bike.

Beautiful ruins in Ayutthaya – these and many other great sights can be seen within a day by bicycle in Ayutthaya.

While not available for rent in all cities, bicycles are an incredibly cheap way to get around far more quickly than walking and without the hassle of haggling with a tuk-tuk or songthaew driver. While I was in Ayutthaya (a city near Bangkok known for its many ruins), I rented a bicycle for the day for the equivalent of about USD $5. Within about five or six hours, I was able to see nearly all the ruins in the entire city (and there are a lot!), thanks to a map that was given to me by the bike rental shop.

Make sure you always lock the bike up, or at least lock the back tire to the frame with the provided lock to deter theft. While not necessarily common in Thailand, there are people everywhere in the world who are willing to steal things, so make yourself a less appealing target whenever possible. To rent a bicycle, I always find it easiest to ask the employees at your hostel if they know of any nearby bicycle rental companies – they’ll often know of reputable businesses, and sometimes you can get a small discount by renting through your hostel if they offer bicycles there.

The mini-vans I’ve ridden in have all been fairly modern, eight- to twelve-passenger vans that are fairly clean and air-conditioned. When traveling to specific, key destinations, such as an airport, mini-vans are often the cheapest way to get there. In Bangkok, I took a mini-van from Khao San Road to the Suvarnabhumi airport for about a third of the price of a taxi. However, part of the reason they’re so cheap is because they cram as many people as possible into the van before departing, so don’t plan on having much leg room. They also only go between very specific, set destinations in highly touristy areas, unlike a taxi where you can go to and from anywhere.

Okay! There’s a bit of information about a few forms of inner-city transportation. I’ll soon write another mini-article where I’ll talk about additional forms of inner-city transportation. Thanks for reading!

Skinwalker’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide!

After spending the majority of 2012 living in and traveling around a few different parts of Asia (China, Thailand, and Japan), I moved to Seattle in the late fall. It’s been a lot of fun living here, but I’ve been feeling the desire to be back in Asia growing rapidly. So a dear friend of mine and I just purchased one-way tickets to Thailand for early April, just in time for Songkran (a colossal, country-wide, three-day water-fight/festival)!

While visiting a travel forum about Thailand, I began writing a response to a question about finding cheap flights to Thailand and general pointers for a first-time visitor. My response began to fill the little response box, so I opened a text editor and began to expound upon the tips and pointers I was typing up. I then thought about how I’d love to share some more of my Thailand travel stories with my travel partner for this upcoming trip (this will be her first time visiting Thailand). And I suddenly felt inspired to write a sort of Thailand travel tips article and use it as a medium for telling some of my personal stories.

As I began writing, I found myself wanting to elaborate more on each topic and story, so I thought it would be fun to spread the article out and write a short series of mini-articles rather than one longer, more general article. So that’s what I’m going to do! I’ll cover a particular practical topic in each article, such as haggling with merchants, the dark art of flight searching, or getting around within cities. It should be noted, however, that these are all my personal stories, observations, and experiences. Additionally, my time in Thailand was largely spent in Pai, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Koh Samet, so that’s where most of my stories and experiences will be coming from. Regardless, this should be a fun process for me, and I’ll hopefully come up with something that people will want to read!

Keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming first mini-article in Skinwalker’s Thailand Story-Travel-Time-Guide!

Looking toward the mainland from the dock on Koh Chang island.

Looking toward the mainland from the dock on Koh Chang island.