Near the end of my first year living abroad my sister, Marika, braved an unreasonably long plane ride to come see me in Bangkok.
We spent the first four days of her visit in the capital, where I showed her my neighborhood, tried to teach her a few useful Thai words, and did my best to introduce her to key Thai dishes. I also had her visit Wat Pho, one of Thailand’s largest temples; Chinatown, which is one of my favorite areas in the city but may have been a tad much for her; and the Siam Paragon mall, one of the fanciest malls in Asia.
Not only was it great to see her, of course, but the timing was especially great, given it meant we would be spending both Christmas and New Years together.
Now, Christmas isn’t celebrated as a holiday in Thailand, so I had to work that day, but they do make a pretty big deal out of it, eagerly joining in the fun (even if they don’t always understand the traditions—religious or not—behind it). So, I participated in the school’s Christmas pageant (of sorts) and Marika visited one of my classes, while all other classes were canceled for our staff Christmas party. The students enjoyed meeting my sister, though our plan to have her sing Christmas carols was somewhat stymied by a recalcitrant guitar that defied proper tuning.
On Boxing Day (which, uh, does not exist in Thailand at all), Marika headed back to the airport for a domestic flight to the southern island of Koh Jum, a rather little known island (even among Thais) near Koh Lanta. She would be on her own for a few days but handled the semi-private beach, mind-blowing sunsets, rustic hut, and coterie of dogs like a champ.
For New Year’s eve, I joined Marika in Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand. I think Marika enjoyed getting away from the traffic and smells of Bangkok, though I personally find Chiang Mai a little overrated as far as Thai cities go. Really, though, it’s more a base to explore the surrounding countryside, including the many elephant sanctuaries. And, of course, we did just that. A friend of a friend of mine helped set us up with a half-day trip to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, where visitors can feed and bathe rescued elephants, including a pair of baby elephants.
Another highlight of our trip to Chiang Mai was a day spent at a small cooking school, where we were first given a tour of various markets and later taught to make eleven different dishes. Marika even bought some of the spices necessary to reproduce the meals at home and I managed to cook a couple of them in my tiny kitchen, to the impressed approval of a Thai friend.
After a couple more days in Bangkok, Marika headed back to the snow and chill of Ottawa with her eyes already set on a repeat visit next year. With any luck, next year will see not only Marika but also my parents visiting.