Saturday, December 16, 2006

Magic Lives On

Alright, I'm back. I've been back for 2 months now. But I forgot to post and let folks know where they can see all of the photos that Jessica and I took.

The magic lives on right here:

There is also some video, and I'll be adding the short clips among that gallery at some point.

Thanks for reading the blog. I hope you enjoyed it.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

South Islands Phuket, Phi Phi and Samui

Well, I'm back in Bangkok after a week in the south islands. I'm not sure if it's because I live in a beach town already, or because I felt like I was on a tourism conveyer belt, but the island experience was generally disappointing. There were some highlights, like a good night club, a couple really nice mornings laying in the sun and swimming in clear, warm water, and hanging out with my buddy Joseph, but there were also long transit times between Bangkok to Phuket to Ko Phi Phi to Krabi to Ko Samui, and the endless and monotonous streets of tailors, girl bars, t-shirt shops and dive centers.

We didn't stay long on each island because there was bad weather on the Andaman sea (west) side islands, and everywhere felt like a tourist trap. We got a nice hotel in Ko Samui though, and the weather was pretty good as long as we got started early, so overall that was a success.

Approaching Ko Phi Phi by ferry from Phuket

Viewpoint on Phi Phi

Old style projected theatre with live band and voices. Didn't quite get the storyline, but everyone else seemed to enjoy it. Staying here too long made me miss the night ferry to Samui.

Pimped out rollling buddhist temple/monk blessing mobile in Surat Thani. Part of the end of monsoon festival.

Now Joseph has left for the north to Chiang Mai, and since I've already done that, I'm going to meet back up with Jessica (when she emails me back) and go to Cambodia to Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is. Angkor Wat is an ancient city that has been preserved in overgrown jungle for centuries, and was recently rediscovered. We'll have to take a 6 hour bus from Bangkok, then get a visa at the border then another 6 hours by bus and we're there. We'll probably stay for 2-3 days then back to BKK, maybe do some final shopping and then back home!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Slow Boat to Laos

Jessica and I separated in Chiang Mai. She headed south for the islands, and I headed north for the border town of Chiang Khong. I caught a slow boat on the Mekong river from there into Laos, a 2-day trip, sort of as a research expedition for a future trip. So far, the expedition has been a success! The boat ride was just beautiful, with lush green scenery everywhere, and a soothing pleasure cruise on a large passenger boat.

The boat stopped off on the first night in a tiny village with a lovely view:

I met a nice group of travelers, which composed about 80-90% of the passengers, and I've been hanging out with them over the last new days. Now in Luang Phabang, I'll explore the city, stay for a few days, then make a bee-line to Bangkok to meet a friend who's flying in for his own vacation.

Everything is good. Everything is great.

Chiang Mai - Cha-ching!

The overarching theme for Chiang Mai was definitely shopping. They have an incredible night market, which covers both sides of a major street with vendors for 20 blocks. Most of the stuff was interesting at first, but it soon became a monotonous string of tourist trinkets. It was sort of like watching TV though, even though the show was bad, it still had attrative force we couldn't escape. Walking the night market was fun, and we explored nooks and crannies, less popular shops for better deals, and searched for original art by Thai locals.

We also took a scooter up a mountain just outside of town, Doi Suthep, and saw an incredible temple there:

After Chaing Mai, we took a nauseating 3.5 hour minivan ride to Pai, a small enclave in the mountains of northern Thailand that has become a sort of mecca for hippies and rastas. It's one of those places that Lonely Planet plublished as being "off the beaten path", which means that a path was instantly beaten to it, but it's still great. We found some excellent original art, live music bars, and stunning country scenery. Forgot to take photos, sorry!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My oh Mae Sot

We took a bus from Sukhothai to Mae Sot, with the intention of continuing to Um Phang for trekking. After a 3 hour minivan ride, we were barreling through the Mae Sot municipal market toward a dead end drop-off point. We careened past 2-wheeled bicycles and scooters, bicycle carts loaded 6 feet high and almost as wide with boxes of clothing, bags of produce, or random propane tanks and engines, and women with giant baskets of flowers and what-not balanced on their heads.

Mae Sot is a border town on the western edge of Thailand; a trading outpost about 5 mi. from Burma. It is also fairly rural, and this all leads to an interesting mixture of Thai and Burmese nationals, as well as Karen tribespeople. In the midst of all this diversity, we certainly didn't go unnoticed. This was not a heavily-frequented tourist destination, so we really stood out and got a lot of stares, especially from children. Our stay in Mae Sot consisted mainly of walking the market and eating - we followed Lonely Planet's recommendation and sought out a hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant across from the mosque. The rotee was amazing, as was my chicken curry and naan. For some reason, everything goes well with Coke in developing countries.

The plan was to head south to Um Phang, but we decided to go directly to Chiang Mai instead. We considered taking one of these (a songthaew) on a 10-hour counter-clockwise loop:

Instead, we opted to back-track a bit to Tak, and take a nice normal bus for 6 hours:

We arrived in Chiang Mai around 6pm, tired out of sheer boredom, but glad to be somewhere with a market that sold more than boar's heads and rice cultivation equipment.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Some Recent Photos

Ayutthaya - Wat Rajburana

Sukhothai Historical Park - Wat Si Sawai

Sukhothai - Downtown

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Jessica and I, along with two German girls we met, took the train from Bangkok north to Ayutthaya. The trip was about 2 hours and cost 15 baht - 30 cents. We rode 2nd class and my arse hurt a lot. There were mostly commuters and monks on the train, heading out to the suburbs and beyond.

Ayutthaya is one of Thailand's former capitals, from 1350 until it was sacked by the Burmese army in 1767 (wiki). Now, the new city has grown up around a collection of ruined temple sites. We rented old cruiser-style bicycles and rode to the famous ruins. Entrance to each was 30 baht (about 80 cents). We were able to climb up and inside of some of the incredible stone structures - very tomb raider.

After riding all over town and eating dim sum snacks at a dirty sketchy street restaurant, we made the standard trip to the city day market. There were some particularly nauseating areas with raw meats of fowl, fish, and other fare. There were several amulet vendors, and I bought 6 excellent carved stone Buddha necklaces.

The day ended with a wonderful longtail boat ride around the river that surrounds the city. Several of the travelers staying at the guesthouse went. We got some great views of backyards - many families were bathing, playing in the water, or just hanging out, and they waved and smiled kindly. Along the way, we stopped at several temples that are otherwise hard to reach by land.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Coup Shmoo - Pass the Pad Thai!

You've heard about the military coup that took place here, I'm sure. Don't fear for me (it was actually my idea). Seriously though, I went to see the action on the government buildings strip of Bangkok, and the Thai people are very supportive, as they were applauding all of the military vehicles leaving the prime minister's office. I saw an old woman handing a soldier a rose, and it was quite touching.

The Thai people have a prime minister to handle government business, but they also have a king and queen. Their highnesses are revered by the people as spiritual symbols and are obviously a tie that binds the nation. They are displayed on giant posters larger than billboards, sometimes covering entire apartments or commerce buildings. By my count, at least 1 in 5 people are wearing the same yellow polo t-shirt with the royal crest on the pocket at all times. From where I sit now, I can see a king calendar. 12 months of King Whateverhisnameis - whoopee! (I would be murdered for saying that here - if they could understand me).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

One Night in Bangkok

Where to begin, where to begin...

Bangkok is a city of dichotomies. We've walked all day through massive indoor malls with grimy floors and dark corridors, lined with small vendors selling every kind of clean, high-fashion label you can think of, at incredibly low prices. I bought 10 t-shirts at 60 baht each - that's about $1.75 USD. I got a nice pair of jeans for about $4.50. The shopping goes on forever; you could never see every vendor. I heard about this and it's exactly why I only brought the clothes I was wearing.

Cruising in a public transit boat down a narrow city canal, you see shanties lining the banks. Living conditions are squalid. People are washing dishes in dirty plastic bins in shacks made of shards of wood for walls and corrugated sheet metal for roofs. Above and shortly beyond them, giant skyscrapers and golden-colored temples loom.

The military stages a coup, and they make it a national holiday. This keeps people's spirits up, they tell us. We went down to the government buildings and saw CNN interviewing the new prime minister. Everyone was applauding the military vehicles leaving the offices.

The rickshaws of the 21st century, motorcycles with carriages on the back called tuk tuks, putter all over the city. The drivers are always standing around asking "Where you go?" They'll take you on 2-3 stops on opposite sides of the city for 40 baht ($1), but I can't stand the fumes. Traffic is so crowded, you spend most of the time directly behind someone's exhaust.

Chinatown is endless thin walkways between buildings, with scents of strange food and sewage oscillating in a most nauseating way.

We've become quite daring with food and drinks, but haven't been sick yet. Giant grills with chicken meat, wings, pork and fish seem questionable, but they are delicious and so far, safe. We've eaten plenty of things we don't even recognize as well, but breakfast has been mainly western eggs and toast.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Pre-trip Thoughts

It's September 7th - exactly 10 days before I'll be in the air on the long flight to Tapei, Taiwan, then to Bangkok, Thailand. I've still got a lot to do before I go though - get my passport back from renewal, get traveller's checks, get my place ready for while I'm gone, wrap up things at work, and figure out roughly where I'll go and what I'll do when I get to Asia.

This has nothing to do with Thailand, but - my nephew is really cute. Happy birthday Jack! I'll tell you all about the trip in a few years.

Anyway, I'm pretty excited about the trip and having such a long time off of work. It's been nearly 10 years since I've taken a trip this long or been off of work for more than 2 weeks. I hope I can carve out time to post to this blog so that many people can watch what I'm doing and get a sense of what I'm seeing, doing, and discovering.

Please comment if you get the notion.