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.