Archive for January 2009

Roosters: Evil

January 10, 2009 - 7:55 am No Comments


At the crack of dawn this morning, a rooster started screaming. Once every ten seconds for about an hour.


Sounded like he was standing right outside our door. I wanted to kill it.


I rifled through my bags in the dark for about 20 minutes looking for my Air France earplugs. Just when I found them, the rooster stopped.

The sound of construction on the other side of our room picked up where the rooster left off. I open the window and see that it is not construction, but a kid banging on a metal spot with a spoon. I wanted to kill him.

For a few moments, the pot-banging would stop, replaced by a man having extreme difficulty clearing his throat. Then, through the front door, hammering. And then, through the window, the sound of somebody wretching. Maybe the same guy who was trying to clear his throat. Now, the rooster is at it again. I am too awake to use the earplugs.


Very chilly this morning. I can see my breath.

Today, we’ll explore Luang Prabang by bicycle, visiting some wats and hiking up the hill in the middle of town called Phu Si (POO-SEE). Add jokes here.

Welcome to Laos!

January 9, 2009 - 11:30 pm No Comments

Just before heading to the airport, Doug and I treated ourselves to another massage at a place recommended by Peter. He told us they were the best massages in Chiang Mai, but the place looked like it was set up in an abandoned dentist’s office on some random back road. The rooms were frigid and smelled like gym socks, and the massages were only mediocre. Doug and I vowed to get at least one more quality massage before we come home.

We got to the airport not having booked any accommodation in Luang Prabang. Since most immigration officials require an intended address while visiting a country, I was starting to get a bit nervous. We fired off a bunch of e-mails to any guest houses that we could find online with the dates we needed to stay and our flight information. One of the guest houses I found was run by a photographer named Paul Wager (take a look, he’s got quality stuff). Even though the positive review about it said that it was not officially open yet, I sent off an e-mail anyway. Just to put something, we picked a random guest house address for our immigration papers.

We boarded our flight and took off. Laos Airlines served us some kind of fried fish sandwich, which wasn’t half bad. In the air, I was a bit stressed about finding a place to stay for the night. Doug was care-free, fumbling with his Rubik’s Cube. After two weeks, he has one side done and almost a second.

Before we knew it, we descended through the clouds and haze, revealing Luang Prabang to be a comfortable town nestled within lush, green mountains. Didn’t really know what to expect. All I know that it was highly recommended by my cousin Eric and a bunch of people who had posted to online forums. Only an hour’s flight from Chiang Mai, we figured why not.

After landing, they let us walk around the tarmac a bit and take pictures. Very cool.

Luang Prabang Airport

Then off to immigration, where I got the shaft for being Canadian. For some reason, Laos visas for people from Canada are more expensive than for any other country in the world. Why?

We walked outside to search for a place with Internet so that I could find a guest house. Standing just outside the door, what do I see but the smiling face of Paul Wager and a big sign with my name on it in his hands. Sometimes it just happens.

Paul let us to his truck and introduced us to his Laotian wife, Joy. On the ride to the guest house, he told us a little about his five years in Laos. He came here, loved it, presumably met his wife, and never left. We started talking photography learned that he’s been published in National Geographic, Travel & Leisure, and other popular magazines. After reminding him that there are a lot of people who want to do what he’s doing, he offered to help me out in any way he can, starting with telling me where to go in Luang Prabang to get the best shots and then giving me advice about how to get established in the industry.

The guest house is in the middle of town. He showed us to our room, smallish but comfortable. He didn’t have any twin rooms left, so Doug and I get to share a rather cozy queen size bed. Doug was overjoyed to find yet another shower head without shower doors in our bathroom.

Paul also lent us a couple of bicycles to get around town. Mine offers no mechanical advantage, has no brakes, and has a pretty little basket on the front if it. We ran out to see the town before it got dark, getting down to the Mekong River just in time for sunset.

River Boats at Dusk

At a restaurant called Yongkhoune, we had some traditional Laos food for dinner (beef and chicken orlam), and neither of us really liked it. Doug, who has been a little under the weather for a few days now, has cramps. There seem to be enough backpackers here to sustain a nightlife, but we’re going to take it easy tonight. Pretty full day tomorrow in Luang Prabang.

Bye Bye, Chiang Mai

January 9, 2009 - 9:15 am No Comments

Our last full day in Chiang Mai consisted of an elephant show (funny), an elephant ride trough the jungle (bumpy), an ox cart ride (very bumpy), and bamboo rafting (called “lafting” by Peter) at Maetaman Elephant Camp. Laughs all around when, while on our elephant ride, the animal in front of us dropped about 50 pounds of shit into the river and I said, in perfect Thai, “arroy ma,” meaning “very delicious.”

After each activity, the only way out was through a cluster of souvenir stands, all selling the same crap as each other and what we saw at the Night Market the evening before. Like I saw in Peru, I think all the “authentic,” hand-made souvenirs sold by street vendors are mass-produced in a factory somewhere and then sprinkled all around town. Someone is making a killing.

Elephant Rider

Elephant Painting

Elephant Bum

Doug & Jeff on an Elephant

Elephant Pisses

Doug & Jeff on the Bamboo Raft

We also went to a monkey show and stopped at the unimpressive palace belonging to Thailand’s last princess.

Monkey Doing Push-ups

Monkey in a Cage

Our last activity of the day was a stop at the traditional village of the Padong people, also known as the “long-necks.” The women in this tribe have a growing number of metal rings placed around their necks as they get older, elongating them and making them more “beautiful.” I was pretty excited about this stop, hoping to get some National Geographic-like pictures. Instead, the whole experience was depressing and awkward.

Padong Girl

Padong Woman

Padong Children

As we followed the main path through the village, long-neck women sat in front of souvenir stands, each one selling the same crap. None were smiling, all looked depressed. They chatted and giggled amongst each other, but when a tourist came near, they would stop talking, turn towards the street, and do something “traditional,” like fidget with a loom, play a strange musical instrument, or hold their baby close and look all poor and hungry. Since we paid a fee before entering the village, Peter encouraged us to take all the pictures we wanted, but it didn’t feel right. On the one hand, these people were on display like zoo animals, and on the other, their existence was not at all authentic. I got some shots, but I have mixed feelings about them.

Padong Woman

Padong Girl

Padong Girls

Padong Girl

Rice Paddies of Baan Tong Luang

Padong Man

Padong Woman & Baby


Between destinations, Peter got into the habit of making unplanned stops at places where he surely received kickbacks: a jade factory, a celadon ceramics factory, a carpet manufacturer. After suggesting additional stops at a lacquerware factory and a silk manufacturer, we got tired of his shenanigans and politely declined.

Before leaving Peter, we had a quick snack with him at noodle place on the corner. I had the most wonderful dessert, called something like “tap tin krop.” Coconut milk with red jelly things and noodly things in it, topped with crushed ice. Very delicious and refreshing.

Last night, we went to our favorite hangout (Riverside Bar) to see our favorite band (The Bugs). They played U2 for me and, knowing it was our last night in Chiang Mai, posed for some pictures with us.

The Riverside

Us & The Bug

We enjoyed Chiang Mai, finding it to be a little more genuine than Bangkok. You have the same kinds of people trying to take advantage of the tourists (tuk-tuk drivers, tour leaders, street vendors), but there are fewer of them and they are less aggressive.

The most stress-relieving news of the moment is that the rest of the flights for our trip are booked. Took a bit of back and forth with the airlines, airports, and Internet fare searching, but it’s done. Tomorrow, we’re off to Luang Prabang (LOO-ONG-PRAH-BANG), a small, highly recommended town in Laos (rhymes with HOUSE). We’ll be there a couple of days before heading off to Siem Reap (pronounced SEE-EM-REE-UP by the Thais but SIM-REEP by the Cambodians, I would later learn), location of the enormous temple and photographer’s paradise known as Angkor Wat.

Chiang Mai Surprise

January 8, 2009 - 9:21 am No Comments

We really didn’t know what to expect from Chiang Mai. It’s quite a large and spread out, definitely cooler and drier than it was down south. Curbs are striped in red and white, making it feel like you’re playing Pole Position when zooming along in the back of a tuk-tuk. The most refreshing change is that we are not constantly hassled by taxi drivers, street vendors, or girls with numbers on their dresses the way we were down south. For the most part, people catering to tourists respectfully keep their distance. Doug and I like it here.

On our first night, Doug and I hit the Night Bazaar, crowded row after crowded row of street vendors selling all the same stuff as we’ve seen everywhere else: obscene t-shirts, fake watches, pirated DVDs, cheap jewelry, and little tuk-tuks made out of wire and cut-up soft drink cans.

Shopping for a Soccer Jersey

Eat More Rice Bitch

Looking for a place to have a drink, we ended up at Riverside Bar, a nice little place packed with mostly locals and a few tourists sprinkled in. The rock cover bands that played were truly amazing. After a particularly good U2 cover by a band called The Bug, I was hooked. Doug captured some video. Unbelievable guitar solos by these guys and also the other band that was playing. There’s no way you’d ever find local bands this good at home.

The Bug

While jamming to the music, I met a Thai fellow named Gao, who was there with some friends at a table right in front of the stage. He was on a mission, drinking a continuous stream of whiskey and water and wishing me Happy New Year every eight minutes. We were instant friends.

Gao & Friends

We woke up yesterday (right around the time we were supposed to get up) by the sound of a rooster cockle-doodle-dooing and a ridiculous amount of dog barking. By the density of barks, I estimate 10 dogs. The rooster cockles, and then all the dogs go apeshit for a few minutes. When they finally stop barking, the roster cockles again and it starts all over.

We booked a day trip to the wats of Chiang Mai through the front desk with a guy named Peter. Peter is a local tour guide who is trying to get his own business up and running (and needs a web site). He turned out to be a good English speaker, very pleasant, and accommodating, allowing us to run errands throughout the day.

The wats of Chiang Mai are impressive. Walking around them, you hear live readings from the Buddhist bible over loudspeakers, roosters cockling, and dogs barking. Sometimes you have to step over sleeping/dead dogs just to walk inside. Turning a corner, you’ll get a waft of incense, which really works to make things seem more mystical. I took a buttload of pictures.

Wat Suan Dok

Buddhist Monks

Inside Wat Chiang Man

Entrance into Wat Suan Dok

Inside Wat Suan Dok

Laundry Day

Chedi at Wat Umong Chedi

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Inside Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

At Doi Suthep, one of the monks was sitting down on a chair and blessing people who would sit down on the floor in front of him. A family gathered and he began chanting. He produced what looked like reeds, dipped them in water, and then flicked water onto the people in front of him while he continued chanting. When he was finished, he tied a simple bracelet of white string around each of their wrists.

After they were finished, I moved in and gestured if I could take a photo of him. He gave me a gentle smile, so I leaned in and snapped a quick one.

Buddhist Monk & the Holy Water

After I made a small donation to the box next to him in thanks, he started chanting and flicking water at me. I kneeled down, soaked up the moment, and received my bracelet.

Chedi at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Prayer at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Monks on the Steps to Doi Suthep

Buddhas for Sale

Peter explained a bit about the history of Chiang Mai and taught us some Thai. Interesting how tonal languages work. Gao, at the Riverside Bar, had taught us “lao” meant “whiskey.” When we explained to Peter that we had some “lao” the night before, he thought we meant we had Lao people last night (presumably eating them or killing them). Turns out that the word for whiskey is spoken from high to low, while the word for Lao people is more flat.

Our basic Thai is getting better. We’ve learned the basic greeting “sawadee,” which means “How are you?” when the suffix of “kup” is added for a boy speaker and “ka” for a girl. Adding “pi ma” to the end of it makes it “Happy New Year.” We learned from Peter that “koon soi ma” means “you are very beautiful,” and that “arroy ma” means “very delicious” when referring to food. (To my dismay, you may not say “koon arroy ma,” meaning “you are delicious,” to a girl the way you can at home.) After seeing one of Gao’s friends get sick in the bushes after our night out at Riverside Bar, we learned that the word for vomit sounds like “oo-ah,” perhaps onomatopoeic and similar to what Al Pacino does in “Scent of a Woman.” Doug has taken an interest in the Thai language as well, practicing by pronouncing Thai words much louder than English words when both are used in the same sentence.

Peter at the Wheel

Doug & Jeff Eat Lunch

Chedi at Wat Jet Yot

Celadon Painter

Dog at Wat Chedi Luang

Inside Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Phra Singh

Moon Over Viharn Luang

Moon Over Hor Trai

After the wat tour, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up. The Castle continues to be ridiculously amazing. The family, especially the woman who speaks exceptional English, will do anything for you with big smiles. She let me use her personal cell phone to call the airport. After searching for DVD-ROMs all over Chiang Mai, she produced some from behind the counter. When they clean our rooms, they fold all of our clothes and put stuff into cabinets and drawers for us. They did our laundry for next to nothing. The only bad thing is the rooster and dog symphony each morning, but it’s not a huge deal.

Last night, we went out and grabbed a nauseating dinner at a restaurant called La Brasserie and then went over to Riverside Bar again. We rejoiced to find The Bug playing. Still amazing. We’re officially groupies now.

Pleased with the value we got from Peter yesterday, we booked him again today for an early morning trip to an elephant camp, a monkey show, and a traditional village in the hills just outside of Chiang Mai. Right now, I’m sitting in the back of Peter’s car, ready to take a nap. We’ve been staying very busy…

Goodbye Samui, Hello Chiang Mai

January 6, 2009 - 6:58 pm 2 Comments

Staying on Koh Samui a couple of extra days meant that I had to change my tickets that I had booked through Expedia. After three completely useless and expensive phone calls (sorry, Doug), I was told that they couldn’t do anything for me and that I had to contact Bangkok Airways directly to change or cancel my flight. Of course, it was the middle of the night here in Thailand by the time the Expedia agent gave me that information, and out flight out was at 7:45am the next morning. This meant that I had to hop on my scooter and head over to the local Bangkok Airways office. So at 7am, that’s what I did. Naturally, they didn’t open until 8am, so this meant that I had to race over to the airport. So I did.

I wasn’t sure where the airport was, but I figured it out, getting there at 7:40am. I knew they would not allow me to change my ticket after the flight departed at 7:45am, and I thought that I might have already been screwed. But to my surprise, the lady behind the counter of the ticket office immediately canceled my reservation at no charge. The second leg of the itinerary was with Thai Airways, and she said she couldn’t do anything about that. She recommended I go over to the Thai Airways ticket office next door. So I did. But they were not open yet. So I waited.

At 9am, they finally opened the doors. The lady behind the counter told me that Thai Airways couldn’t cancel the ticket and that Bangkok Airways would have to do it. So I went back to Bangkok Airways, where they canceled it for me, again at no charge. I would later visit their office to find two available seats on a previously (for the last three months) full non-stop flight from Koh Samui to Chiang Mai.

Despite a few hiccups, I have become a big fan of Bangkok Airways. With their friendliness at the airport ticket office, no fees to make changes to my tickets, and the great experience we’ve had with them in the air, they are my kind of airline! On the flip side, Expedia can suck my balls. They are completely incompetent, disorganized, and probably ugly, too.

We filled our last couple of days on Samui by scootering around the island and doing some of the activities that Kyle had recommended to us back on Koh Phangan. I really enjoy how every business on Samui is named with some combination of “Beauty,” “Smile,” “Friend,” and “Happy.” You’ll find “My Friend Restaurant,” “Beauty Smile” (a dentist), and “Smile Massage” (I bet). The English spelling errors on street signs, advertisements, and menus are too numerous to be humorous.

Doug was really really looking forward to doing some some ziplining, in which you hang from a wire cord suspended between two trees and slide down. We went to a place called Treetop, high in the hills of Samui, to do it.

Jeff Having Fun

Doug Being Cool on the Zip-line

Thumbs Up!

Son of the Treetop Lady

Samui Rooster

We also stopped at the Aquarium & Tiger Zoo, which had a mediocre aquarium but a pretty spectacular tiger and bird show. I had no idea birds could be trained that well.

Mommy Elephant & Child


Tiger Kiss

Tiger Smiles for the Camera

Lisa, the Burrowing Owl

Hungry Monkey

On our last full day, we took a day trip out to Ang Thong National Park, a collection of tiny islands a short ferry ride from Samui. First, some kayaking around and under some of the limestone formations making the islands, and then a few hikes up to viewpoints.

Ang Thong From a Distance

Off the Boat, In a Kayak

Doug Enjoys Kayaking

Under the Rocks

Talay Nai Lagoon

The hike up Ko Wua Talap was extremely strenuous. They should not allow people who are wearing flip-flops to do the hike. They should not allow people who are wearing flip-flops and have a stubbed toe do the hike. And they certainly should not allow people who are wearing flip-flops, have a stubbed toe, and are carrying a big-ass camera to do the hike. It took some work, and I almost ate it a few times, but I finally got to the top. The view of all 42 islands in the national park from the top was worth it. Barely.

From the Top of Wua Talap

On the Shore of Wua Talap

On the way down, I stumbled and skinned my knee. Stopped at the first aid booth right at the bottom, where they patched me up. Looks like they deal with bumps and scratches every day.

One night, we went out to Fisherman’s Village to drink Bahama Mama’s (!) and watch the sun set. Doug resisted the urge to make out with me.

At the End of the Pier

Night Falls on the Pier

Sunset at Fisherman's Village

Welcome to Fisherman's Village

After dark, we’d always end up in Chaweng, cruising the cramped streets by scooter and the narrow sidewalks by foot. The scene was becoming familiar. Lots of guys selling suits trying to shake our hands and pull us into their stores, lots of guys with vicious monkeys on their shoulders, lots of taxis beeping at anyone who isn’t inside of a bar, lots of Thai girls waving us into bars that were mostly empty. The ease at which the Thai girls ride sidesaddle on the back of tourists’ scooters is frightening. Doug and I are starting to get tired of all of this.

We checked out Lamai, a slightly smaller and supposedly less seedy version of Chaweng. We found it to be much the same, with souvenir stands, crepe carts, and pirated DVDs. My favorite items were the woven bracelets, similar to ones saying “BERMUDA” or “CAYMAN ISLANDS” that you might pick up when you’re on vacation. They said things like “FUCK MY ASS,” “FUCK YOU,” “LONG PENIS,” “LONG VAGINA,” and my personal favorite, “I LOVE RAPE.”

Lamai had even fewer people than Chaweng. We still don’t understand why it’s not that busy out here. Certainly looks like there are enough bars and restaurants to handle five times as many people. Is it because of the airport protests a few weeks ago? Did that many people really cancel their trips to Thailand?

In the end, we feel like we’ve done and seen pretty much everything there is to see and do on Samui. And after everything, I think we enjoyed zipping around the island on our scooters more than anything else.

Chaweng Beach

Plane Over Chaweng

Condom Bar

Q Bar

This morning, our last in Samui, I woke up early for an hour-long foot massage on the beach for 300 baht (US$9). For the first time all trip, the sun came out, and it was blazing. The beach was borderline uncomfortable. We complained about the weather at first, but Doug and I agree that we were lucky to have the haze and clouds for the whole time we were in Samui. The sun together with the humidity would have made it very uncomfortable.

Chaweng Beach

We checked out of Fair House dripping with sweat. Like she did when we first checked in, the lady at the desk handed us cool, wet towelettes on a cute little tray to wipe ourselves down with. Then we zipped off to the airport just in time to catch our flight to Chiang Mai. Quick and painless.

Bangkok Airways Tail

While waiting for our baggage, I spotted a brochure for a sweet-looking guest house near the Chiang Mai city center called The Castle. (I must admit I was lured by the HDR photos of the building all over the brochure.) We didn’t have anything booked, so I called from a pay phone and managed to secure a reservation for tonight.

Our taxi meandered the dusty streets of Chiang Mai before eventually getting here. We walked inside The Castle and were blown away. Beautiful architecture, great facilities, and a very friendly staff. One of the ladies at the front desk spoke exceptional English and was able to answer all of our questions about our stay in Chiang Mai.

We were led to our room, which not surprisingly is awesome. Doug enjoys the opportunity to use yet another shower without doors. The entire bathroom is the shower. We even have free wireless Internet here, which should make researching and booking the rest of our trip pretty easy.

For our accommodation in Chiang Mai, we totally lucked out. Like I said to Doug, when you’re traveling, sometimes it just all comes together.

Right now, I am downstairs near the lobby, in a room with a public computer and a 42” LCD television. I sit at a large, oak dining room table, a planter filled with fake orange-yellow orchids sitting in front of me. The sun is setting outside. In the distance, dogs are barking and a Thai man is making some sort of speech through a loudspeaker. Doug sits across from me with one earphone plug in, studying maps of the city and figuring out how we’re going to fill the next few days.

Tonight, Doug and I venture out into Chiang Mai.

The Castle at Night

The Castle

Up in the Castle

Chaweng: The Party Continues

January 3, 2009 - 8:12 am No Comments

The main road along Chaweng Beach is filled with restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, retail stores, every pirated DVD you can imagine. And it’s long. Doug and I walked an hour and a half last night soaking it all in and didn’t even come lose to reaching the end.

Pig, Anyone?

Boy in the Bookstore

Ronald Says "Sawadee"

Every 30 minutes, a truck with obnoxious Thai boxing images and a loudspeaker drove by, sternly advertising the fights in a thick Thai accent.

“Fight tonight. 9pm. Chaweng Stadium. Chaweng Stadium. Big fight. Special fight.”

Chaweng Stadium. Tonight. Tonight.

We spotted a monkey in a guy’s arms and didn’t avert our gaze quickly enough. He hopped over and offered to let me hold the monkey. I didn’t want to, since I knew he wanted to relieve me of some baht. Sure enough, after putting the monkey in my arms, he produces a Fisher Price-looking camera.

“200 baht! 200 baht! Picture for you!”

I decline, but this only makes him try harder. He puts the monkey on my head.

“200 baht! Picture!”

I decline again. At that moment, the monkey bends over and clenches down with his teeth on the top of my head. It hurt. I did not know how to react. Did he make the monkey do it on purpose because I wouldn’t pay? Do I grab the monkey? Do I punch the guy? Is my head bleeding? In the blink of an eye, the guy and his monkey disappear.

“Fight tonight. 9pm. Chaweng Stadium. Chaweng Stadium. Big fight. Special fight.”

Doug and I picked a restaurant for dinner and then set up shop in one of the bars for a few drinks. We ended up sitting at a beach bar for a little while, watching fireworks and sky lanterns float up into the sky, and then hitting the Green Mango, one of the most popular and foul-smelling dance clubs in the area.

Samui Marketing: Subtle

Doug Gets All the Ladies

This morning, Doug and I began sorting out the rest of our trip. We haven’t finished booking everything, but we have a pretty good idea what we’re going to be doing. We’re not going to go back to Koh Phangan. We’re going to stay here in Samui for a couple of extra days (there seems to be a lot to do around here) before going to Chiang Mai and Siem Reap as planned. We are leaning towards going to Laos instead of Vietnam for the last few days of our trip.

This involved changing one of my flights, the one I had booked on Expedia. Trying to make the change has been time consuming and expensive, and I haven’t even been able to change it yet. The first agent did absolutely nothing, and I got disconnected the next two times I called. Note to Expedia: Don’t be completely incompetent every time I speak to you and, when I don’t get disconnected, end your calls with “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

After breakfast, we picked up some scooters and zipped around the island a bit. Great fun. Scooters seem to be popular on tropical islands. I think you can conceptualize how big an island is by how long it would take you to completely circle it on a scooter. Rarotonga took about 20 minutes. Koh Samui would take about an hour and a half.

Hole in the Road

Last One In is a Rotten Egg!

Water Buffalo

Doug’s got a really good sense of direction and has been doing the bulk of the navigating for us. We visited three waterfalls today, Hin Lad being the best of them. We were unprepared for the moderately grueling rock scrambles up to them. Flip-flops are not appropriate attire.

The Way to Waterfall

Doug at Namuang Waterfall

We also stopped at a few viewpoints and went to Hin Ta and Hin Yai, a spot with rocks shaped by the sea to look like a penis and vagina.

Hin Ta

My big-ass camera and tripod are a pain in my ass. I take them almost everywhere: on hikes up to waterfalls, to beaches, on my scooter. And it’s almost always a struggle. I keep reminding myself that I will be thankful for all the effort after I get home, but sometimes I get a little fed up with it.

Doug and I have done a bunch of walking and hiking over the last few days, and both of us are getting a case of backpacker feet. You know, it’s when you get stubbed toes and blisters, and Neosporin-soaked Band-Aids make a sloppy mess in your flip-flops. Doug looks like Kerri Strug with Ace bandages wrapped around his feet. I’m waiting for everything to heal up so that I can start getting my daily foot massages.

Doug's Battered Feet

On days with hectic schedules, Doug and I have been sustaining ourselves with street food. There are little carts everywhere with people selling fried pork, chicken wings, crepes, dried squid, and every kind of meat on a stick. If you enjoy meat on sticks, this is the place to be. Pork, chicken, fish, you name it. Most of those meat sticks are good, but today Doug and I had little balls of chicken that were filled with bone and cartilage fragments. If the meat comes to you in a form that does not occur naturally, you’re taking your chances.

Some general observations about Thailand:

  • Thai people are very friendly, but Doug and I agree there is a silent comtempt for tourists among the Thai. They are all smiles when they might get some money out of you, but Doug and I are sensing something else.
  • Based on the English on all the signage and restaurant menus, you’d think that everyone who deals with tourists daily would speak the language. But that’s not the case. Many struggle, even the taxi drivers when you give them place names. Speaking to them with the same incorrect English that they use with you seems to make the conversations flow a bit better.
  • The average age of tourists here is probably mid-30’s, not early 20’s like I expected. Lots of couples and families.
  • Most of the tourists we see in the streets look grumpy. Not sure why.
  • As I expected (but to Doug’s surprise), we are meeting very few Americans. When anyone finds out that we are from the US, they all want the inside scoop on Obama. “Do you think he will turn things around?” “Will he make a difference?” “Is he the same as Bush?” Then a political but brief discussion occurs before the taxi ride is over or the ferry is ready for boarding.
  • Doug and I need to hit the gym and get tattoos. Beefy, college-aged guys who like to strut around topless and show off their dragon/snake/barbed wire/religious tattoos surround us.
  • Dogs everywhere. Some stand alongside the road just watching cars go by, others lay down. Not sure if the laying down ones are sleeping or dead. Hard to tell the difference.
  • Things are definitely cheap here, but not as cheap as I expected. Speaking with friends who have been to Thailand before, I was under the impression that everything would be dirt cheap. But that’s not the case. I think the days of being in Thailand and living in luxury for US$3 a day are drawing to a close.
    • 10 – 20 baht (US$0.35 – $0.70) is what it costs to park your car or scooter in a private lot
    • 50 – 100 baht (US$1.75 – $3.50) is what a quick snack like chicken balls or pork on a stick costs on the street
    • 100 – 200 baht (US$3.50 – $7) will get you a mixed drink, a cheap meal, or a photo with a monkey on your head
    • 250 baht (US$7.50) will get your feet rubbed for an hour
    • 400 baht (US$14) will get your body rubbed for an hour
    • 2000 baht (US$70) will get you sex for an hour
  • As a few people warned me, there are lots of ladyboys (men dressed as women) around. I think I’ve been pretty good about spotting them, but it seems like some other backpackers are taking the bait.
  • There are easily more 7-11’s than any other store in Thailand.
  • To me, the food here tastes very similar to the Thai I get at home at the local take-out. Which is good, I guess. Just thought it would taste different. For some reason, waiters are never in a rush to bring you the check.
  • There seems to be a shortage of napkins and garbage cans in Thailand.

Fair House: Awesome

January 2, 2009 - 5:43 am No Comments

We had breakfast this morning with Kyle. He let Doug and me listen to some of his band’s music on his iPod. Really great stuff! Have a listen on his band’s web site.

Checked out of Bottle Beach 1 (US$98.50 for two nights accommodation, two dinners, drinks, and four 4-wheel drive taxi rides across the island). Took a taxi to Thong Sala and waited a few hours (ugh) at the pier. Ferries came and went, but pushy backpackers in front of us would load on to each boat and fill it up before we could get on ourselves. The weather is still kind of crummy, making the ferry ride out from Koh Phangan was as bumpy as the ride in.


Thailand Flag

We just pulled into our hotel here in Koh Samui. It’s called Fair House and was recommended to us by one of Doug’s friends. Pretty amazing place. The facilities, room, and service are all fantastic. Beautifully decorated, spacious room with lots of electrical outlets (nice!), restaurant on the beach, two swimming pools (one for me and one for Doug), laundry service (badly needed), and Internet. There’s a lot to do around here, and Doug and I are already thinking that we might want to extend our stay in Koh Samui a day or two just to take it all in.

Fair House

Tonight, off to Koh Samui’s nightlife hot spot, Chaweng Beach.

PS: Check out Doug’s blog. Might be fun to get his perspective on the same trip…

Back to Koh Samui

January 1, 2009 - 2:14 pm No Comments

This evening, we went to the bar at the resort and met up with Kyle, Beverly, and some of their South African friends for dinner, drinks, and a few legendary games of Jenga. After learning that the resort makes magic mushroom shakes, we went to the bar to order some, only to find out that they had just run out. Shame.

Doug and I really like Kyle. At 22 years old, he is happier and more mature than most Americans we know in their 30’s.

Tomorrow morning, we are going to catch the ferry back to Koh Samui. Our next few days will be spent on the beach and exploring the island. We are hoping for better weather. These are beautiful islands, but paradise is a little more perfect when the sun is shining.

We are toying with the idea of ferrying back to Koh Phangan for a Half Moon Party on January 4, since it will likely be our last few days of fun before spending the rest of our trip exploring the wats and ancient ruins of northern Thailand, Cambodia, and maybe Vietnam or Laos.

PS: We were not in Bangkok when the fire broke out, but down on the island of Koh Phangan. In fact, we only heard bits and pieces about it a few days after it happened (backpacker word-of-mouth travels slower than Internet). So we are fine. Thanks to everyone who checked in on me!

A Haad Rin New Year’s

January 1, 2009 - 12:30 am No Comments

Pretty amazing, and about what I imagined. Thousands of people drinking and dancing to rave music, with bass beats shaking the whole beach and lasers everywhere. The drinks we mostly sold as “fuck buckets,” or little pails with various combinations of cans and bottles inside of them: rum, vodka, whiskey, Coke, Sprite, Red Bull. You could mix and match as you pleased, and it was yours for 300 baht (about US$11). Along the beach, there were 10-15 different bars, each pounding out their own beats and overflowing with people. Hundreds of others, male and female, were at the waters edge pissing into the ocean at any given moment. (There seems to be a lot of pissing on this trip.)

Fire Twirler

Red Explosion

Doug and I drank lots, went all night long, and had a great time. It seems that Koh Phangan is where all the tourists are. It also seems that most of them are English or Australian.

Doug Pours a Drink

Fuck Buckets for Sale

At the stroke of midnight, Doug and I were standing on a little wooden bridge overlooking the beach. The place went nuts, and Doug and I gave each other a thumbs up.

Happy New Year!

Amazing Thailand

Getting back to the resort this morning was a bit of a problem. Let me recount the events of last night and this morning, perhaps a bit too verbosely:

12/31, 5:08pm – After taking much longer than expected to get to Bottle Beach 1 Resort, we finally arrive and check in. We ask about a ride back to the other side of the island for the Full Moon New Year’s Eve Party later that night, and the guy at the front desk says there are two scheduled trips, one at 5pm and one at 7pm. It was obvious to me that we had missed the 5pm departure, but we were asked to choose, so we picked 7pm. We’d be expected to stay down at Haad Rin all night. Then, the same taxis would bring us back the next morning. Again, we were asked to choose between two times, 6am and 7am. We chose 6am. He jotted our preferences down onto a makeshift pad of paper that screamed of disorganization.

12/31, 6:55pm – Doug and I promptly show up at the front desk. Apparently, the guy made a scheduling mistake, and instead of leaving at 7pm, the taxi would now be taking us at 8pm. No problem, but this makes me think that maybe things are in fact a bit disorganized.

8:08pm – We finally get into the 4-wheel drive vehicle. Packed in pretty tightly, we are one of two taxis making the hour-long journey simultaneously down to Haad Rin.

9:12pm – The taxis arrive at Haad Rin. We are explicitly told to meet back at the same place to be picked up the next morning at our designated time, which our driver says is 8am. This conflicts with what we were told back at the resort, but the driver insists on the 8am pickup when I verify it with him.

1/1, 5:55am – Happy New Year. After a long night of partying, Doug and I stumble to the exact spot where the taxi had dropped us off. We see a lot of taxis, but not the Bottle Beach taxi that we needed. Even more disconcerting is that we don’t see anyone from the resort who took the trip down with us.

1/1, 6:15am – After hearing that we are going to Bottle Beach, one of the attendants directs us to a parking lot next to the spot where we are supposed to be picked up. There, we find a non-descript van and a small group of people who claim to be guests of Bottle Beach. But this is not our taxi, and we are told that there is no room for us anyway. There is no driver to be found.

6:21am – I run up a side road to discreetly take a piss and step into a thick pocket of mud, covering my foot up to my ankle with brown muck. I almost lose my flip-flop trying to pull it out.

6:26am – Taxis drive by every 20 seconds and offer to pick us up. Amazingly, none of them know the place by its English name, Bottle Beach, but they pretend like they do and offer to take us anyway for 100 baht. “Yes, I take you! Let’s go right now!” We decline their offers since we think a Bottle Beach taxi that we’ve already paid for is on its way.

6:32am – The sun rises.

6:38am – A Bottle Beach taxi drives past us, filled with people. I yell “Bottle Beach!” for him to stop, but he waves at us with his hand and tells us to wait without even slowing down. Wait for the next Bottle Beach taxi, I presume, which is still on the way.

6:46am – Fed up with waiting, Doug and I decide to eat some breakfast and return for the 8am pickup that the driver had mentioned the night before.

6:48am – It starts to rain.

7:06am – After walking the alleys of Haad Rin, we finally find an open restaurant and proceed to have one of the worst breakfasts I’ve had in a long time.

7:54am – We return to the same spot on the road where we are supposed to be picked up. Again, no taxi and no Bottle Beach people.

The Next Morning

8:13am – Convinced no one is going to pick us up, we start looking for a taxi. Suddenly, there are no taxis to be found.

8:14am – It starts to rain.

8:19am – We start looking for a shop with a telephone and someone to help us get in touch with Bottle Beach 1 so that we sort things out. We find an Internet shop, and the friendly girl at the counter obliges. Of course, the listed number for Bottle Beach 1 does not work, so I have to pay for Internet time to look up their phone number online.

8:21am – Outside, Doug is talking to some taxi drivers. They offer to take us to Chaloklam, at which point we are to catch a boat to Bottle Beach. After explaining the fiasco from the day before and that we require a 4-wheel drive vehicle, we are quoted 3000 baht (about US$105) from one of the drivers.

8:36am – We finally get Bottle Beach 1 on the phone. The guy who answers speaks mediocre English, so I am able to explain our situation.

“You did not pick us up as planned, and we have been waiting for three hours. If we get a taxi, do we have to pay for it?”

“You two are only ones! Everyone else come back already.”

“OK, so what should we do?”

“Take taxi to Thong Sala. Go to 7-11 by pier, we will send 4-wheel drive. Meet you there.”

“OK, we are leaving right now.”

8:44am – We get into a taxi. One of the drivers who understands our situation immediately asks for my money when it’s obvious that they are waiting to load up the taxi with as many people as possible before leaving. Tired of people making promises and asking for money without delivering on their end, I snap at her. I feel bad, but we joke and make up.

9:04am – We arrive at Thong Sala. Nobody there.

9:16am – Turns out that a guy sitting in a random pick-up truck is in fact our ride. We are to hop into the back of it and ride to the 4-wheel drive vehicle, which, naturally, is at another location. Also turns out that we are also giving a ride to three other Germans who got also screwed by Bottle Beach 1. But they are sitting in a restaurant, so we have to wait for them.

9:29am – The Germans order their food.

9:36am – Doug looks into the bed of the pick-up truck where we will be sitting and finds that it is caked with mud.

9:44am – The Germans begin to eat in slow motion.

9:56am – The Germans finally finish, and we head off to pick up the 4-wheel drive vehicle.

11:01am – We finally arrive at our Bottle Beach 1 bungalow.

I don’t get it. Doug and I are reasonably intelligent guys. How did everyone else get back to Bottle Beach so effortlessly? I’m dying to find out. The lesson, I think, is to not stay at Bottle Beach. It is unacceptably inaccessible for the traveler who wants to get around.

Right now, Doug is in the room sleeping. I’ve got a nice spot inside the open air restaurant here at the resort, with a clear view of the ocean crashing around in front of me and a humid breeze flowing in. It’s warm, but too cloudy and rough to do any water activities around the island. And it’s now too late in the day to take any trips to some of the smaller islands around Koh Phangan. So I think we’re going to write this one off and make it a day of relaxation.

It’s just after midnight for most of you back home, so Happy New Year!