Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

Catching Up…

April 11, 2009 - 5:10 pm No Comments

I’ve been home from Southeast Asia four months now, and it seems like I never went. Seems like a dream. It’s weird how travel memories are like that. When you’re back home, sitting at the same desk, sitting in front of the same computer, it all just seems so intangible. You know you went because you have the stories and the pictures, but it’s just so hard to believe that you were really there.

I remember the moments when I was away, sitting on a plan or in a taxi or on a boat, looking off into the distance and wondering what it would be like to be back at home, sitting at my desk in front of my computer. And here I am. Such a strange feeling making a connection with yourself through time like that.

I’ve spent the last couple of months living my regular life and working on my photos from the trip, a daunting task considering I took about 8,000 of them. If you take out the time I spent sleeping or sitting on a plane, that’s an average of one photo every 2-3 minutes for three weeks. Granted, taking multiple exposures for HDR exaggerates things a little bit, but still…

I’ve been posting my photos to Flickr, and I’ve begun adding them to my blog posts from the trip. If you click back a bit, you can see them. The photos really make the posts come alive, I think. But it’s all very time-consuming, and it will take another few months to get through them all.

Home Sweet Home

January 17, 2009 - 11:39 pm 2 Comments

Home. Got in yesterday afternoon at about 1pm. Took a marvelous shower, unpacked, and started doing laundry.

As far as the jet lag goes, I am completely wrecked. I was OK going out there, but now I feel horrible. Last night at 7pm, I had a burger and almost threw up, maybe because my body thought it was 7am and it can’t handle a Front Page burger for breakfast. And I am exhausted.

Do I have any regrets about the trip? Well, we were always on the move, and there were times when our stops felt a bit rushed. It would have been nice to have an additional one or two days at each stop to have some relaxation time. It would have been nice to see Vietnam. It would have been nice to spend more time on the beaches of Thailand, maybe going to Phuket. And it would have been nice if one of the legs of our journey were an overland route, just to mix it up a bit. But I keep coming back to the fact that we only had three weeks. You have to make trade-offs, and I think we did OK.

On one hand, I wonder if we should have relaxed a bit more and seen less, but on the other, I feel like we’ve only grazed the surface of Southeast Asia. Even though we’ve seen and done more than most backpackers we met, I feel like we just grazed the surface. There is so much to see and do in Southeast Asia that I wonder if a thorough tour is even doable in six months.

I wish there was away around the flight cancellation fees and the numerous trips to the airport we had to make to sort out our itinerary. It’s too bad Kayak and other international travel web sites doesn’t keep an accurate database of Asian airline flight schedules. It would have made all of my booking a lot easier and probably cheaper than going through travel agents. The only other thing we could have done is not book anything and wing the entire trip once we got out there, but I was scared about doing that around New Year’s, thinking some of the flights would book up quickly.

I guess the only thing I really regret is not having one of the magic mushroom shakes served on the beach during the New Year’s Party on Koh Phangan. I only heard about them the next day, so I can’t say it’s really a regret, but I think that would have pushed the already surreal experience off the charts.

Doug was a really great travel companion. Low-maintenance, flexible, and active, he was always very organized with paperwork and receipts, his clothes were always neatly rolled, and he could find anything in his bag in about three seconds. When first planning the trip, Doug was a bit hands off, but in the end, he came through by arranging our travel visas and took responsibility for navigating each city we visited.

Doug and I made things fun by playing little games along the way, like coming up with odds that the fat girl climbing up to the waterfall was American or that he would be served his noodles before I was served my rice or that my bag would come down the conveyor belt first. There were over/unders for people’s ages and for meal checks and for the cost for boom-boom in Cambodia (US$40).

In the next few days/weeks/months, I’ll be sorting through all of my photos. I’ll go back and add them to my old posts.

So weird to think that 24 hours ago, I was on the other side of the planet.

No Regrets!

Going Home

January 17, 2009 - 9:30 am No Comments

From Khao San, we grabbed a taxi to the airport. Forcing the driver to use the meter, it cost us half as much as what we’ve been paying. Finally, we’re getting this down.

We took off from Bangkok in an enormous 747-400, biggest plane in the Air France fleet. It really took some effort to gain some altitude, though, almost like the plane weighed too much. I went right to sleep. Woke up for dinner served with METAL forks and knives. WTF?

The coach seating on these international flights is uncomfortable. No leg room, and you sit so upright that you’re almost leaning forward, making it impossible to sleep since your head is bobbing around like a carnival toy. And those inflatable, U-shaped neck supports that Doug and I have don’t help, since the gap of the U is in front of you and, because you are sitting so upright, your head keeps falling forward. Wearing the neck support backwards prevents your head from falling, but if you have an Adam’s apple like me, you are choked while you sleep. Still not sure if it’s worth the several hundred dollar upgrade to first class, though.

Sitting next to Doug was a young girl from Virginia. They struck up a conversation about the usual stuff like her reason for travel, what she saw, and school. Inevitably, she asked Doug when he graduated. Doug looked at me. We knew that this would be where the conversation ends. When Doug answered “1998,” the girl put her head down and went to sleep. 32 is the new 52.

The flight took us back on roughly the same route, only this time I was awake for a different part of it. Looking out the window, we flew by Odessa, Vienna, and Prague, each a spider of sulfur lights in the blackness.

By the time we got to France, I couldn’t see anything. We descended all the way into Paris without seeing any lights. Heavy fog blanketed the city. Saw the runway lights whizzing by just a moment before touching down.

We’re in Paris for about five hours, not really enough time to really do anything in Paris since a) there’s not really enough time to commute back and forth, b) it’s the middle of the night, and c) I feel like crap.

What I think was probably just a cold intensified by the air pollution of Siem Reap now plagues me with a pounding headache, coldness, and a general malaise (points for using French in France?).

I walked in slow motion to our gate, and we plopped our stuff down. I walked around trying to figure out what I could do to keep warm. My jacket and hat were packed, and it felt drafty wherever I walked. I discovered that the grill on the floor and lining the windows throughout the terminal was producing heat, so I laid down on it, rotating a few times to make sure I was cooked evenly. It was glorious. I just woke up and feel much better.

We’re about to board our last leg home to Washington. Sitting on the grill are two “arroy ma” flight attendants waiting to board the same flight. Air France knows how to recruit.

Our Last Hurrah on Khao San Road

January 16, 2009 - 7:16 pm 1 Comment

Checked out of our guest house in Siem Reap this morning, and Voy was waiting for us. Pretty interesting set-up at Bouvasy. Voy pretty much acted as our maitre d’ for our entire stay. I hardly had any interaction with the staff and never even met the owners.

Driving out to the airport, the air got noticeably better, which was one of the things that struck me about Cambodia when we first landed here. On the west side of the city and around the airport, the air seems a lot cleaner.

Our Bangkok Airways Plane to Thailand

On our Bangkok Airways flight back to Bangkok, Doug and I sat in an emergency exit row, which is nice because it gives you get a bit of extra legroom. After we took our seats, a tall and borderline goofy Thai fellow came over and gave us some safety instructions.

“Just want to tell you that you are sitting in an emergency exit row. Want to tell you how to use door. Pull the cover off the top, and there is handle. Hold handle on top and handle at bottom and pull door. It come off. When you have door, throw it away. Then go out and run as fast as you can.”

A refreshing towel and sketchy sandwich later, and we were back in Bangkok.

Bangkok Traffic

We were there for a full day before our flight home, and we had our whole day planned out. First, Doug and I took a taxi to Central World, a ridiculously huge shopping complex in the center of town. While the size of the structure was impressive, the prices were not, with most retail stores charging about the same as the stores at home. The only deals in Thailand, it seems, are the knock-offs sold on the street.

Central World

We were hungry, so we decided to grab a meal at Central World before leaving. We browsed the restaurants until Doug found one he liked, called Kum Poon. Pretty yummy, but the service was unsurprisingly not wonderful.

Kum Poon

From there, we headed to Khao San Road, the tourist mecca that we somehow missed our first time through Bangkok. Of course, part of the reason we may have missed it was because our tuk-tuk drivers “didn’t know” about it despite our constant pleas to take us to a place where all the tourists hung out. Guess they don’t make a lot of commissions there.

Khao San is filled with mostly hippies, and the stands lining both sides of the street sell mostly hippie clothes. Lots of souvenir stands sell mostly the same crap we’ve seen everywhere else, but something I don’t get tired of seeing are the stands with fresh-squeezed orange juice on ice. I love that stuff.

Khao San Road

We were standing at a table selling international fake IDs when, in a quick burst of craziness, the table was whisked away and the people who were manning it put their innocent faces on. Just then, a couple of cops on motorcycles drove by and started shutting down other people’s stands. Are the fake IDs really illegal here? Or is setting up a table in the street illegal? I was just about to get a fake AP photographer pass, too. Oh well.

Doug and I wanted one more massage before going home, so we scoped out the scene and found one on the main strip that didn’t look too sketchy. Rather than an oil massage, we opted for a Thai massage. As it turns out, a Thai massage is more squeezing than rubbing. Not as good. When we emerged, the sky was dark, and the neon signs of Khao San were lighting the street.

Khao San Road at Night

We are now at a restaurant called Silk Bar, sitting outside and soaking it all in. Hippies come and go in the street in front of us, hauling backpacks and suitcases and body hair to guest houses and taxis. The bar across the street is blaring music, overpowering the poor lady in the middle of the street with a cane and a microphone and a karaoke box strapped to her back.

We’ve watched our last sunset, enjoyed our last massage, turned down our last souvenir bracelet. Doug’s tasted his last pork soup, I’ve chewed on my last spring roll, and we’ve sipped our last manly pina colada. It’s time to go home.

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…