Thailand

My Origin Story

This is somewhat of a prequel. When I graduated from college, I set a goal for myself that I wanted to travel to 30 countries before I turned 30. This monumentous occasion happened in January, but I actually accomplished my goal at 28; I’m now up to 36.5 (Nigeria sort of counts). Most of this blog has been about living abroad and travelling while living in Thailand, but I figured in the spirit of all this “throwback whatever” stuff, I would post a short story about each place that I’ve been to.

As part of my origin story, I’ll also include why I decided to write about this stuff:

  • I like writing.  I used to write a lot in college, sometimes because they made me, sometimes because I liked it.  Never because I was any good at it.
  • I am lazy and when I come back from a trip and everyone asks me how it went, I just say good, really good (except for Laos) and then change the subject.  There, my secret is out.  I mean, what else can I say?  I’m not going to stand there and describe every awesome detail to someone who is just asking me how it went because they feel obligated, unless I’m drunk and then you’re in for it.  I am also never sure who really cares and who is the obligatory “how was your trip” asker.  So, here’s a place where people who care, and people who don’t care, can hear about it.
  • I want to be able to remember my trips.  This was brought to my attention when my friend John was talking about the “Chicken and Cheese” sandwich that we had in Amsterdam.  It was arguably the best thing either of us had ever eaten and yet, I didn’t remember it until he mentioned it.  What happens if I can’t store all those memories in someone elses brain?  They get lost, but if I put them on the internet, they are here forever, and ever and ever.
  • I’m banking on a multi-million dollar book and movie and action figure deal.  I think it’s a solid plan that will bail me out of the mountains of debt I am sure to incur on my quest.

Every story has to start somewhere, so here goes:

Me and the old man at Bryce Canyon

Me and the old man at Bryce Canyon in 2012

My hometown in the fall

My hometown in the fall

1. USA — I’m counting it.  It fits my criteria, it’s a country, that I’ve been to, before I turned 30.  This is my list and I make the rules so it counts.  To be fair, I have been to 46 states (gotten speeding tickets in 5) and driven coast to coast thrice, so there.

Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

Nantucket Harbor, Massachusetts

Nantucket Harbor, Massachusetts

Ghost Town

Ghost Town

Rodeo in Utah.  Yee Haw.

Rodeo in Utah. Yee Haw.

Thanks mom for dressing me in this watermelon belly shirt

2. Bahamas — I went here when I was 8.  It also counts because I wrote a special report and presented it to my second grade class.  This was also my first memory of Dusty the Delta Lion.  Favorite memories — braiding all of my super long hair Barbie’s hair into braids because I wasn’t allowed to get them – the beggar kid in Nassau who said he would sing us a nice song for a quarter – adding conch to my list of 2 sea foods that I will eat (haven’t had it since) – getting attacked by fire ants — swimming with barracudas — going to the “wave beach”, where I always thought I was going to drown, as opposed to the “hammock beach” which, as the name implies, was more appropriate for a second grader.

3. UK — I went when I was 13 and the only thing I cared about doing was going to the Doc Martin store.  It was a great trip, and my first trip to a place where people talked funny (I didn’t go to the south until I was 18).  Motivated by watching Braveheart, Meg and I went back for spring break 2005.

Banff

Banff

Banff

Banff

4. Canada —  Everyone remembers their first strip club.  Mine was on a sailing team trip in 2005 in Windsor. I had an out of body experience when the boys bought a $9 lap dance for me in the champagne room and the stripper asked if I wanted some gum for when we make out later. Besides that memorable trip, I have been to Canada a couple other times and it’s one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever been.  Go to Banff, you can drive there, I did, no excuses.  Just do it, you won’t be disappointed.  Plus you can go camping and there is nothing like falling asleep holding on to a claw hammer because that’s the only thing in the sailing tool box that would maim the bear that is going to come eat you in the night.

Sneem Ireland

In Sneem, Ireland

Ireland

Ireland

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

5. Ireland — This is my favorite place that I’ve ever been.  My first time there was coincidentally over St. Patrick’s day (part of the Braveheart trip).  Talk about a bunch of crazies.  I’ve been here 4 times and every time is just so awesome.  The people are the best of anywhere I’ve traveled, the scenery is beautiful and it’s relatively affordable.  The second time I went, Meg and I hailed a cab at the train station, and before we knew it, Patrick, the 50 year old cab driver, was walking around Blarney Castle with us, giving me extra camera batteries and giving us the tour of Cork.  I also met Usher and drank a Guiness with his crew at a pub in Dublin after he performed with Justin Bieber, NBD.

Sainte Chapelle, Paris

Sainte Chapelle, Paris

Nice, France

Nice, France

Sacre Coeur, Paris

Sacre Coeur, Paris

6. France —  Been to Paris, Nice, Cannes and had a 2 hour stop at the Avignon train station where it was so hot I became unconscious in the train.  If anyone ever tells me they dislike Paris, I will call them a liar or a Republican.  I won’t go into too much detail about it, but it’s just great.  Go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe at night.  The south of France is awesome, mostly because the beach in Nice is made out of really smooth gray rocks; they remind me of river rocks.  And I hate sand, so it’s a match made in heaven.  When I was in Cannes, it was during the film festival so the city was really alive, I don’t know what it’s like otherwise, but they have the red carpet all rolled out and all sorts of cool stuff set up for the festival.

Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerp, Belgium

7. Belgium — My first Belgian experience was when we met the Tram Wizard.  We were transferring from Luxembourg on our way to Amsterdam and we (me, Meg and John) decided to go get some Belgian waffles.  The tram wizard walked us through how to do everything like we were born yesterday and herded us to the door of the tram to make sure we got on it.  After our gauffres, that’s waffles in French, we went back to the train station to give the tram wizard a lovely gift, a can of Jupiler beer that we bought in a vending machine.  He said that our smiles were his gift.  And that’s why he’s the tram wizard.  John drank the gift on the way to Amsterdam.

Bridges in Amsterdam

Bridges in Amsterdam

8. Netherlands — Chicken and Cheese??  I’ve been here 4 times, twice on my own, once on an “architectural” trip while I was studying abroad and once for 4 hours on a layover to Greece. In college, our professor basically bussed us into the housing projects of Amsterdam and dropped us off and made us sketch pictures of the buildings. People in those neighborhoods aren’t skipping around in their wooden shoes with bouquets of tulips.  I tell everyone the same thing about Amsterdam:  It’s like adult fun land, and has all sorts of “bad” things, but you could also take your grandmother on a really nice walk through the city. And that’s all I’m going to say about that on the internet.

9. Monaco — Yes it’s a country.  Doug and I sat on the steps of the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo the day before the Grand Prix and just counted Ferraris.  In an hour, I think we saw like 40 or something.  I have never seen a higher concentration of nice cars in my life.  I almost barfed on the bus back to France, I remember that vividly.

Vianden Castle, Luxembourg

Vianden Castle, Luxembourg

10. Luxembourg — Also a real country and the grandest Duchy of them all.  I was there for about 3 months when I was studying abroad.  I lived in a section of the city called Howald with Claude and Ching.  The national beer of Luxembourg is Bofferding, it’s not really exported, but it’s like Budweiser.  I remember my last night in Luxembourg I got drunk and stole some frozen sausages out of a case in the bar and ran home to my friends house.  On the way I rolled and nearly broke my ankle.  Needless to say, the hangover the next morning was almost as painful as waking up with one cankle and the realization that I fell asleep on a velvet couch with a bunch of frozen Luxembourgish sausage.

America's Cup 2007

America’s Cup 2007

11. Spain — Who knew that they killed the bulls at the end of the Bull fight??  Well, now I do.  Gruver took us to a fight in Valencia and we literally walked in as they were stabbing the thing in the back of the neck with a giant sword.  We went on rookie night, which usually results in some human goring, but no luck for us. I was hoping for something more gladitorial.  After the fight, they drag the bulls out to a shed and string them up and hack off the spine with an ax, butcher the whole thing in like 5 minutes and send the meat to the restaurants for the night, pretty cool to watch, yeah vegetarians, I said it.  We also got to see the second to last race of the America’s Cup and go to the team banquet on the roof of the Prada compound, thanks to Gruver, where Mr. Bertelli (Prada’s husband/business partner) cooked steaks for us that he had flown in from Italy. When I die, I believe this is probably the richest person thing I will have ever done.

Il Duomo, Florence

Il Duomo, Florence

Rome

Rome

Pompeii

Pompeii

Trevi Fountain, Rome

Trevi Fountain, Rome

12. Italy — This place can almost be talked about as all separate countries.  Been to Rome twice, Florence, Chianti area and Pompeii.  For all you fellow history nerds, Rome should be like Mecca for you, make one pilgrimage in your lifetime.  There is so much cool stuff to talk about here, but in the end, I would be perfectly happy if someone hooked me up to an IV of Italian food and sat me in front of the Pantheon for 5 days.

Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel

13. The Vatican — Technically a country, so I am counting it.  Still no sighting of the Pope mobile, despite 2 trips.  I’m so holy.  The first time, we waited in line for the Sistine chapel for like 4 hours, put that in the record book God.  It’s one of those things you have to see, but the whole experience was so unholy, you are literally herded into a room like cattle and told “no photo!” but everyone who has been there has the blurry picture of Adam and God that they show to their friends and try to explain what the blobs of color are — guilty.

Neuschwanstein, Bavaria

Neuschwanstein, Bavaria

Eisbach River, Munich

Eisbach River, Munich

14. Germany — Loved Munich, loved Trier, did not love Berlin.  Now this is probably just my preference, but Berlin is weird, and ugly. I’m willing to give it another chance, but the first impression was not great. If you are going to Germany, go to Munich, go on a bike tour, get drunk, bike through the nudist park and jump in the river like I did.  Also, go to Neuchwanstein Castle.  It’s what Disney modeled the Magic Kingdom after and some crazy German king built the thing in the Bavarian Alps right next to his other castle, which is yellow.

Cathedral in Prague

Cathedral in Prague

Prague in March 2007

Prague in March 2007

U Fleku, Prague

U Fleku, Prague

15. Czech Republic — I hate when everyone says, Prague is SOOO cheap.  What they meant to say is “beer is cheap, but since everyone says Prague is cheap, I am going to say it too”.  Prague is not cheap, it’s on par with what stuff costs in the US, if not more expensive, at least when I was there.  Doug and I went to Prague with Marks for Spring Break 2k7.  We drank real Absinthe in the completely wrong way.  If you go to the club here, note that people don’t show up until 3AM, unless you’re American, then you show up at 11 when the place is just an empty cavern of Euro-beat, play Foosball, get tired and go home at 1.

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria

16. Austria — Didn’t spend a whole lot of time here, but would like to go back and check it out for longer.  The Schoenbrun palace is pretty cool and I went to a concert in one of the same places where some of the musical geniuses of the 18th and 19th century played.  Vienna was also the site of my first ever Big Mac.  Everything was closed when we got there except for le Macdo and I hadn’t eaten all day so I went for it, and that was the first and last one I ever had.

Beach on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica

Beach on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica

Rincon National Park, Costa Rica

Rincon National Park, Costa Rica

17. Costa Rica — I went here courtesy of Carearbuilder in 2010.  So beautiful and we didn’t even go on the tropical side.  Rincon is a cool place to hike, lots of mudpots and hot springs.  We hired some guy and his buddy to drive us to the park in their van and then take us to a traditional Costa Rican restaurant in Liberia. There also happened to be the annual pony show or something in town that day so there were ponies everywhere.  Yee haw.  I ordered something with the spine still attached, and can you believe it?  I got sick.

Arabian Desert

Arabian Desert

18. United Arab Emirates — After going here, it puts real perspective on how ignorant Americans really are.  Not like I am some bastion of smartness, but Dubai and the UAE was, hands down, the cleanest, safest place I have EVER been.  I am more scared at a Chicago bus stop than I ever was here.  Granted, the UAE is way different from the rest of the middle east, but I will talk your ear off about how awesome this place is. We went to the Arabian desert outside Liwa in the evening one day. There were no other people or buildings as far as the eye could see. Except, I found a guy, Mohammed, with a sweet dune buggy. He spoke 0 English, but I understood his hand motion of “get in my dune buggy”, so I did. Risky? Eh. Turned out not to be. He drove me and my friends all up and down the sand dunes, brought us to the top of one and made us tea over a little fire while we watched the sunset in the complete absence of any other people. We randomly saw him at the gas station the next day in his white robes and headscarf. Is that Mohammed???

19. Oman —  The joke about the Sultan of Oman is that he loves fast cars and young boys.  And I can’t speak for his boy love, but the roads in Oman are immaculate.  Everything is lit, and perfectly paved, even in the middle of nowhere.  There is a coastal drive along the Arabian sea that is absolutely terrifying and gorgeous.  I went to the Mussandam region and took a dhow (boat) through the fjords near the Strait of Hormuz.  There are no people here, except for fishing villages (only accessible by boat) and just rocks and beautiful water with dolphins and fish and Iranian smugglers, they waved at us.  The crew on our boat caught a fish and cooked it for us for lunch.  I even tried some.

Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Green Turtle

Green Turtle

Being a tourist in Cabo

Being a tourist in Cabo

Rio Grande, on the border somewhere

Rio Grande, on the border somewhere

20. Mexico — My first wake up call in Mexico was by the border patrol on the bank of the Rio Grande.  Apparently there were some Mexicans that crossed over the border in the night right through our camp.  Mexico trip numero uno was not the typical Mexican Spring break.  Instead of getting wasted on a beach in Cabo (I saved that for after college), I canoed down the Rio Grande for 90 something miles with Jess; she capsized every day, had to say it.  It’s literally a river of liquid mud.  My 2 other Mexico trips were via the CB presidents club trip, and they were amazing but I’m not writing those stories here, partly because I don’t remember them, partly because I would like to be employed in the future.

Woman drinking bil bil (fermented millet)

Woman drinking bil bil (fermented millet)

Kids in Duroum

Kids in Duroum

Meg's neighbor Howa, the most amazing woman I have ever met

Meg’s neighbor Howa, the most amazing woman I have ever met

Amulets to protect me when I travel

Amulets to protect me when I travel

21. Cameroon — What can I say about this place…I really should just write a whole long blog about it because there are so many hilarious stories. First of all, I’ll save you the time of looking for it on a map. It’s right at the “armpit of Africa”, that joint where west Africa turns South. I spent a total of about 2 months here on 2 separate trips because my sister was volunteering in the Peace Corps in a village with no running water, cell phone service, or electricity. After 2.5 years of living there, all of those things arrived within about 2 months of her departure. I have never experienced heat induced lethargy like I did in Cameroon. There are 0 tourists here and no infrastructure to support them even if there were, so everything I did was as local as it gets including eating spoiled meat, attending festivals and using a hole for a toilet. This is also the first place that I have ever been where people just straight out yelled “nasara!” or “white!” or “la blanche”, which means what you think it means. I’ve never been so aware of my skin color.

The Crab Sorcerer of Rhumsiki

The Crab Sorcerer of Rhumsiki

Teacher Joc

Teacher Joc

Giraffe at Waza National Park

Giraffe at Waza National Park

While 95% of my experiences here were amazing and wonderful (including teaching 100 students at the high school, eating many home cooked meals, having the best chicken I have ever eaten, seeing what’s left of the wildlife and experiencing truly welcoming hospitality), I can also say that I spent the worst night of my life here. Gaston “forgot” to buy our train tickets to get down to the capital for my return flight, so we had to take an overnight bus/van which even the Cameroonians warn against because of the bandits. Bandits are basically guys who roam the bush and rob and kill people.  No other options, so we had to do it. The van was completely overloaded and had about 6 feet of luggage stacked on the top of it, and a goat for a little while. This was the first of only two times in my travels that I thought I was going to die, like hands together praying to God thought I was going to die. We took a road through the jungle along the border of the Central African Republic which is currently in the midst of a war. It was raining, the red soil road wasn’t paved and there were 10 foot deep ditches on either side of it . Semi-trucks were jackknifed all along the road from what we could see out the front window because the red soil has completely covered the sides. The driver was basically skiing the van down the hills of mud. We made it somehow, but I haven’t even gotten to describing the night. For 17 hours straight, there was a Christian preacher in the row behind us who wouldn’t shut up. Not only that, but he felt the need to tap us on the shoulder every 8-10 minutes to try to get us to talk to him. When night fell, the border police stopped the van every 40 minutes or so to check for bandits.  HUGE guys dressed in all black with guns that I have only seen in Terminator movies and in the boys section of Toys ‘R Us got on, demanded our passports and looked at them upside down because they can’t read. We just hoped that they wouldn’t pull us out of the van. Like we were the ones they should be worried about… All the while, the preacher, talking, talking, talking, tapping, tapping, tapping. Finally at about 2 in the morning, I couldn’t take it anymore, I turned around and politely asked him to be quiet.  Ahhh 15 minutes of sweet, sweet silence (except for the loud Cameroonian music that had been blaring through the broken speakers for the entire trip) until the border police stopped us again and the talking started. On top of everything, we had a seat on top of the wheel well so I was basically sitting in a ball for half the trip.  Meg and I switched on and off to prevent the full plunge into insanity. When we arrived in Yaounde, I can’t even describe the feeling of elation to be out of that van.

One of many stories I hope to write about Cameroon in the future…

Greek Island

Greek Island

Parthenon

Parthenon

Mykonos Harbor

Mykonos Harbor

Wreath on Mykonos

Wreath on Mykonos

22. Greece — My first trip to Greece was during their huge protests and near government collapse. Abby was working there for a few months so I made up an excuse at work and booked my flight for a long weekend 3 days before I left. This trip seemed to spark my late quarter life crisis at 27 because I went back for 2 short trips within 6 months of the first one. Ah, disposable income from sales and a complete lack of financial responsibility, I miss those days. It’s probably good that I experienced Mykonos at this point in my life because if I did this party scene any later in life, I would feel a bit ridiculous. I’ll never forget Greece and neither will the 6 inch section of skin on the inside of my right calf from burning it on the tailpipe of a motorcycle.

Key Caulker, Belize

Key Caulker, Belize

Rainforest in Belize

Rainforest in Belize

23. Belize — I can’t believe more Americans haven’t been here.  I’m not complaining, just surprised.  It’s closer than a lot of Caribbean destinations and way cooler. We stayed at a jungle hotel run by a former jaguar hunter from Texas.  The bungalows were all lit with gas lamps and had thatch roofs, no electricity and so peaceful.  I tried bread fruit for the first time and rode a horse at a terrifying gallop through the jungle and didn’t fall off and paralyze myself.

Tikal, Guatemala

Tikal, Guatemala

24. Guatemala — I wasn’t here for very long because I just went for a day trip from Belize.  I wanted to see Tikal, which is an ancient Mayan city that is still largely buried under the jungle.  It’s also the site where they filmed some Star Wars scene, but even I am not nerdy enough to know which one.

Pauly Shore and that Baldwin brother live here

Pauly Shore and that Baldwin brother live here

25. Singapore — This was my introduction to Asia, which hardly counts because Singapore is so nice. Allison was living here and she put me up for a few days before I officially moved to Thailand. The botanical gardens are beautiful as are the giant terrarium gardens of the future. The first night there, after I had flown for 20 something hours straight, we were out until sunrise. My body clock was smashed into a million pieces.

Thai Monks 2012

Thai Monks 2012

26. Thailand — I’ve now been living here for almost 3 years.  Can’t. Get. Out. Hmmm, if I could tell just one story from Thailand, what would it be… Maybe that I lived through a military coup and subsequent military dictatorship and it hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as it sounds.

Monestary at sun set.

Monestary at sun set.

27. Laos – I spent a couple days in Vientiane shortly after I moved to Thailand to get my visa.  To get a Thai non-immigrant visa, you have to leave Thailand and go to an embassy then come back in.  Efficiency in it’s purest form. This place was boring as F. I also got molested by a “monk” at the big golden temple, and had to punch him in the neck to get him off of me, so be careful ladies. But, they have good bread. Heyyy, criticism sandwich.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Am I in a movie?

Am I in a movie?

28. Cambodia — John, Meg and I had a romantic 36 hour trip to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. I was awake for about 32 hours, Meg for 33 and John was the winner with 35:40.  Meg and John get bonus points for a night of heavy drinking included. I get a bonus point for not clawing their faces off when they came home and aggressively spooned me at 4AM, 1 hour before we had to meet our guide, Robin Hood, to take us around the temples.

OMG ELEPHANTS!! - was basically my reaction

OMG ELEPHANTS!! – was basically my reaction

29. Sri Lanka — This was an unexpectedly awesome trip.  I only ended up here because I had a week off and I planned to go to the Maldives, but I was/am too poor to spend a week there and the cheap flights all transferred through Colombo. I saw lots of wild elephants, ate delicious food and almost murdered someone at the airport when they told me that the flight was full and they had to put me on another one the next day (which screwed up all my plans).

This is an actual photo of where I lived for 3 days

This is an actual photo of where I lived for 3 days

There were a lotta selfies on this trip

There were a lotta selfies on this trip

The ocean was my husband on this trip so we color coordinated

The ocean was my husband on this trip so we color coordinated

30. The Maldives — For my 30th country, I wanted to celebrate somewhere really awesome. The Maldives are so indescribably beautiful, probably because there aren’t any humans there. I stayed at a resort with a bunch of honeymooners. I told the reception that I am a travel writer and got upgraded to a huge room. Ka-ching.  Again, since I am poor and couldn’t afford their meals (which started at $40 each), I had a good food strategy: eat for free at the breakfast buffet until I was shallow breathing, survive on that for the day and then have a Cliff Bar, buy a cocktail and  gorge on bowls and bowls of free banana chips provided at happy hour. When I paid my bill at the end, they couldn’t figure out why I only had 4 cocktails on there and nothing else.  I beat the system.

me and a constrictor

me and a constrictor

Vietnamese people wear great hats

Vietnamese people wear great hats

Our awesome student guide Ken

Our awesome student guide Ken

31. Vietnam — I think I need to give Vietnam another shot. I enjoyed my trip, especially the historical stuff, and I got an awesome free tour from a university student who wanted to practice his English, but I would say it falls on the lower end of my favorite places. Like this summary of my trip, Vietnam was eh.

Burmese monk near Mandalay

Burmese monk near Mandalay

Shwedagon stupa at sunset

Shwedagon stupa at sunset

Inle Lake fishermen.

Inle Lake fishermen.

32. Myanmar — It might almost be too late to go here and have a truly amazing experience because tourists, like myself, have been flooding in at a break-neck pace since they opened the country a few years ago. Even when I went a year and a half ago, it was starting to get obnoxious.  As I mentioned in the Cameroon summary, I have only thought I was going to die (while travelling) twice in my life. Taking a flight from Air Kanbawza from Bagan to Inle Lake on a re-purposed Soviet era airplane is number two. I should have known from the minute I got to the airport and there was no electricity that this was going to literally be death defying. Or maybe I should have just assumed that since the airline is named after the villain from Super Mario, it was not going to be a smooth ride.  I prayed to every God I could think of that that airplane would land in fewer than 4 pieces.

Richie, the alpha male

Richie, the alpha male

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers

33. Malaysia — Don’t go for the cities, go for the wildlife.  Borneo was amazing, although depressing because the earth has been raped to make palm oil. The flora and fauna that remain is worth the trip around the world to see.  Or for those living in Asia, a $60 flight. See the Orangutans, soon.

Bali

Bali

Me and Lukki at Mount Merapi

Me and Lukki at Mount Merapi

Bali

Bali

Let's take a photo with each person individually now...

Let’s take a photo with each person individually now…

Monkey time in Bali

Monkey time in Bali

Me at Prambanan

Me at Prambanan

34. Indonesia — I’ve now been 3 times (longer blog post in progress) and I love it. I’ve been to 3 of the major islands, Java, Bali and Lombok and they are all awesome in their own way. I’m obsessed with Bali though, like been 3 times to the same place obsessed.  The beaches in Bali aren’t great, but in the center of the island, it’s magical. Green moss growing everywhere, monkeys, organic food, yoga. The islands off Lombok have beautiful beaches and I’ve seen a bunch of turtles when I go snorkeling just off the beach. The temples near Yogjakarta on Java are impressive, and thank god for Lukki when I was there.  He made that trip worthwhile.  The funniest thing about Indonesia for me is that everyone wants to take a picture with me. At first it’s kinda cute, but after hoards of people started coming up to me wanting photos with every peace sign, head tilt, winking and tongue sticking out combination possible, and then the big fat guy kisses me on the cheek, I know that you could not pay me enough money to be famous. Maybe I won’t be writing that book….

Girls from the largest slum in Mumbai at a women's empowerment leadership retreat

Girls from the largest slum in Mumbai at a women’s empowerment leadership retreat

If I were a man...

If I were a man…

35. India — I had a brief trip to India to visit Meg when she was working in Mumbai last year.  Surprisingly, there were no major snafus to speak of and technically I didn’t get sick.  It did rain for almost 24 hours a day for 6 days straight but besides that, I think it was just India as normal, which is intense as fck. I have spent a lot of time in the developing world now, so there’s not a lot that can really shock me, but the slums… WOW. The living conditions are as bad as you read about and see photos of, I can’t even describe them.  And the most difficult part is that not 1 mile away, people are living disgustingly lavish lifestyles with no care for the people who are literally living on top of a medical waste dump and being raped when they get up in the night to use the public bathroom. That disparity was really hard to rationalize.  The men have something that Meg termed “the cold dead stare” or CDS for short.  In public, the male/female ratio is about 10:1. And the men just sit and stare with an unflinching, soul piercing intensity. Even if you stare right back at them, they do not stop. This coupled with the gross overpopulation was maddening.  So maddening that one day I just locked myself in my sister’s room. I wasn’t sick, the intensity of it all just made me feel like my brain was melting out of my head.  I just could not go out there. I’ll go back though.

Kangaroo peanut theif

Kangaroo peanut theif

36. Australia — I actually just got back from here about a month ago.  I went to Perth to visit a friend who gave me the most amazing tour which totally made the trip worthwhile. The weather was beautiful, the food and wine were amazing and the people were super cool, although as an American, we’re conditioned to believe Australians are cool, so maybe it was like a self fulfilling prophecy. And the men are hot.  I ate everything in my path: beef, wine, cheese, honey, nuts but the most exciting thing was a pear.  Just a regular pear.  When you have lived in Asia for nearly 3 years, a ripe green pear is the most delicious thing you have ever tasted. I also got scratched by a wild kangaroo trying to steal my peanuts in a park.

36.5 Nigeria — I’m almost counting this because while in Cameroon, we hiked into Nigeria twice and being so close to the border, had a lot of interactions with Nigerians, ate their delicious cake bread, listened to them speak Hausa and saw the effects of the crazy street drugs they sell.  Upon our second entrance to Nigeria via a goat path in Rhumsiki (the photo on the header of the blog that looks like the moon), a young boy greeted us with a knife that he had lashed to a stick and  yelled all sorts of things at us until we passed back across the border.  Welcome to Nigeria.

Next up… Japan? Korea? Philippines? New Zealand? China?…..

Categories: Bagan, Beach, Buddhism, Buddhist Monks, Burma, Camping, Hanoi, Headhunters, Hiking, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, National Park, Nature, Orangutan, Paradise, Ruins, Saigon, Snorkeling, South East Asia, Thai Culture, Thailand, Travel, Trekking, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

White Elephant Mountain – เขาช้างเผือก

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White Elephant mountain is the highest peak at Thong Pha Phum National Park on the western border of Thailand. I went there last year with some friends to do a really cool hike. The park is heavily protected and you can only hike for a couple months per year.  On top of that, they only allow 60 people per day on the trail and you must go with a military guide because it’s right on the border with Myanmar. It’s also VERY Thai; there is almost no information about it in English online.  In fact, it’s so Thai that when we got to the gate of the park, they didn’t know how to charge Neil and me to enter because the rangers had never had to deal with a foreigner.  The price was supposed to be higher for us, but they were so confused that we just got the Thai price.

Sunrise in Kanchanaburi

Sunrise in Kanchanaburi

DSC_0547We spent the night outside of Kanchanaburi before entering the park and went to a little local market in the morning to watch the sunrise. The road to the park is really windy and dangerous with like one guard rail. To add to the danger factor, we let the guy with the least amount of driving experience (Bom) drive the car. The night before he hit some rail road tracks going about 75mph and kept the car in control when we landed on the other side, so we figured he could handle the switchbacks. Upon arrival, we paid our Thai entrance fee and stopped at the rangers’ station to get set up with a guide. I’m not really sure what happened here because it was all in Thai. I spent most of my time looking at the terrarium full of dead beetles and this diagram of footprints. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any wild elephants or sun bears, probably because they are all dead.

Village

Village

Village girl

Village girl

We drove to the hillside village where we met our guide, porters and a couple other people who were in our group.  We saw our guide like three times on the whole hike because the other people in our group were so slow that we hiked away from them like 2 minutes into the trek.

Strongmen

Strongmen

We hired porters to carry our food, water, tents and sleeping stuff.  Technically we could have carried all of it ourselves, but when it’s like $15 for someone else to carry it up and down, it’s tough to turn down.  They also set up/broke down our tents. These guys were unbelievable.  They carried 50 kilos each (over 100 pounds) wearing a pair of old broken Crocs and did the whole thing in about half the time it took us.

We hiked through forest, grassland, tall reeds, and scrub.  The temperature was great and there was a nice breeze all day. It took us about 4 hours to hike up to our camp. In the picture you can see our camp in the small clearing on the bottom (with all the tents already set up by the porters) and the path up to the summit along the mountain ridge.

Camp at the base of the summit

Camp at the base of the summit

Happy hiker

Happy hiker

We took a short break at camp and took a nap since we’d only gotten about 4 hours the night before. We planned to hike to the summit to see the sun set. It’s hard to see from the picture, but on either side of that path, it is a steep drop off to either side, so it was fairly challenging.  There were also some sections that we had to climb up the rocks.  The guides had ropes tied up to the rocks so that made it easier.

Rock climbing

Rock climbing

The last part up to the summit was really steep and was all loose soil. Prim, Neil and I were fine, but Bom was wearing Converse with no tread.  For the parts that he wasn’t crawling on his hands and knees, the guide literally had to drag him through the dirt. That guy earned his fee on this section of the hike.

The little engine that could

The little engine that could

We got to the top right on time and were able to watch the sun set over the Thai/Burmese mountains.  It was so peaceful. Then it was time to hike back down to camp and cook dinner. Bom slid on his ass for most of the way, but we all got down safely.  I brought stuff to make s’mores. These things are so American, it was even a first for Neil.  I couldn’t find graham crackers, but I found something that was close enough.

Victory

Victory

Prim and I were fine in our tent, but they were definitely not made for someone Neil’s height so he had a rough night. We started the next day pretty early, and it was cold so it was nice to hike.  Luckily our only job was to wake up and go.  The porters took care of everything else, and then blew past us on the trail on the way back down.  The return trip was obviously way easier and only took about 2 hours.

Camp in the morning

Camp in the morning

This was a really cool experience and I definitely recommend it if you can figure out how the heck to get there and arrange it.

Wilderness

Wilderness

Categories: Camping, Hiking, Kanchanaburi, National Park, Nature, South East Asia, Thai Jungle, Thai Mountain, Thailand, Travel, Trekking | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bouncing Thai Meat

I am going to write about that thing that happened in Bangkok a week ago, oh no wait I can’t because there is no free speech… so instead I am going to write about something equally as consequential: bouncing meat.  Why do Thai people like bouncing, processed meat?  This is probably a question that has been asked by few, but I have dared to ask it.  I noticed that in all of the advertising for canned/processed/other grossly prepared meats, the meat always bounces.  Like someone drops a pile of hot dogs from the heavens onto a plate and they all bounce in slo-mo followed by someone saying how delicious and fresh they are.

Bouncing Hot Dogs

Bouncing Hot Dogs

Maybe the bounciness of the meat indicates freshness?  Stuff all the parts of a pig and some chemicals into an intestinal casing, and if it bounces, people will believe it’s fresh and healthy?  Well, this meatatarian is convinced.

Bouncing Nuggets

Bouncing Nuggets

Don’t worry chicken nuggets, we don’t want to leave you out, if you are fresh enough, you can also bounce to affirm your breaded deliciousness.

Bouncing Burger Bun

Bouncing Burger Bun

Not to be outdone by a bird, if you drop a bun on this fresh beef (?), the bun will bounce a solid 2 inches.  2 inches!  The QA/QC department ensured that this beef (?) is bouncy enough for human consumption.  That’s right, this beef (?) is so bouncy and fresh, it causes other naturally unbouncy foods, like buns, to bounce.  How could I NOT devour this burger (?)?

Last but not least, and the winner of the bouncing meat Olympics, pepperoni.  It’s true meat source is so mysterious, which is what makes it so sexy; pork? beef? chicken? dog? borax?  Maybe all 5?  No, not maybe, probably…. plus some “natural flavorings”.  The pepperoni in this Italian food commercial bounced an incredible 3 inches when dropped from a standard meat dropping height.  AND THEN, they rolled, while those lazy, disgusting, unhealthy tomatoes just sat there, not bouncing.  Well done pepperoni, based on your slow motion bounce, I can say with confidence that you are the freshest, healthiest, most delicious meat in Thailand.

Bouncing Pepperoni

The Gold Medalists

Who’s hungry?  Or should I say, hee-ou mai?

 

Categories: Thailand, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Death Railway and Tiger Temple

Chooooooo Chooooooo

Chooooooo Chooooooo

On my trip to Kanchanaburi, I accomplished 2 things I have never done before: I pet tigers and I projectile vomited into a squat toilet on a moving train (more difficult than it sounds, especially if you lack experience).  BUT, I did not projectile vomit on any tigers, which, at the time, was a legitimate concern.

Modern comforts

Modern comforts

The trip started out innocently enough.  Bom and I went to the train station early in the morning because it is about a 4 hour trip to Kanchanaburi.  I was running late, as usual, and I left without eating breakfast.  Next to the train tracks, there was an old woman cooking Jok in a big cauldron over a fire.  For those of you who don’t know what Jok is, it’s a rice soup that Thai people eat for breakfast.  I remember thinking to myself “I’m so smart, good thing I brought that granola bar, because that soup would have made me sick”.  20 minutes later while sitting on my comfortable wooden bench on the train, I made my fatal error.  Bom had gotten some Jok and I asked to try some.  It was delicious, so I ate some more.  Then I got greedy and took the bowl and traded half my granola bar. About 90 minutes into the train ride, I started to feel a little motion sick… but I don’t get motion sickness, at least I haven’t since I was about 5 years old and barfed all over the back seat of my aunt’s literally brand new car that I went to the lot to pick up with her.  But I thought, ok maybe it’s because this train is chugging along tracks built during WWII and I am on a wooden bench and it’s 100 degrees.  So I took all the precautions and looked out the window a lot and took deep breaths and sipped water.  At about 2.5 hours, we stopped at the Kanchanaburi station and I felt like I wasn’t going to barf on myself for about 7 minutes, so I concluded that it must have just been motion sickness, when in reality it was the calm before the storm.  We were en route to cross over the famous River Kwai, which is basically the whole reason to take the train and not just take the 1 hour van. 30 minutes later, I looked like this:

Sexy time

Sexy time

Jok, you are a formidable foe for my iron stomach.  We were nearing the bridge and I knew I was gonna barf.  I considered just barfing out the window, but then I thought about two almost certain consequences, decapitation by tree limb and decapitation by a Thai person after falling victim to the downwind + open window effect.  So I managed to drag myself to the bathroom where I was confronted by a squat toilet which is basically just a hole in the floor with a metal frame around it that goes right down to the tracks.  When I got into that hotbox bathroom with no windows, no hand holds and a smell that would make a non-food poisoned person barf, that did the trick.  Imagine trying to puke into a 6 inch hole in the floor on a train made in the 1940’s that is lurching left, right, forward, back every 2 seconds and NOT missing and NOT barfing on yourself, not even your feet.  This must be like what it feels like to win a championship ring.  I mean truly, it was an amazing accomplishment.  My mid-puke celebration was cut short by Bom banging on the door telling me that we were about 1 minute away from the highlight of the trip.  I busted out of that door hunched over, hyperventilating and drooling and bounced from bench to bench like a pinball until I got to my final resting place on my bench.  I looked like the undead.  But after all that, I was not going to miss that damn bridge.

The bridge

The bridge

Ok so why does this railroad matter?  During WWII almost 100,000 Japanese POWs died building the Thai/Burma railway, including 6300 Brits, and 350 Americans (there’s actually a movie out right now called Railway Man about this, and an older movie called Bridge Over River Kwai).  The more staggering number is that about 90,000 of the deaths were forced Asian laborers.  So it has rightfully earned it’s name as the Death Railway.

I got one photo.

I got one photo.

After stopping here for a photo op, we got off the train and went into a small cave temple that was filled with Russians yelling at each other.  It was hot and smelly and I started to feel sick again. We walked to the town by the station to try to find our driver to take us to the Tiger Temple.  He told us that since it’s a temple, I had to have my shoulders covered and wear long pants.  Awesome, so it’s already 100 degrees and now I have to wear a second layer of clothes.  So we went into a little tourist trap shop and bought me some hippie pants and the only T-shirt that would fit across my boobs.  I layed on a bench outside for about 15 minutes because I thought I was gonna barf again, and I was correct.  After puke episode 2 and 3, the lady who took money at the toilet offered me some mystery pill that would “make me feel better”.  When I (politely) refused to take it, apparently I was being rude, then I puked again.

My first love....

My first love….

When I was finally in stable condition, we got in the back of a pick up truck and headed toward the temple.  I was so weak and shaking and delusional by this point, but so help me God, I was going to touch those tigers and maybe barf on one if it was the last thing I ever did.  The jok was not going to beat me.  We got to the temple and I donned my new outfit.  It wasn’t as much of a temple as it was an open air zoo… as in wild animals roaming all over the place with no cages.  It was actually kind of post-apocalyptic. Finally, the tigers.  They are “domesticated” and the monks take care of them.  Environmental freaker-outers: I have said this before in other posts about animals in captivity like this. Sure, it would be great for them to live in the wild.  However, living in the wild is not an alternative for these animals.  The alternative is death.  I would much prefer that they be alive in captivity so people can connect with them in a way that makes them want to actually protect the wild ones rather than turn them into a rug on some rich Chinese person’s floor.

Is this for real??

Is this for real??

Let’s take a look at this tiger’s face as I am about to barf on him…

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This tiger is not impressed

rawr.

rawr.

They have a handler who holds your hand and walks you to each one to pet them.  These animals are unbelievably strong.  To touch them and feel the power in their legs, even the little ones is really amazing.  They also are not soft like a cat.  They are solid muscle and their fur is coarse and grows very close to their body.  I got to pet like 10 tigers and barfed on 0.

Warning.

Warning.

After the tigers, we went back to the town and went to the war museum.  It’s so interesting to see a historical event from another culture’s perspective.  Everything was pretty old and dusty and not particularly well kept, but it was still interesting to see it all.

Bridge over River Kwai

Bridge over River Kwai

We walked across the famous bridge over River Kwai.  Some people might recognize the name from the famous movie in the 50’s that won best picture.  It actually wasn’t filmed here though…

This is in Thailand??

This is in Thailand??

At this point I had kept things down for about 4 hours so I attempted some watermelon.  Victory.  After strolling the town for an hour or so, we went to the war cemetery.  I had no idea that a European style WWII cemetery existed in Thailand.  I looked for the American graves but found out after the fact that their remains had been repatriated. All in all, it was a really interesting day of train riding, tigers, WWII history and despite some early losses, an ultimate victory against the jok.

Categories: Kanchanaburi, Thai Culture, Thai Jungle, Thailand | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Krabi

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Despite getting scratched on the boob by a hungry, wild monkey, daily rain storms and a day trip on a marginally seaworthy boat that had me convinced I would be meeting Gilligan, Krabi is still my favorite area in Thailand.  A friend of a friend bought a package trip at the Thai vacation expo and she couldn’t go, but it aligned perfectly with one of my 10 weeks of vacation, so I got the last spot.  I’ll preface this story by saying, that the package price was what they would charge a foreigner for 3 nights, 2 days and a boat trip, but there is no way in hell that a foreigner would put up with the quality of the services rendered.  Everything was fine, but it was like the leftovers that they don’t give to foreigners anymore, not even the hippie budget tourist foreigners.  Everything included on the trip had seen it’s prime about 15 years ago.  I admit, it felt kind of good to see that the Thai tour agencies also screw their own people, not just me.

Thai style fish

Thai style fish

My first day was fairly uneventful.  The hotel was a series of standalone rooms scattered on a property with lots of trees and grass.  Bangkok has like 1 tree so it is always nice when I get to see nature.  In keeping with the theme I stated earlier, the hotel was probably really nice 15 years ago, but the electricity didn’t work, there was no shower curtain and the paint was peeling off the walls from the humidity.  I didn’t care, but some snooty tourist who flew from across the world for a 2 night paradise vacation would be understandably unhappy.  It was rainy and wet all day but to be fair, I did go during rainy season so this wasn’t unexpected.  I ate some delicious fish at a shack on the beach that had been destroyed by the Tsunami 10 years ago and rebuilt.  They had some interesting photos on the wall that showed the devastation.  They also had 2 very sweet women working there that had some kind of dwarfism that made them about the size of a 2 year old, maybe even smaller.  I wandered around the beach town, Ao Nang, got a foot massage, watched the sunset, ate dinner and called it a night.  PS, I mostly wrote this paragraph about my boring day so that I can remember what happened in 5 years, not because I believe it was a particularly interesting day.

Sunset on Ao Nang

Sunset on Ao Nang

Such a majestic yacht

Such a majestic yacht

Boat trip day.  I woke up to pounding rain, exactly what you want to hear when you’re about to spend the whole day riding around on a boat.  We got to the pier, still in the rain, and boarded the SS It Floats, Promise.  It was all Thai people, and me, which was clue number two that they only sell this package tour to Thai people.  It was raining, but there was only enough indoor space for about 12 of the 40 people.  We got some of those spaces, and when I say indoor, I don’t mean dry, I just mean not outside under a sunshade.  Whelp, off we went.  The rain started to clear up by about 10:00 and then it was absolutely beautiful.

Safety First!

Safety First!

Our first stop was an island that has a small sand spit that connects it to another island when it’s low tide.  They put all of us into a longtail boat and shuttled us to shore.  Of course, we had to wear lifejackets on the shuttle boat.  Most Thai people can’t swim, and when I tried to explain that I can swim and that I used to teach swimming and that this oversize life jacket with broken straps and minimal, UV damaged flotation would actually hinder my ability to swim safely, the deck hands didn’t understand… weird.  You must always follow the rules, especially if you are ignorant of the facts, because someone else said those are the rules, and that’s that.  My American brain couldn’t handle this, but I wore it anyway, and since no one could understand my squawking, I just said whatever I wanted and it actually made me feel better.  As did my ceremoniously throwing my life jacket like a boomerang onto the beach when I got off the boat.  Wait, why do these people get annoyed by foreigners?  It would have been safer if I had just swum from the big boat to land, at least then I wouldn’t have people clinging to my life jacket and drowning me when the shuttle boat capsized from being overloaded.

Good thing I had my life jacket to protect me in these raging seas

Good thing I had my life jacket to protect me in these raging seas

All the islands around Krabi are beautiful.  There is amazing Karst topography (yep I’m a geologist now) as far as the eye can see.  We were fortunate enough to have a beautiful day so it made the colors of the sea against the islands really vibrant.  One of the advantages of the all Thai boat was that no one wanted to be in the sun, so I got the best spot right on the bow.  Helllllllo skin cancer, and awesome photos and a tan I could brag about.

Squawk Squawk!!

Squawk Squawk!!

Next photo op, Chicken Island (Koh Gai).  I’ve found that a lot of land formations in Thailand are named after animals.  This is one of the only ones that I understand because it actually looks like a chicken head.

Our main squid fishing competition

Our main squid fishing competition

Sqiudworth

Sqiudworth

After the standard boxed fried rice and watermelon lunch, it was time for some snorkeling.  Screw that 30 minute rule, we can cramp all we want because we have “life jackets”!!!  Needless to say, I jumped in with that thing and it wasn’t even fully wet before I took it off and clipped it to Bom’s life jacket and swam away.  Freedom.  There wasn’t much to see since, unfortunately, Thailand has destroyed most of their reefs, only about 25% of the reefs in Krabi are in good condition.  After our post lunch dip, we went squid fishing.  This involved a plastic bottle with a lure and some fishing line.  I was happy to see a plastic bottle being recycled in order to damage another part of the ecosystem.  We did throw the squid back though… I think… or maybe they were lunch for the next day’s group.  I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention because I was too busy being childish about the fact that I didn’t catch one.

Me in the penis cave

Me in the penis cave

Our next stop was the beautiful Railay Bay which is famous for it’s beach side caves, one of which is filled with penises.  Yes, penises.  The local fishermen bring them as offerings to an apparently very horny sea goddess to bring them good luck on the water.  There are also TONS of rude monkeys.  They have been tamed since there are lots of tourists here, which was cool because we got to see them up close, but not cool because the earth is being destroyed and that is sad.  When I first got there, I was thirsty so I got a coconut and after they hacked the top off with a butcher knife (this is normal), I gave the top to a monkey so he could eat coconut instead of potato chips and a bottle of Coke like this monkey:

Anyone who says humans and monkeys don't have a common ancestor needs to be culled from the herd

He must be an emotional eater

Thank god this was captured on film

Thank god this was captured on film

On the way back to the boat, I got some peanuts, which must be a favorite of the monkeys.  There were two trees on either side of the path: one with tan monkeys, and one with black monkeys.  It appeared that there was some tension between the two groups.  I threw a couple peanuts to the nearby monkeys and one of the tan monkeys got greedy after a black monkey grabbed a peanut before he could get to it.  Tan monkey wanted more peanuts.  I admit, what ensued was my own fault because I got them riled up to begin with.  It all happened pretty fast but before I knew it, I had a monkey climbing up my leg, swatting at the peanut bag trying to steal it.  As the larger ape form, I resisted and tried to shake the little monster off of me, but he was persistent and scrambled further up and grabbed me right between my boobs, and gave me a monkey scratch.  He also had big monkey teeth so I relented and gave him the rest of my peanuts.  Anyone who says apes and humans don’t have a common link is an idiot and needs to be culled from the herd.

That was pretty much the end of boat day.  I looked on Dr. Internet when I got back to the hotel since I am a hypochondriac and thought I had some kind of monkey disease, but I was fine.

Road Trip!

Road Trip!

One of the things that is really cool about Krabi, and why it’s my favorite place is because you can get the jungle and beach in the same place.  The next day we rented motos and drove to the Tiger Temple.  There used to be tigers here, but they have gone the way of much of the other wildlife.  There are monks here who live the ascetic lifestyle and guard the caves because they hold a lot of spiritual significance.  Luckily, there were hardly any people here so we had our own monk cave guide.  We walked through part of the jungle and found the little settlement next to a giant Buddha and a cool cave system.  The monk told us the legends of the caves, which were then translated to me.  Basically the monk talked for 3-4 minutes and then I got: “a spirit lives behind that rock”, so I am not really sure what the full story is.

Spe-monk-ing....

Spe-monk-ing….

Climbing out of the cave

Climbing out of the cave

We got to crawl around the the dirt and mud and see some cool stuff.  It was nice though because it was so hot and humid in the jungle that the caves provided a nice respite.  I think that people come to see these caves, but they definitely are not in any guidebook or group tour itinerary, which was great for us.  After the caves we walked along a jungle path and saw some cool stuff.  When a tree is really old in Thailand, they wrap it with these colored cloths.  There were a lot of really old trees in this jungle area, which was nice to see.

Grandpa tree

Grandpa tree

Let's go legs

Let’s go legs

Next was the hike to the temple on the top of the mountain via the ultimate stair master.  1237 steps to the top.  Which is about 120 flights of stairs.  Ok, not too bad if you are on the stair stepper, at the gym, in air conditioning, it’s a good workout but it’s not gonna kill you.  Try doing that same work out on stairs made from concrete that are all different heights, most are knee high, some have only enough room for you to step on them with the ball of your foot and it’s 100 degrees with 90% humidity.

One of many breaks

One of many breaks

We finally made it to the top after about 45 minutes.  And the view was totally worth it.  The temple was fairly standard, but being on top of one of the humps and seeing the view from above made it all worth it.  I also had plans to go to a cooking class that night, so the work out justified the impeding pig out.  My calves were so sore for 3 days that I could barely walk.

Victory!!  And a LOT of sweat

Victory!! And a LOT of sweat

After we walked 1237 steps down the mountain, which was not as hard as going up, but I am convinced was the cause of my calf soreness, we went into the “tiger’s cave/meeting hall”.  Literally, that’s what the sign says.  If I ever own my own business….

Food glorious food

Food glorious food

That night, I cooked up a storm at Thai Charm Cooking School.  I would highly reccommend it.  The guy speaks great English and the recipes were delicious.  He runs the school with his wife out of his house so it was a really great experience.  I cooked and ate 5 or 6 different things including mango sticky rice for dessert.  It’s a total bitch to make your own curry paste, but the flavor is so much better and there’s no MSG!  Food coma….

It's more of an aqua color

It’s more of an aqua color

On the last day, we had a flight in the afternoon so we got up early to go to the Emerald Pool.  We drove a little over an hour on a moto which was fairly painful, plus I was the navigator and I accidentally took us down a dirt road, whoopsy.  There is a beautiful green pool in the middle of the jungle that was created by mineral deposits from some of the hot spring activity in the area, I’m a geologist, I know this now.  Of course, since I am white, I had to pay an entrance fee; I can’t even get started on this because it pisses me off so badly, but I don’t make the rules, so whatever.  Once again, I was the only foreigner here, which also means that I was the only one swimming in a bikini.  All the Thai women were swimming in jeans and t-shirts.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Thailand is not sexy time fun land, it’s actually pretty conservative.

After that, it was time to go home.  We were in an airport shuttle full of Thai people and on the way we stopped at a totally unauthentic “souvenir shop” and the Thai people were all about it.  Everyone bought something.  Apparently this is something Thai people do.  Does not compute.  We still made it to the airport on time, and it was back to the concrete jungle.  But don’t worry monkeys, when I come back, I’ll be ready for you…

Don't try to hide behind Buddha

Vigilant monkey

Categories: Beach, Krabi, Paradise, Snorkeling, Thai Jungle, Thailand, Thailand Beaches | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Poo-ket, Not Fuck-it

Phuket

Phuket

Brag Alert: When I have a long weekend, I can go to Phuket for the cost of two 30 racks of beer.  And yes, that was the best price analogy I could come up with.  Phuket, often mispronounced as Foo-ket, or Fuck-It, is a big tourist destination in the south of Thailand.  It was also made famous after the 2004 Tsunami devastated some of the most highly populated areas.

Shipwrecked

Shipwrecked

I met up with some Thai friends while I was there so I got to see some of the real Phuket rather than the perfectly manicured resorts.  Unfortunately this paradise has fallen victim to out of control tourism development (like much of Thailand) so being there with Thai people made a huge difference in my ability to visit an area that wasn’t swarming with sunburned Russians and sex-pats.  We went to a really beautiful, quiet beach that still had forest along the shoreline rather than massage parlors and McDonald’s.

After lunch, I got all American and went swimming and walked around on the beach for 2 hours with no sunscreen while the Thai girls sat in the shade with their skin covered.  When I’m a wrinkly old hag, they are gonna look like they’re 20.

Patong - 9 years post Tsunami

Patong Beach – 9 years post Tsunami

Just in case

Just in case

The next day, I wanted to go see what the area that got hit by the Tsunami looks like now.  In 2004 the Tsunami hit this beach, Patong, and several thousand people, Thai and foreign, died.  It’s pretty amazing, it’s almost impossible to tell that it ever happened, everything has been rebuilt.  But the evacuation route signs all along the beach are a reminder.

Heeeeerrrrre fishy fishy

Heeeeerrrrre fishy fishy

After checking out that scene, we went to a local fishing village.  The people who live/work there are actually a kind of tribal people who are treated much like the tribes in the north.  There were so many different kinds of fish, shellfish, lobsters and crabs.  I admit that while the market was cool, I couldn’t help but think that a lot of these fish are probably highly endangered and were yanked from the already dying coral reefs.  I’ve always been pretty sensitive about fish; this makes logical sense though because the Ouija board also told me that I was an octopus in my past life.  I’ve never really liked eating fish, but when in Rome…

Tiger Prawns

Tiger Prawns

We bought tiger prawns and squid, and nothing that looked like it could be Ariel’s best friend.  We walked across the street and the restaurant just cooked them up for us.  Well, not the squid, we ate that raw in a salad; I don’t much care for that consistency, it reminds me of a bouncy ball, but the squid doesn’t really taste like anything.  The tiger prawns were so delicious.  Eating fresh meat of any kind, and I mean like within 30 minutes of slaughter, has a totally different taste and it’s almost impossible to find in the developed world.  The best meat I’ve ever eaten was in Africa actually.  I understand why vampires drink blood, eating fresh meat is like eating life rather than eating death.

Unlike most of my other travels, nothing went wrong, I didn’t do anything stupid and miraculously, I came home injury free.  So, The End.

IMG_1350

A typical Sunday

Categories: Thailand, Thailand Beaches | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The North

This post is shamefully late in being written, as in 6 months late, but better late than never I suppose.  I’m really starting to embrace “Thai Time”.  After drying out from Songkran (in April), we took a couple days to explore around the North of Thailand.

A real live money tree

A real live money tree

First, we headed up a big mountain about 15K outside of Chiang Mai to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.  I actually went here on my December trip to Chiang Mai, but it is so beautiful that I wanted to make sure I took my sister and friends to see it.

Golden Chedi

Making their rounds

This is a big temple complex built on the top of a mountain.  Basically the legend goes like this: a monk found a relic which was thought to be Buddha’s shoulder bone…. I’m sure it actually was… It could disappear and glow and fly, just like a regular shoulder bone.  One day, it split in half as shoulder bones often magically do.  Half of it was enshrined in another temple and the King had the other half of it strapped to the back of a white elephant named Dumbo, or Babar or Horton, I can’t remember exactly.  The elephant was released into the jungle and climbed all the way up this mountain then trumpeted 3 times and died.  Doctors concluded that he hadn’t spent enough time on the stair master before attempting this strenuous trip.  He probably should have just taken a pick-up truck taxi like we did.  Now, the place where Mr. Suffleupagus kicked the bucket is the site of a really important, really impressive, Buddhist temple whose construction began in the late 1300s.

Our religious leader showing us how to fold lotus

Our religious leader showing us how to fold lotuses

The main chedi is so golden that it literally blinds you when you look at it.  You are supposed to walk 3 laps around the chedi and pray for good fortune. In the photo you can see the people walking around and praying.  We got all Buddhist and took our lotus flowers and walked 3 laps around the chedi too. It was very peaceful.  I understand why there has never been a war fought in the name of Buddhism; these people know how to chill the F out.  Later, when I went to the bathroom, I found 5 Baht AND there was toilet paper, so it must have worked.

Also, there was this guy:

A delicate butterfly

A delicate butterfly

Riding ON a truck is better than riding IN a truck

Riding ON a truck is better than riding IN a truck

After visiting the temple we got back in our pick-up truck taxi, which Abby especially loved, and went to a local village.  The truck bed had a cover over it and benches running from front to back.  I felt like I was gonna barf from sitting inside so I hung off the back with Jantzen instead.  Despite my clumsiness, I didn’t fall off, thank you very much.

Bangkok is pretty modern (at least the areas that I spend most of my time in) so it is easy to forget that Thailand is still a developing country.  The houses in this village were of similar quality to those I saw in Africa, but not the same style.  There were chickens running around all over the place and elevated houses with thatched roofs.  There were ancient women sitting next to girls with infants who looked much too young to be mothers.  They were selling nuts and dried fruits and of course letting the wacky foreigners sample everything.

The Simple Life

The Simple Life

Many of the residents don’t speak Thai and adhere to much more traditional customs, including hunting with wooden crossbows!  OMFG, YESSSSSSSS.  For just 20 baht, we could shoot some kind of jungle fruit hanging from a string.  The crossbow was handmade from wood and some kind of really strong grass.  The arrows were also all wood.  For the record, I am the most lethal, 2 out my 3 shots were bullseyes.  Don’t mess.

Assasins

We wandered around this village for a little while and checked out some of the gardens.  Everything was built on a hillside in the mountains so it was really beautiful.

Sister time!

Sister time!

From what I can understand, the Buddhism here is also very different from other parts of Thailand.  Since these villages are largely inhabited by tribal people coming across the northern border from China and Burma, their religious practices are different.  It appears that they have adopted some Buddhist practices (at least the people who lived in this particular village) but they also hold on to some more animist customs.

Mix of Religions

Mix of Religions

That night we went to an awesome Jazz bar called North Gate.  If you’re in Chiang Mai, go, it was a lot of fun, but it closes early.

The next day, we went on a tour than encompassed a lot of different things (culture, nature, adventure) .  I’m usually not a tour person, but when you have  limited time, they are a good way to see and do lots of stuff in a short period of time, and that’s exactly what we did.

Long Neck woman

Long Neck woman

We started out at a village of Long Neck women.  This Anthropology major could have easily spent the whole day there.  So here’s the story: these people are a tribal group who originally came from Burma.  Recent violence in Burma has forced many of them to flee across the border into Thailand.  The problem is, Thailand is highly xenophobic.   While Thai people are generally friendly and welcoming and it is easy to get a tourist visa, citizenship for a non-ethnically Thai person is nearly impossible, even if you live here for 20+ years and are married to a Thai person.  Thailand is for the Thais; the Long Neck people are a sub-group of the Karen tribe and are ethnically Kayan.  Consequently, they are existing in a sort of “no-man’s land” status of citizenship, as are their children.  They are living in refugee camps in many cases and those who aren’t, are surviving on subsistence farming and money from tourism.

Long Neck Woman with her daughter

Long Neck Woman with her daughter

Kayan girl

Kayan girl

Kayan woman with baby

Kayan woman with baby

As for the brass rings, the women start wearing the rings when they are kids.  Their necks aren’t actually lengthened, but appear to be.  Their collar bones are slowly deformed due to the weight of the rings and their rib cages compressed as they get older and add more rings.  The women and girls were stunningly beautiful, we all commented on how gorgeous they were.  The women are also really talented weavers.  The scarves we’re wearing took 3 days each to weave and cost us about $9 each.

Tribal Girls

Tribal Girls

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Local troublemakers

The Kayan people aren’t the only tribal people living in the north of Thailand.  There are several other ethnic minorities who have fallen victim to similar circumstances and are squatting in Thailand.  One of the largest tribes is the Karen people (of whom, the Kayan people are a sub-group).  We also visited a Karen community.  The Karen women do not wear the brass rings on their necks.

On average, I kill orchids about 1 day after I buy them

On average, I kill orchids about 1 day after I buy them

After getting yelled at by other obnoxious tourists for being 1 minute late back to the pick-up truck (one of the annoying parts of the group tours), we went to an orchid farm.  The flowers were beautiful, but I was spoiled by the Botanic Gardens in Singapore so I was a snob about this place.

All aboard the elephant express.

All aboard the elephant express.

Next up was the ubiquitous Thai elephant ride.  This was my third elephant ride, and as I have said before, these beasts are slow and boring, but it is still really cool to be so close to them.  People seem to have strong opinions about doing elephant rides.  A lot of people argue that they don’t treat the elephants humanely, which I’m sure they don’t in many cases.  But in my stong opinion about elephant riding, the alternative for these animals isn’t to live in happy Jungle Book land with Mowgli.  It’s death; likely in a horrible way where they saw their faces off to get ivory and leave them to rot to death.  I think that’s a worse scenario than walking around for 15 minutes eating grass and bananas while I sit on their back and take pictures.

Jungle

Jungle

Next we went on about a 90 minute hike into the jungle to a cool waterfall.  It was nice to be in nature.  I miss it so badly. Bangkok has like 4 trees.  We hung out there for a little while and then proceeded to the final activity.

Last on our day of Thai experiences was “white water rafting”.  The only problem was that not only was there no white water, there was no water at all.  April is the end of dry season so the rivers are at their lowest.  We thought about this before the trip, but assumed that if they were offering it, they would take us to a river that had enough water in it to raft.  Plus, the waterfall seemed to be doing just fine.  Oh Thailand….  We basically just bounced from rock to rock for a few hours trying to wrench ourselves free.  The most exciting part of the trip were all the drunk Thai people in the river doing post-Songkran celebrations and splashing us when we went by.

The north of Thailand is such a diverse, naturally beautiful place.  Writing this post 6 months later is making me want to go back ASAP…

Sunset

Sunset

Categories: Chiang Mai, Long Neck Women, Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Illiterate No More?

I can officially read 4 words in Thai.  READ.  Not write or pronounce.  Fortunately, anyone who has read my blog probably can’t really remember not being able to read or write.  I think that by all official definitions, I am still considered illiterate and being illiterate really sucks.  To my credit, I have learned to speak a functional amount of Thai, and I’ve learned how to say important things like “go eat jizz water” and “you are a buffalo” and “If you eat that, I will kill you”.

English may be a bitch to learn, but at least we only have 26 letters in our alphabet which are, in my opinion, easy to write.  Thai Script on the other hand has 44 consonants, 15 vowel symbols (that can combine to form 28 vowel sounds), and 4 tone marks.  On top of that, the vowels and tone marks can be arranged above/below/left/right of the main consonant letter.  As far as I can tell, the concept of a “sentence” in English, does not exist in Thai so they are just lines of letters with no spaces.  To it’s credit, Thai script looks really cool.

I’m sure that if I studied it, I could learn it.  But instead, I developed my own highly sophisticated way of reading.  I associate things with Thai letters that look like English.  Let me demonstrate this technique:

Spot the Baht

Spot the Baht

The first word I learned is “Baht”, which is the Thai currency.  In Thai, it’s บาท.  To me, this looks like the English word urN (u, backwards r, backwards uppercase N).  By virtue of not being a total idiot, I was able to figure this one out fairly easily.

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I can also read the numbers 500, 3 and 0

Next is my addiction, Coke Zero.  In Thai, it’s โค้ก ซีโร่ (thanks Furn).  Which actually doesn’t look like any kind of English words.  I drink a cancer causing amount of this nectar, but there are a lot of things that I eat and drink a lot of and I can’t recognize their names if I see them.  Because Coke Zero looks like “Ean BTS” when they stylize the letters on the bottle/can (Ean like the name and BTS like the name of the sky train in Bangkok), I can read it.  But in regular script, no way.  However, knowing how to read this in Thai is almost 100% useless becasue the other side of the label says everything in English.   I guess this one half counts.

Pull.

Pull.

 

On the flip side, probably the most useful word I’ve “learned” to read is the word for “push”.  In Thai it’s, ผลัก.  To me, this looks like “wan”.  After many lessons, the sign on the door to my building which I walk through multiple times every day finally taught me this word.  Just like when I read the word push in English, I still pull.  At least the Thai lessons were free.

 

 

U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!!

U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!!

Last but not least, I learned the letters of whatever the brand of my laundry detergent is.  Side note, for the first 2 months I was here, apparently I was only washing my clothes with a bottle of Downey fabric softener because I couldn’t read any of the bottles and I bought the wrong stuff. Anyway, I don’t even know how this is written in Thai or where to begin looking for it on the internet.  But this laundry detergent is the most patriotic one on the shelf.  USA brand.  How could I not buy this???  I assume the text under the brand name says something like “This gets your clothes so fresh and so clean, clean.”

 

 

 

Categories: Thai Language, Thailand | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Songkran 2013/2556

Chiang Mai: Epicenter of Songkran

Chiang Mai: Epicenter of Songkran

I trained every summer for my whole childhood to prepare for this moment: Songkran.  Songkran is a 3 day celebration of the Thai New Year that occurs at the peak of hot season (Mid-April).  To celebrate, people spend 3 days in the streets soaking each other with water.  My sister, friends and I rang in the year 2556 in Koh Phi Phi and Chiang Mai so we had a taste of two VERY different celebration styles.  Sorry to disappoint everyone, but there are still no flying cars in the future.

My first day of Songkran was spent on Koh Phi Phi.  On my way to the boat (see previous entry about Phi Phi), the few Thai kids who live on the island were out splashing around and being adorable.  They squirted us with little guns or splashed some water on us as we headed toward the harbor.  We had no idea what an absolute drunken farang (foreigner) shit show was awaiting us upon our return.

Firearms + Farangs + Flames = Songkran Phi Phi

Firearms + Farangs + Flames = Songkran Phi Phi

When we got back to the island around 5, the children were gone and the farangs were in full war mode.  No wonder Thai people hate us.  Farangs significantly outnumber Thai people on Phi Phi.  As a result, Songkran in Phi Phi reflects how Western people would celebrate this holiday rather than how Thai people celebrate it.  It was like war.  While Thai people shoot you with a water gun and smile, cheer, and dance around, farangs drunkenly shoot a highly pressurized jet of water straight into your eyeball or ear.  Their aim after drinking 2 bottles of Sangsom is unbelievably accurate.  Luckily, Songkran on Phi Phi was only one day which is good because I think the Thai people would literally kill the farangs if they had to deal with one more day of that moronathon.  Even though it was highly aggressive, I still had a great time, but one day was enough.  We left Phi Phi the next day (some of us more hungover and wounded than others… ahem…) and flew to Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is an awesome city to begin with, and then to be there to celebrate Songkran was a blast.  We had a big group of people, and we were there on the 3rd day of Songkran which was apparently less wild than the previous two but still really fun.

Neon tank top time

Neon tank top time

We started around 10AM and went to meet our other group of friends.  They were staying at a hotel with a baby pool full of water so we loaded up with water and went to the center of the Songkran celebrations.  The street was totally packed with cars, pickup trucks full of people and barrels of water and motorcycles.  A lot of the barrels are filled with ice water.  So, even though its like a gabajillion degrees out, Songkran can actually get really cold.  Getting a bucket of ice water splashed on you 100 times eventually takes its toll, but it’s so much fun you don’t even notice.  Some people also carry around bowls of powder and put in on your cheeks if they feel inclined, but it gets washed off in like 2 seconds.

Faces of Celebration

Faces of Celebration

Around 1:00, the foam party started.  Now, we were all completely soaked, standing in street water that came about halfway up our calves and had foam pouring all over us.  When the foam stopped spewing, we just kept walking/splashing/shooting.  Of course, in my clumsiness, somehow my foot slid off my flip flop, and I cut the entire ball of my right foot open and broke my shoe that Meg had just brought me from the US .  This was also only two days after my “performance” in Phi Phi so now I had a fat lip, and multiple open wounds.  The foam mixed with street water will just clean those out right?  Eh whatever, I could still walk.  It was a Songkran Day Miracle that none of my self inflicted wounds got infected.  Ironically, the only post Songkran damage I suffered was an ear infection from the damn farangs on Phi Phi.  Happy 2556!

We're the 3 best friends that anyone could have.  And we'll never never never leave each other.

We’re the 3 best friends that anyone could have. And we’ll never, ever, ever, ever, ever leave each other.

Categories: Chiang Mai, Koh Phi Phi, Songkran, Thai New Year, Thailand, Water Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paradise?

There are 2 questions that people frequently ask me:

  1. How’s TAIWAN?
  2. What’s it like to live in paradise?

I am not even going to address the first question because it is so ignorant that I am mad at myself for even associating with people who would ask me that.

The second question is fair, assuming that I am a 50+ year old, fat, British or Australian man with a thing for Thai women.  If that were the case, the place where I actually live, Bangkok, would be considered paradise.  I think the Travel Channel’s incessant repeats of “21 Sexiest Beaches”, “Best Beaches in the World”, “World’s Hidden Beaches” and other diverse beach programming has conditioned people to think that all of Thailand is paradise.  Thailand is, in fact, very diverse.  While I don’t actually live in “Paradise”, a $5 bus ride or a 1 hour flight can get me pretty damn close so I’m going to take a step back and talk about the islands that I have had the opportunity to visit: Koh Samet, Koh Kood, Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Phi Phi Don.

Koh Samet

View from my hotel porch

View from my hotel porch

This is a small island east of Bangkok in the Gulf of Thailand.  I decided to go here in October, about 2 weeks after I first arrived and it is still one of my favorite islands.  I hopped on a bus for 300B (about $9USD) and headed east.  Coach busses here are the same as the ones you took in middle school to go to the Science Museum.  However, there is one major difference: for 9 bones I got a 3 hour ride to the coast, a bottle of water AND a snack.  We are lucky if we even get water on an airplane in America anymore, and a snack??  Forget it.  I was legitimately confused when this stuff was handed to me.

One of the other interesting parts about this trip was seeing the industrial sprawl of Bangkok.  In America, we often hear about “our” manufacturing jobs going overseas, but until I saw the factories, I didn’t really see SE Asia for the manufacturing juggernaut that it is.  When driving through American cities, even the largest ones, we are typically out of the built up areas and into farmland within an hour; maybe 30 minutes for the smaller cities.  Here, it was over 2 hours before I exited factory land and saw my first crop.

Fishing boats

Fishing boats

Anyway, back to paradise.  When I arrived at the port, I took a ferry that cost like a dollar.  It was a short trip and they put us on a working boat so it was a little different from the other ferries I’ve taken.  Samet is a really great place because most of it is actually a national park so it hasn’t been scarred the same way so many other islands have been.  The small main road in town takes about 10 minutes to stroll down and there are a handful of restaurants, and two 7-11s, across the street from each other.  The road dead ends into the most popular beach on the island, Hat Sai Kaew, which literally translates to Crystal Sand Beach.  I spent my day lounging around here and reading and just enjoying the view.

Curry!

Curry!

That night, I found a great restaurant for dinner with a foreign owner who was a highly entertaining drunk.  Since it was just the beginning of high season, the place wasn’t very busy and he sat with me and a German girl and ate dinner, which his Thai wife cooked for us.  Still one of the best curries I’ve had.  After that the German girl and I headed to the beach to check out the nightlife and watch one of the infamous fire shows.  Those guys are crazy, but the drunk idiot, tourists are even crazier.  All in all, even though I only spent a weekend here, I totally recommend it to anyone who wants to go somewhere that has clean water, some nightlife and isn’t covered in resorts.

Koh Kood

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Postcard photo

Koh Kood is also in the Gulf of Thailand, further east than Samet.  I won’t spend too much time talking about Koh Kood for a couple reasons.  One, I already wrote about it in a previous entry (How to Spend 3 Weeks of Vacation).  Two, I didn’t/couldn’t really

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

do much there since I was still beaten up pretty badly from my motorcycle accident in Pai.  Koh Kood is definitely the least developed island I’ve been to.  As a result, the water was the cleanest and the beaches were the nicest.   We never left the resort because there was basically no town.  Had I been alone, I would have gone insane, but I spent New Years there with about 10 of my friends so it was fun.  We stayed in a bungalow that was on stilts on top of a stagnant pool of water, which made me a little nervous at first, but I got no mosquito bites.  We just had mattresses on the floor and a couple bathrooms and it was perfect for our group.

Koh Tao

One fish, two fish...

One fish, two fish…

Also known as Turtle Island.  My next island trip didn’t happen until February when Doug came to visit.  We took the overnight train to Chumpon and then ferried over to Koh Tao; this time on a real ferry, not a freight boat overflowing with palm fronds like the one I took to Samet.  We got in early and parked it at the beach.  The beach in Koh Tao is not as nice as Koh Kood or Koh Samet, but still, I can’t complain.  I managed to completely sunburn almost my entire body within a few hours.  Mission Accomplished.

Now that's a sunset

Now that’s a sunset

We started that night at the beach watching the famous Koh Tao sunset.  It was one of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen.  Then it was food time.  As of February, I had been in Thailand for about 4 months.  With the exception of my pizza Christmas feast, I had pretty much only eaten Thai food.  And there happened to be an Italian restaurant next to our hotel that had surprisingly good reviews on Trip Advisor so I dragged Doug there.  I still do not understand why anyone who doesn’t live here would go to a non-Thai restaurant in Thailand unless a hangry ex-pat forces them.  After that I introduced Doug to the orgasmically delicious banana pancake and we wandered around the town.

Herrrrre fishy fishy

Herrrrre fishy fishy

Koh Tao is world famous for diving.  So this officially means that I have been to 4 of the best diving places in the world… sans PADI certification.  We had to go snorkeling, again, sorry Doug.  We got on a tourist boat which took us around to lots of really good spots though.  The first place it dropped us was actually kind of sad.  The coral was almost completely bleached out and dead.  It was like an underwater wasteland.  So…. that was depressing.  The next stops were amazing though, including Ao Leuk.  I saw some of the most beautiful coral and fish that I have ever seen.  This moment was probably the closest I have ever been to realizing my childhood dream of becoming a mermaid.  I also felt better about my lame snorkeling situation when I saw the scuba divers just a few feet below us.  And Doug saw a squid that I didn’t see, so he won in the end.

Coral Reefs

Coral Reefs

The last stop was Koh Nangyuan which is a small island orbiting Koh Tao.  We had 2 hours there so we hiked up to the top of the island and got a really breathtaking view of the turquoise water.

At the summit

At the summit

That night, we headed back to the beach, post sunset this time, and watched some fire shows.  It got really entertaining when the guy accidentally threw his flaming nun chucks onto his kerosene can and all of his other props.

Koh Samui

Garden of Eden/Our hotel

Garden of Eden/Our hotel

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These look way less scary on land

About 20 years ago, this island was probably amazing.  Unfortunately now, it has been the victim of overzealous development and I don’t know that I would go back there, unless I got a free trip.  This was our next stop after Koh Tao.  Our first night we splurged and stayed at a resort that we had no business being in.  It was absurdly nice.  Promptly after check-in, we escaped the resort bubble, on foot, and had a goal of making it to Bophut beach, but we didn’t realize it was like 10K away.  On the way, we stopped at a local market and saw the catch of the day.  Sadly, there were Parrot fish in this market and sharks and other sea creatures that I don’t think the WWF would be happy to see on land.

Do people actually eat these?

Do people actually eat these?

We continued our trek and finally made it to the Fisherman’s village area at Bophut beach.  This was actually the only part of Samui that I thought was nice.  It was built up, but not horribly like the Chaweng area.  The beach was still nice and the water looked fairly clean.  We took a taxi back to our hotel and as part of our splurge, ate a really nice dinner at the hotel restaurant.

We like play banana boat!

We like play banana boat!

The next day, after eating breakfast, which included cereal (big deal for me these days), we relocated to the Chaweng area of the island to meet up with some friends.  We actually had a nice hotel that was right on the beach and in a quieter area.  But as we all agreed, the actual beach was nothing particularly unique.  It was lined with chairs and umbrellas and annoying people trying to sell us stuff.  It could have easily been Mexico.  But again, I shouldn’t complain.  The highlight of the day was our banana boat ride, or as our students say “we play banana boat”.  It was fun and only a few of us got kicked in the face.

Kayaking views

Kayaking views

The following day we went to Ang Thong National Marine Park (a chain of islands west of Koh Samui) and went kayaking and hiking.  This place was breathtaking.  Everyone was experiencing varying degrees of hangover, except me, so the hour and a half boat ride was a little rough, and still drunken for some.  When we got there, they put us in our kayaks and sent us on our way.  After kayaking we went on our first hike, which was more like climbing stairs that were like half stairs/half ladders.

The "trail"

The “trail”

We continued on to another island for the big hike.  This one was basically straight up a mountain for about an hour, which was really challenging in flip flops.  They also had a rope tied to trees that zig zagged across the trail, but all it did was get in the way and make me try to climb over it or duck under it and almost fall to my death.  Near the top the “trail” changed from dirt, rocks and trees to just rocks and trees, and finally to just really sharp rocks.  But the view from the top was totally worth it.  I’ll never forget it.

We clambered back down the mountain just in time to get rushed back on to the boat because the monsoon was coming.  A literal monsoon, that’s what it’s called here.  I thought the boat ride to Ang Thong was rough, but the trip home was just painful.  Thank god I have spent a significant amount of my life on boats because otherwise I would have been barfing like lots of the other people.  It was pouring rain, and we were heading straight into the wind in a basically uncovered boat, for 2 hours.  Thailand is hot, but when you’re soaked to the bone and the wind is blowing 25 knots in your face, it’s not hot.  So that was an unpleasant end.

Longtail Boat at Ang Thong

Longtail Boat at Ang Thong

Sex or....?

Did you mean sex or….?

For dinner, we went to a place called Green Bird and it was really good and comparatively cheap.  I couldn’t resist shopping in the night market and bought a bunch of soap which I am still working my way through.  Then we checked out the bar area of Chaweng and I really couldn’t tell the difference between Samui and Cabo.  Same Same but different.

We flew Bangkok Airways home the next day.  That is the nicest airline I’ve ever flown.  We got to the gate and there was a free refreshment section with mini muffins, complimentary wifi and I felt like I was sitting on a couch at a resort hotel.  Once aboard the plane, they served us a full meal, and the flight is only like an hour.  What the hell America?

Koh Phi Phi Don

Longtails

Longtails

Last but not least, Koh Phi Phi, pronounced pee pee.  This island was wrecked by the tsunami in 2004 but has been completely rebuilt.  There are no cars so the town is all built on small walking streets.  This place was a tourist explosion, but for good reason.

Are we even related?

Are we even related?

I went to Phi Phi with my sister and 3 friends from college.  The first day, we just took it easy and hung out at the beach.  The water was actually really dirty here, the worst I’ve seen so far, so that was a little disappointing.  My friends had just flown in from the US, so our first day on Phi Phi was happily uneventful.  We got some great Thai food for dinner on the beach and called it a night.

The next day, was the first day of Song Kran, which is the Thai New Year.  They celebrate by throwing water on you.  In the morning, only the kids were playing with water and we got splashed a little bit, nothing compared to what we would experience upon our return…

Mosquito Island

Mosquito Island

I'm here Leo!  Where are you?

I’m here Leo! Where are you?

We hired a long tail boat to get us off party island and take us to the smaller uninhabited islands surrounding Phi Phi.  It was just the 5 of us and a Japanese couple so it was basically a private trip.  We went snorkeling and saw a bunch of really cool places, including Maya Bay, which is where they filmed the movie “The Beach”.  These little beaches were the most beautiful ones I’ve been to; the sand was like sugar and the water was clean, so we took full advantage of that.

When we arrived back on the island, Song Kran was in full farang effect (farang is the word for foreigner).  Gone were the little Thai kids splashing us with water.  I can see why Thai people hate us.  While the Thai people squirt you with a gun or splash a bucket on you, the farang get shit faced and pump their super soakers to full pressure and, shoot you right in the eye ball or ear.  It’s more like war.  And since the ratio of farang to Thai people on Phi Phi is in favor of the farang, walking home from the boat was like a battle zone.

Sister Time

Sister Time

It also happened to be Meg’s birthday, so for dinner we went to the Mexican restaurant across the street so we could enjoy some food without getting completely soaked.  Well, the two margaritas and birthday shot got me off to a good start.

10:30?

10:30?

After dinner we went to one of the infamous beach bars, Slinky’s, but on the way, this farang decided that she needed to drink an entire bottle of Sang Som served to me in a bucket.  I remember about 30 more minutes of my night.  From what we could all piece together, the black-out started around 9:30.  During the next 2 hours, I danced with a guy swinging fire poi around my head, lost and retrieved my phone, camera and wallet (although I didn’t find my wallet until the next morning on a table outside my room), ate a piece of pizza, and stood with Meg in the middle of a circle of people who were just shooting us with water.  My injuries would indicate that I also: fell no fewer than 5 times, hit my forehead on something, fell down at least one flight of stairs, and stepped on something that caused the entire bottom of my foot to bruise.  I am still unsure of how I got the fat lip.  Maybe Meg punched me in the face when she brought me back to the hotel room at 11:30 PM and I projectile vomited on her and myself while she was trying to put me in the shower.  Happy Birthday Meg, welcome to paradise!

Categories: Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samet, Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Snorkeling, Thailand, Thailand Beaches | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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