Archive for the 'Thailand' Category

Drinking barbers, SiamSato, and Oh my god, it’s DIIIIP!

The Wandering Nerd April 14th, 2008

I hadn’t intended on coming back to Thailand, really I hadn’t. It was one of those rare changes of plan that equated to a pleasant coincidence. Further I’d intended to leave Laos earlier than I actually did, but changes of plan have a way of happening without consulting our desires, eh? The toll extracted from me for my sins in Vang Vieng caught up to me and a nice quiet lie in had an appeal that was too like a siren call for me to ignore. Sufficed to say, one more day in Vientiane occured, pleasantly devoid of actually doing anything beyond enjoying some local cuisine - by which I mean the largest pork chop ever sold. It was glorious. I highly recommend the ‘Hare and Hound’ if you ever make it to Vientiane. The English manager is a trip and the Laotion waiter constantly asking you for English colloquialisms is something not to be missed. I spread the word of ‘asshat’ when we were all here last and he remembered it, to the point of yelling at me as I was walking past, much to the delight of Jamie, Tabitha, and Tim.

Tim and I are traveling together again. It’s actually rather cool. As I’ve mentioned the inherent single serving friend nature of travel wears thin, especially after so long. Oscillations of traveling companions takes on more significance. I have friends that I know I can not see for years and will be able to easily and comfortably reconnect with. This is not to say the same doesn’t exist back in the states, I know the Brois always have my back and I suspect there are a few other individuals - you know who you are - who will always have a comfy couch and a cold one waiting for me, needs be. After so long on the road though, you begin to start wanting some sort of permanence, something by which to anchor to just so you can have a moment of stability, even if it is a big drunken British tosser. Hence Tim, despite his nationalistic failings - British - is a welcome, if slightly stilted relief.

In any event, I ended up in Khorat. We’d only planned on staying here for a night, and then head on into Cambodia but Songkran - Thai New Year - was on and, since I couldn’t make it back up to Chiang Mai - which I wanted to for numerous reasons - we figured that Khorat was as good a place as any to get our new year fix on.

Thailand knows how to celebrate a new year, I have to give them that. Is there really any better way to ring in a new year than flinging a bunch of water around? I thought not. Not to mention that it goes on for days. The whole of the city gets involved. The streets are packed with pickups full of Thais and barrels of water - in some cases ice cold water - which is a real treat if you aren’t expecting it, nor are you aware that a bucked of self same frigid water has only nanoseconds before been flung in your general direction. It’s an education in cringing. Walking down the street you get soaked by buckets of water being thrown on you, not to mention all of the water guns. Think of it as Compton but substitute water for bullets, and yodeling Thai pop for the skull rending bass. Picking up a water gun here doesn’t even count as self defense, it’s more like a right of passage.

Beyond the water - ye gods the water - there is the talcum powder, I’m not sure exactly what the point of it is but people slather one another in talcum powder only to be drenched moments later, thus washing it off. As it were, Tim and I made up approximately 20 percent of the total number of farang in the city. We were beyond a novelty, it would be more closely described as targets. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Quite literally hundreds of Thais ran up to us screaming, rubbing talcum paste on us, kissing our cheeks - all female…I think - and handing us booze. Hellish, truly hellish.

There were numerous skirmishes with militias consisting of eight year olds. Little bastards always flank, remember that, and they’re sneaky too. Not to mention the complete lack of honor, you run out of water in your water gun and the little ankle biters are all too eager to keep spraying you - probably didn’t help that I portrayed an oscar worthy death scene each time. YEARGH!!! THE PAIN!!! I’M DYING!!! WHAT A WORLD, WHAT A WORLD!!!!

well you’ll work harder
with a gun in your back
for a bowl of rice a day
slave for soldiers
till you starve
then your head is skewered on a stake
-the dead kennedys

Awemaway, tastes like burning, and I’m FALLING!

The Wandering Nerd March 21st, 2008

Took the overnight train and ended up staying up waaay too late talking to the Thai staff in the dining car, and drinking entirely too much Singha. But I did learn a whole lot more Thai and when I did finally sleep it was one of the best night’s rest I’ve had in a long time.

I found a place in Chang Mai called Spicythai Backpackers, back to a proper hostel. Guesthouses are cool and all, but they got no soul, and I’m all about soul.

I’m just not feelin’ it right now though. Maybe it’s just late and I’m tired - which is true - or because I’m in detox mode for a few days - also true - but only recently have I felt like there are some things I’m missing, or perhaps just things I’m frustrated with constantly dealing with while traveling. The single serving friends get to be a drag after a bit, not too interested in getting to know someone only to have them vanish again in a day or two. Meh.

Chiang Mai has the best overall vibe of anyplace I’ve seen yet in Thailand. The beaches are great, don’t get me wrong, but up here is the type of place I could actually see myself living.

I took a cooking class while I was here, figured loving the food is a good incentive to learn how to make it, plus there was fire involved:

Then there was the 3 day jungle trek, in which ‘hot’ stops being an adjective and becomes a noun, bypassing adverbs entirely. The first night we stopped in a Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe village, the women that have all the copper rings around their neck to stretch them out. Overall we received a very lukewarm reception. I suppose they are utterly bored with a constant stream of tourists walking into their village and snapping photos.

In any event our group just sat around and played cards and talked with our guide for most of the night. The highlight being when the guide for the other crew (the two-dayers) got so drunk that, while trying to show them how to lift their legs from a seated position, he fell over backwards. Doesn’t sound too exciting, but when he was sitting on the edge of a table about 5′ off the ground it makes for a better story. There was some concern involving death or major blunt head trauma, but the other guide said he does it all the time and that was that. We were all glad to have our guide.

The next day the trek took us 4 more hours walk into the Thai jungle and deposited us at another village. This tribe doesn’t really get that many visitors due to the distance and remoteness of the place. They were well happy to see us and much enjoyment was had. We had a pig roast and sat around a fire while they danced, sang, and played music for us.

Elephant rides were on the agenda first thing in the morning, after another hour or so hiking. Cam and I got sat on the big bull of the heard. Plenty of torque, but the top end was sort of lacking. He also had his own notion of where he was going and on what schedule. The guy driving him - if you could call it that - was about the size of a 14 year old and generally just nudged the giant pachyderm occasionally but let him do what he wanted. What does a 2 ton animal do? Anything it wants. At one point he decided some foliage looked pretty tasty far up the bank of the river, so he just stood up on his back legs, put his front on the bank and reached out to grab it. Problem being, while Jumbo was enjoying the Sizzler salad bar that meant his back was perpendicular to the ground. This meant that we, the passengers were now horizontal to the ground, and about 12′ away from it. Good times.

On the way back the little Thai guy said, “Change driver!” and hopped back onto the seat with us and pushed down onto the neck. I must say a giant bull elephant doesn’t handle as well as a Ducati, nor even as well as a 1972 1/2 ton GMC pickup. I couldn’t find the clutch so I couldn’t get the damn thing out of low gear. It was fun though, just like riding a giant horse with grey leather skin, giant ears, and a trunk….okay so not much like a horse at all really…

We hit a ‘waterfall’ after that, more like some pooled water with bit of rapids rushing over some rocks. One of the guides said we could swim/body surf down one of the rapids. What he wasn’t aware of - and I became all to aware of being the first one to try (who else did you think it would be?) - was a nice big fat rock just about a foot under the water. Luckily this time it was just a bruised rib, and on the opposite side. :/

The second time through - you thought I’d give up? - I was ready for it and deftly avoided it to find an undertow that bobbed me back up quite a ways away from where I had anticipated coming up. I guess I’m over that whole drowning fear thing. Now I truly am indestructible.

Then there was white water rafting, and a slow bamboo raft ride down a river back to the pick up point. One of the bamboo raft guides and I got in a water splashing contest that culminated with a lost pair of sunnys (mine) and me tackling him into the river.

No pics from the water exploits, cameras stayed with my gear, but plenty of others:

When we got back I had a night of westernization, went out for a good burger - Mike’s Burgers are the second best hamburger I’ve ever had, the first is Fat Mo’s in Nashville - hit a movie: 10,000 BC - don’t bother, it’s kinda’ crap - and played some vidja games at an arcade: Guitar Hero and Burnout. Kinda’ helped, kinda’ didn’t. Still feelin’ a bit out of it. Having some of those moments where I’m wondering if what I’m doing and where I am are where I’m supposed to be. How about you? You doing what you’re meant to?

Tomorrow I head into Laos and will be heading back into the jungle for a while, gonna’ try to find one that goes deeper in, some sort of tour not so touristy as asinine as that sounds. I’m not sure when I’ll be back, probably a while, don’t wait up.

to what the world and everything anger to
brace yourself with the grace of ease
i know this world aint what it seems

Boo-gie down, your fly’s undone, and getting beaten with a shoe.

The Wandering Nerd March 12th, 2008

After the laid back - to the point of being horizontal - nature of southern Thailand, Bangkok resonates on the brain much akin to a shovel being applied forcefully to ones face. There were some hassles in the south true, but outside of the over eager taxi - TAXI! TAXI! - guys it was pretty simple to get along. Bangkok is an assault on the senses and I’m not talking about one of those fun tickle assaults either. It certainly didn’t help that the ‘overnight’ bus I snagged - intending to sleep on - left me wide awake throughout the evening and bleary eyed at 0430 when we pulled into BK. Before you even step foot on the street there are touts grabbing you and and asking where you go…my English is clearly being influenced by my time in Siam - that or it’s all the Sangsom.

The bus stops on what looks to be a normal road - more importantly it’s no Khaosan Road - and all the taxi drivers start making offers to take we weary travelers to Khaosan for the low low price of 400 Baht. We walk away and find a coffee shop and get oriented. Turns out I’m on the next street over from Khao San. Cheeky buggers. They’ll lie right to your face and smile at you the whole time. More on that later though.

But first I need to cover Khaosan. It’s a Mecca for backpackers traveling in SE Asia, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out why. There’s really nothing there other than guesthouses, bars and bars. The special kind of bar is a small table set up on the sidewalk with a bunch of liqour bottles, some plastic chairs and and people trying to pull you off the street to buy a bucket of whatever. So you sit down on the side of the street and watch people watching people getting drunk. It’s kind of boring actually. I was expecting some real full on craziness, all I got was some guy in a strange hat, a Captain Jack look alike, and a pygmy elephant. Quite a let down. Only a couple of the photos came out so prepare you complaints.

One thing that’s important to note for future reference, do not try to get something accomplished when you are exhausted from traveling. That’s really how they get you over here. Wait until you are so dead ass tired and then dump you in some place that is convenient and hit you with a higher charge. In this case we tried to get our Cambodian visa at the embassy. Turns out the embassy has moved to the middle of nowhere Bangkok. Luckily a nice Tuk Tuk driver knew where a TAT - tourist office - was, and it was close by. We sorted out both the Laos and Cambodia visas along with train tickets, for quite a bit higher than it should have been. Then by the time we made it back to the guesthouse, we noticed that our guesthouse had a TAT in it…so it goes.

While walking back we kept getting thai guys come up to us asking where we were from, etc. So here’s the scam: these friendly guys come up and start talking to you about things to see in Bangkok. They then write on your map circling a number of Wats that are ‘interesting’ and then tell you you can get a Tuk Tuk for 50 Baht - hasib baht! no more! - to take you around to all of these places. Then they flag down a Tuk Tuk and hussle you in. You do get driven around to these places, then after one of the stops they pull over and show you a card saying that they get free gas coupons if you go and look around in some store. So you go to the store to look at all of the overpriced shit that you have no intention of buying and then back into the Tuk Tuk. Another Wat, another store, rinse, repeat. The turn: we got drug around to all the sites, didn’t buy any of the overpriced junk, and then after the last Wat the Tuk Tuk driver buggered off without us even paying him. So it seems like they are scamming the stores more than the farangs.

Stopped by the National Gallery, dirty buggers wouldn’t let us take photos, but I did note down a few good artists:

Khien Yimsiri -

Prayat Pongdam -

Kiettisak Chanonnart -

Also, here is a pretty good list of some other Thai artists -

I did get a chance to walk around and checked out a bunch of the sites. Wat Phra Kaew is probably coolest Wat yet, home of the Emerald Buddha, the Grand Palace is smashing, and definately grand. Wat Pho is impressive, that’s where the giant Reclining Buddha is. It’s one of the largest images of Buddha in the world, probably the largest I’ll ever see 46m (150′) long by 15m high (50′). That’s a big buddha buddy.

Everyone seems to complain about the traffic in Bangkok, and it’s pretty bad, but really I’ve seen worse. The biggest problem, as I see it, isn’t the volume of the traffic, it’s the fact that the road rules are more suggestions than anything. Driving on the wrong side of the road is apparently acceptable which means that if your driving on that side then by definition the oncoming traffic can’t. Which means the peaceful flow of traffic is not going to work, the system breaks down. The streets fill up, and gridlock ensooos!

I went to, quite possible, the most amazing bar in the world. Vertigo bar sits on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel. Literally, on the roof. Sitting there having a very overpriced V&T, looking out over the city, I was struck by a couple of thoughts. One, this is pretty frickin’ awesome. Two, every filament in every light out there, every square meter of concrete in all those buildings, have all been shaped by man, by man’s will. What a species we are.

Here’s Bangkok:

Next day was a trip to The Bridge Over the River Kwai. It’s part of the Burma Railway and technically didn’t run over the river Kwai until the Thai government renamed it in the 60s from Mae Klong to Kwai Yai. Apparently the tourists didn’t like visiting a bridge that didn’t go over what they thought it went over. Solution, lets just rename the river, problem solved.

Finally, and I’ve been waiting for this one for almost as long as the full moon party, I went to the one true Tiger Temple it’s real name is Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yanasampanno - which is probably why they go with “Tiger Temple.” You get to interact with tigers. Not much in the way of frolicking with the animals - and I had done all of my pre-frolicking stretching too. But you do get to get close enough to sit with them and touch them. Tigers are like…big. Really big. They can get up to 4m (13′) long, that’s a hell of a big cat. The ones at the temple are so used to people they pretty much ignored the whole thing, that or they are drugged. You also get to mess around with cubs, which was a bit more fun. The one little cub gave a very passable snarl/growl at the other cub when I was playing with them. Effective enough to trigger that little animal reflex still buried deep down in our genes, which warns us of the scary things out in the jungle, then he licked my hand and nudged me to scratch his head again. I’m not one to use the adjective ‘cute’ lightly, nor am I historicly given to uttering an ‘awwww’, I did both on that one temple visit. A lot of photos of me, look at how narcissistic I’m becoming. I’m hoping it all goes to my head.

I’ll leave you with this video. Since it’s so hard to get heavy machinery in some of the places in Bangkok, they’ve come up with an amusing but effective alternative:

can’t be too careful with your company
i can feel the devil walking next to me
-murray head

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