A Bit of Bangkok

Audio & Video, Thailand No Comments »

Here’s a very short clip of a Tuk-Tuk ride in Bangkok and some afternoon footage of Kho San Rd, which is much more interesting at night, but my camera doesn’t work so well in the dark. I’m going to try to upload video more often, but with shorter clips. I’ve still got over twenty gigs sitting on my computer from every country I’ve been in. No commentary on this one.

Movies and Magic Tricks

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For about the same price as a movie in the states, they’ll roll out the red carpet for you here in Bangkok. Last night me and my new friend Phil, the economist from DC who quit his job, sold his house and is now traveling the world for two years while researching, photographing and writing a book on spiritual contemporary art, went to the “Gold Class Movie Theatre” down the street from my guesthouse. We paid $12 each to see Munich in luxury (which by the way was an amazing movie and renewed my faith in Spielberg). After buying our tickets, we were ushered into a lounge much like one you’d find at a high end casino, and seated in cushy seats at a private table. They brought us complimentary drinks from the bar and took our order for snacks during the film.

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Don’t Eat The….Anything

Thailand, Thoughts & Reflections No Comments »

Before I came to Thailand last summer, I went to a travel clinic and met with a foreign disease specialist. She gave me the vaccines I needed (Tetanus, Hepatitis A/B, Typhoid Fever) and some meds, like Mefloquin for protection against malaria and Ciproflaxin for infections or the super-runs. We talked about what not to eat or drink, washing hands and all of that.

I followed most of her suggestions in June. I didn’t drink the tap water, which was easy since most of the locals don’t either and so bottled water is available everywhere. I tried to not eat unpeeled and raw fruits or vegetables, since they could have bacteria on them. And I pretty much stuck to the general rule of only eating food that’s stove-hot or refrigerator-cold; nothing that’s been sitting around for awhile. Whether or not any of this mattered, I made it through all fifteen days unscathed.

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Dragons & Coyotes in Koh Phagnan

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Our private bungalow here on Hat Ban Tai is a coconuts’ toss from the Pacific. It’s a place where the water sits calmly and shallow a mile off shore; white sand giving the glowing turquoise water a milky white flavor. We haven’t been here long, but we already prefer it to Koh Samui. Koh Phagnan is much less developed and more beautiful. Koh Samui is a beautiful place, but it’s got all the noise, smells and hawking Bangkok’s got. Not to mention new development everywhere. On our first day here in Koh Phagnan, the place was double booked or something, so they sent us somewhere else for one night, but threw in a free motorcycle. The freedom to explore this island for $1 in gas was a good trade.

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A Test of Spirit

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Worn by walking in the 100 plus heat, the “air-con” pleasantly wrapped around my face as I opened the guesthouse door. I wasn’t even finished enjoying the cool blessing when I saw our driver standing in the lobby. He was 45 minutes early, and the taxi running outside was evidently ours. Stacey and I raced to gather out things from the smallest room I’ve ever stayed in, where the bed touches three walls, and the shower sprayed the toilet.

During our long ride through midday traffic to the travel agency, I sat with my head-cold, noticing how it had moved from my throat to the back of my nose and was now running out the front into the hard-to-find tissues I’d gathered and stuffed in my pocket.

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Wisdom Would Be Cool

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I’ve been in Bangkok for four days now and I haven’t done much. It’s nice travelling without a return flight, I don’t feel rushed to do and see as much as I can. Stacey showed up yesterday after a slow morning we spent a few hours with a monk at Wat Mahatrat temple eating, learing and practicing meditation. It is no doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do in my entire life, which is why I’m excited about it. People who know me know that my mind moves a millions miles an hour and I’m always tapping something. Concentration and sitting still have always been a challenge for me. I had to get daily behavoir notes from my first grade teacher who told my mother I was out of control and would never amount to anything.

So sitting motionless and focusing only on breathing, not allowing my mind to wander is quite a challenge. If I can accomplish this, then I’ll have gained quite a bit of conrol over my mind…which from what I’ve learned is the purpose of meditation. With mindfullness comes wisdom. And of course wisdom would be cool.

BKK Interkhraptional

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We’re sitting in an internet cafe at BKK International airport. There is a gaping hole about 6 inches in diamter in the center of the floor where people walk with no markings or warnings.

We started our journey home at 3pm local time…it’s just after 8pm now. That’s 5 horus of travel so far; leaving 27 hours to go before we drive our one way rental car into RI. 32 total hours of travel with sleep wherever we can get it. So far we’ve had cold Pad Thai, Dairy Queen and M&M’s. I spent more on two magazines then I did for a night in a hotel just because they were imported from the US. Eric is getting his pent up energy out by yelling SAWADEE KHRAP at all the Thai people working here. He’s even been muttering it to himself while I’m trying to get him to respond to conversation.

Eric would have posted on his site too, but while we were trying to make a whirllpool in the two foot deep kiddie pool at the hotel this morning, he somehow sliced the tip of his left middle finger off on a broken tile….so he can’t type. The blood was horrific and it was a tragic end to our trip.

The next 27 hours should be interesting….

Stay to the Left

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After one day of just lounging around and relaxing, we were ready to do something else. Yesterday we set out to rent motorcycles again. We figured we would jsut get one and take turns driving. The first place we went didn’t have a insurance. They said “Nobody inThailand have insurance. Please, your passport!” Hmm, that’s funny. The place we rented motorcycles in Chiang Mai had insurance. We went back to the hotel to get our passports, which we would need to rent anywhere and the guy at the hotel convinced us to rent a car. “Much safer, much safer”, he assured us. Considering it was raining and onlyUS$20/day to rent the car, we went for it.

About 37 seconds after we said yes, a man in dress clothes wielding a notepad and pen pulled up and jumped out of a small 4wd Suzuki Carribean. We paid him cash, he took my pasport (yikes), and he gave us the keys. I was going to drive first, so i went to get in the drivers seat. The hundreds of times i’ve envisioned myself getting into the car on the correct side the first time i drove in a foreign country didn’t matter. As I was trying to get into the left side of the car Eric and the guy yelled at me to go to the other side. The rental guy was already nervous because i was asking him how fast it went and if it could pop wheelies….now he was really nervous.
When i opened the door i saw that it was a standard. Nothing like a challenge.

He started to go into wghat we should do about parking and getting gas…good thing eric was listening because i was just staring at the 3 pedals and the shift stick and the wheel all being on the other side of the car.

Then, seemingly much too quickly and with much too little preparation i was turning the ignition over. The cool air conditiong hitting my face put me at ease a little. I got the car in first gear, too the parking brake off and turned the wheel ready to pull out and merge into the left lane. We we parked right after a side street, so everytime i was about to pull out a motorcycle would zip by out of nowhere. After about 3 minutes, the rental guy came back over and suggested i use my directional. Although they do drive insane over hear…the widespread use of directionals adds some order to the chaos.

Finally i was on the road. Eric’s job was navigation and to remind me to “watch the left”, which proved to be very important. I had a natural tendancy to drift to the left, probably because it felt awkward to be driving while sitting on right side fo the car.

The best challenge was yet to come. Oncoming traffic…

So on the roads in Thailand, they have lines painted just like home…except that they’re a bit more confusing and nobody really notices they are there. They have the normal A and B lanes (see above), but they also have this extra C lane, which is for motorcycles travelling in ANY direction. I have actually seen arrows painted on the ground in this lane that point directly at each other! SO we’re driving forward in lane B and it’s scary enough when motorcycles in lane A and lane C coem right at you, but VERY OFTEN cars in lane A decide to pass the motorcycles while you’re coming towards them in lane B. The mess shown in the diagram above seems funny and outlandish, but it seriously happens like every 5 minutes.

It is a good thing we rented a car instead. They say the rip tide here is deadly, but i’d put my money on the roads.

We drove around the 80km island of Phuket for most of the day, stopping off at different beaches to swim and take pictures. We found some awesome spots that made renting the car very worthwhile. I’ve decided my next trip should be France, because we saw a topless French girl bouncing around in the waves at one beach. She definitely knew we wern’t checking out the scenery!

We saw more Tsunami damage at some of the less travelled areas on Phuket, but they really have done an amazing job cleaning up and rebuilding fast. We made it to this place called Promethep Cape to watch the sunset. Its a popular spot. There’s a parking lot, a big scenic lookout, street vendors and 8 year old girls selling whistles for 10 baht (25 US cents). One girl kept follwing me around. When if inally agreed to buy one she said 6 for 60 Baht! Hah. I said what the hell am i gonna do with 6 whistles? I gave her 10 Baht and she left me alone.
The sun was about 30 minutes from setting. Figuring i had plenty of time, I left eric up at the lookout and I walked back to the car to get more money so I could buy some food. When i was walking up the stairs i saw hords of people walking towards me. I wondered where evryone was going…didn’t they want to see the sun set?

Well i must have missed the overcast sky in the distance, because as i climbed the last step i caught about one second of an orange flash as the sun tucked itself into the clouds. Eric got a few shots of the sun and a few shots at me for missing it. It wasn’t a total loss. I still got some nice silouhette shots just after sunset. We walked down the hill a bit and got a seat the the Promthep Cape Restuarant. We sat outside, on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean, an island, and a beach below. This is the place…

Today it’s raining…a lot. So we’re going to the movies. Tomorrow, hopfully we’ll get some more sun before our commute to the Phuket airport, 2 hour flight to Bangkok, sit in the airport for 5 hours, fly 17 hours to new york, rent a car and and drive to RI. If i don’t post again before that, then i’ll see you all when i get back. We should be home around noon on Thursday.



Thailand 1 Comment »

Phuket is beautiful. I can tell it was more beautiful before the tragedy this spring…..but it’s still beautiful. We went to the beach yesterday for hours. The waves were pretty good…powerfull and persistant. The water is as warm as the air.

As we walked up to the beach…it appeared there was seaweed along the waters edge…much like at home. But there is no seaweed here. When we got closer we saw that it was actually clothing and other household items washing ashore. We were having fun in the water, but getting a coat hanger stuck in my toes and bumping into a floating ink cartridge was a stark reminder of what happened…and how many people died. As I stared out into the waves and then looked behind me at the new field, where the many small huts had been, the fear people must have felt crept up on me more than a couple times. The remaining evidence shows the massiveness of the Tsunami. Things too high to reach, and blocks from the beach, were smashed from by wall of water.

This morning we took a boat to PhiPhi sland. First we snorkeled on the coral reefs. They were beautiful and we saw tons of bright tropoical fish. I couldn’t stop thinking about the movie Finding Nemo. Next we went ashore and were fed a great lunch at a local restuarant.

After eating eric and I set out to fill our two hours of sightseeing with photography. We went along the shore and took pictures of the small amount of damage that remained. We thought we’de seen it all. We were impressed with how much clean up had been done, so we headed away from the beach to find a set of stairs that suppossedly lead up the mountain for some good scenic shots. PhiPhi is two giant mountains with a smal strip of flat land between them. That’s what’s built up..the flat part. There are bays on both sides.

As we walked away from the beach…I noticed the destruction was getting worse…not less. Finally, we came to the last block and it became apparent what we were seeing. The Tsunami had come from the other side…we had only been seeing the back of the island.

Total destruction. It looked like a war zone. Palm trees uprooted. Entire buildings gutted. Cement foundations torn apart. Piles of trash everywhere. Nobody standing where I was standing this afternoon could have lived through what happened. It was a place where many people stood. There were hotels and park beyond the beach. It was quite. All you could hear today were the waves and the sound of people working, not talking.

Just beyond the tattered and trash covered park was a Thai man sitting on the empty beach with a rown of about 10 chairs and umbrellas. He had a cooler full of drinks and a sign saying he was open for business. It didn’t look like he’d had a customer or would for some time…so i bought a drink and a smile from him.

I felt guilty for doing only that, while there was so much more to do. I felt guilty taking pictures instead of swinging a hammer. But mostly…I felt the pain that somehow lingered in the air. Maybe it happened too fast and more people needed to feel it.

On the 90 minute ride back to Phuket, I thoguht about life, the people i love, what my future holds and whats important to me. The reality that tragedy is man’s best reason to live burns brightly today. I hope it reaches you somehow.

More Dirt and Sweat

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After talking with Mai late Monday night, I crawled into the bamboo hut where the others were sleeping beneath misquito netting. The misquitos here aren’t any worse than home, except that some of them cary the deadly Malaria virus. Eric and I both took a vaccine that is supposedly very effective at defending against Malaria; but not 100%. However, the misquitos were the least of my problems. I’ve slept on wood planks before, but never on bamboo. Round wood hurts more. It was impossible to get comfortable. The heat was still swealtering. There were animals moving below us. There were still tribe people up talking. I fell in and out of sleep. At one point i woke to a dog barking. A small dark. It was barking and barking..and barking. Non-stop. I’ve never heard a dog bark for that long. Eventually everyone in the hut was awake. People started yelling to do something. Suddenly there was a sound of someone moving, the dog made a very loud screaching sound for about 30 seconds and then it stopped. The next morning the others said they had heard a gun shot, but there were too many stray dogs in the village to know whether one was missing.

Mai was our guide the next day for our trek. He took us through trails that hadn’t been used in some time. Our guide Eddy was marking the tree with his knife by chopping three nothches into them…so he could find his way next time. Mai brought his daughter with him. She was probably 5 years old. She wore yellow rubber rain boots and he wore flip flops….Eric and I had our Gortex high top REI Hiking boots on. We had our camel pack backpackis with 3 liters of water…they didn’t carry anything. They hopped skipped and jumped up and down the trails…we sweat and dragged our feet. They live in these mountains….so obviously it’s easier for them…but i couldn’t believe it.

We swam in more waterfalls, we walked through rice fields and we came to the second hill tribe at about 4pm…dinner was to be served at 7. This place was a disaappointment. We were sat at the picinic table,confrotned with jewelry and clothes for sale…and then given chips and water to buy again. The “tribe people” had a somewhat modern and very newly constructed house next to their bamboo hut. It seemed they spent their time in the Bamboo place, but slept under the metal roof and behind the glass windows. It was a small family. I saw them twice for about 5 minutes. I think there were 3 of them Eddy cooked our dinner, which wasn’t too good…but we ate lots because we were hungry as hell from climbing the hills all day. At dinner the group asked Eddy when we were goign to see the “longnecks”. He looked confused. “Longnecks in the east… we no see longnecks my friend. Ha ha. ” We all instantly knew we had been screwed by the travel agency that we would see them, but we wern’t going to. I was pissed for about 2 minutes, until Tristan said…”we’re toursists, that’s what happens to tourists here”. I chalked it up as a leson learned. Get everyting in writing.

The bamboo sleep the second night was a bit better, because we had 1 inch mats to put down. The walk back on wednesday was uneventfull except for us stopping to watch Eddy eat a bird and frog that some tribe guy was cookin in a pot in a small hut near a rice field. I’m so perplexed by these people that live in the woods, hunt and farm everyday, but wear watches and drive motorcycles.

When we got back to civilization, a downpour started. We had a quick lunch of rice, chicken, veggis and pineapple, which as we found is the staple hill tribe trekking meal. Next we were driven about an hour to the river where we boarded the bamboo rafts. This was a pretty touristy thing, but it was super fun. The rapids wern’t too big, but going down a class 1 rapid on eight stiks of bamboo is quite an adventure. THe setting was pretty awesome too. Neither of our guides spoke english…which made it more interesting becayuse we had no directions at all on how to stear the raft or anything. Just a lot of pointing and yelling.

Overall the trekking adventure was well worth the money and time. Yea i’m pissed we got sold something we thought was soemthing else, but i’m smarter for next time. I got my first experience in third world conditions. I apprecaite what i have a lot more. And Eric and I have made two good friends from England now…Tristan and Ben.

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