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Monthly Archives: March 2011

BKK


Hāthras Travel, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

buy Pregabalin online eu I haven’t had a lot of time for writing since we got to Bangkok, but tonight rain is pounding down on the streets and corrugated tin roofs around the Lemonseed Guest House, and thunder is rattling the concrete towers, so it seems like a good night to sit on the bed with Janelle and my iPhone and get caught up on my correspondence.

Kurashiki This is actually our third time in Bangkok.  It’s finally a place where we know what to expect and how to get around. We’ve done most of the basic tourist things–visited the royal palace, taken a longtail up the river, gawked at the bar girls in Patpong–so this time we can just settle in and appreciate Bangkok’s charms.

And charms it has, though it may take a little while to appreciate them.  Bangers is urban living on a scale I’ve really seen only in New York, or maybe Paris.  Why have an electronics store when you can have a five-storey maze of corridors and escalators lined with booths and rooms selling warehouses worth of electronic device, cables and accessories?  Why a few street vendors, when you can have an army that lines every major street with little booths and food carts, turning the city into a combination of shopping mall and al fresco restaurant?  And you know what’s the most mind-blowing about all this?  The repetition.  There aren’t a hundred electronics stalls selling a hundred different sets of items–there are a hundred stalls, each selling one of about five sets of stock, usually arranged the same way for the same prices.  The street food vendors don’t each sell a completely different type of food.  There are about eight different types of vendor–orange juice, chicken soup, fresh fruit, thing-on-stick–and one of each appears in each little cluster.  The whole thing sometimes make Bangkok seem unnervingly like a video game where characters and backgrounds are reused from level to level.  It’s the volume that boggles, not the diversity.

Speaking of video games, there’s a good urban action game waiting to be set here.  The core of Bangkok is a three-dimensional sprawl of overlapping canals, roads, bridges and raised pedestrian walkways.  Crossing a busy intersection can sometimes seem more like solving a geometric puzzle.  And above it all, the massive concrete pillars supporting the skytrain network that soars between the office towers and high-rise apartments like a grey, pollution-stained version of The Jetsons with LCD advertising.

Alright, I realize I might not be selling the Bangkok the Thailand tourism council would like, but after a couple of weeks of beaches and jungles, we’re ready for a more urban experience, and Bangkok delivers.  BKK is exotic, but cosmopolitan.  It’s easy to get around, as long as you know the way to the nearest skytrain station or can communicate your destination to a taxi driver.  It’s full of life and activity and commotion.  It has glitz and grit in abundance.  In fact, most often side-by-side.  

We’ve been having a good time running errands, looking at unaffordable fashions and eating ridiculously cheap and tasty street food (and a greasy fast-food burger or two–cheese and dill pickles, I have missed you, and fries go pretty well with sweet Thai chili sauce).  The night after we arrived, we met up with Mark, an old friend of Janelle’s who now works in Bangkok doing PR work for a chain of hotels.  In addition to being a hilarious, entertaining and all-around awesome guy, he was able to give us a little bit of the inside scoop on the expat life, which was cool.  We got very drunk, ran through late-night tuk-tuk traffic, kicked a rat (unintentionally!) and got some condom-related photographs.  You know, all the things you’re supposed to do here.

Anyway, there’s lots more I’d like to say, but to be honest, it takes me a really long time to write and edit these posts on my iPhone, the rain stopped hours ago and it’s after midnight.  

I don’t know that I’m completely ready to move to Bangkok, but if a good opportunity came up, I would very seriously consider it.  Not something I would say about any of the half-dozen or so other Asian cities I’ve visited, so you can consider that high praise, BKK.

Khao Sok National Park


Khao Sok, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

The first thing you notice about the jungle is the humidity.  As soon as you take clothes out of the bag, they become damp.  Everything becomes damp. Our bed is damp.  Our money is damp.  Our 2004 Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is warped and buckled. And nothing ever, ever dries.  In fact, if you put things out to dry, they will just come back even more damp, science be damned.  If you sweat, get used to it, because it’s not going to evaporate in the next cool breeze. As the day goes on, it gets hotter and hotter and more and more humid until with a gust of cool wind, black clouds roll in and the late-afternoon thunderstorms roll in to reset the humidex.

The second thing you’ll notice is that everything here wants to take your blood.  It’s like a little invertebrate mafia.  You can stroll around during the day unhindered, but if you go out within an hour of dusk, the mosquito racket wants a cut.  And then there’s the leeches.  If you want to go near the river, well, that’s leech turf and they want a piece of the action.  Three days ago, I had never had a leech attached to my body.  Today, I’m an old hand at locating and plucking them off myself as they burrow through my socks to gorge on my tasty, tasty ankles.

All that said, though, I’m enjoying our little side trip to Khao Sok quite a lot.  I spent the past two days hiking well-groomed trails through lush jungle and bamboo forest.  Janelle’s not a huge fan of hiking, but she went with me on one rather sweaty hike, and then I did a more strenuous solo five-hour 8km hike to Sip-et-Chan waterfall myself yesterday, during which, well, I’m not going to go on record as having had an encounter with one of Khao Sok’s wild elephants, but there was something very large and scary crashing through the bamboo 100m ahead.  Evenings are spent sipping cocktails and playing made-up trivia games with Janelle at little bars surrounded by the jungle.  

Actually, *everything* is surrounded by jungle here: the bungalows, the minimart, the bus stop…  Which is the third thing you notice about the jungle.  It is filled with plant and animal life, all competing for a niche, and in the most vocal way they can manage.  The wet and rocky rainforests of my beloved Pacific Northwest have some resemblance to the Thai rainforest, but in British Columbia, the forests are usually deathly quiet except for the occasional woodpecker or crow.  My understanding is that the BC conifers don’t support a lot of insect life, which means fewer birds, reptiles and amphibians.  Not so here.  The rainforest may be peaceful, relaxing, pleasant, but it is very far from silent.  Frogs, birds, geckos and monkeys fill the air with noise all day and all night.  It’s like being in the middle of an orchestra perpetually tuning.  And when the cicadas start doing their thing, it drowns out music, conversation, even the rest of the jungle.  Seriously, it’s car-alarm loud.

We’re here an extra day in order to avoid having to take the notorious Surat Thani-Bangkok bus.  The route basically connects BKK to the resort and party islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangnan, and to hear the Internet tell it, is staffed entirely by thieves, con artists and bait-and-switch ticket sellers.  I’m quite sure we will have to deal with such things eventually, so why rush into it?  

This also gives me a day to make use of the local restaurant’s wifi and recover from my past couple days of hiking.  Not only am I old, I am not in good hiking shape.  Even for an old.  Something I want to need to remedy as we go along: now that I have a taste for it, I’m looking forward to more Asian hiking.

Sun, Sand and Swedes


Klong Dao Beach, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Last night this time we were sitting on a starlit tropical beach, drinking coke and Thai liquor and watching Swedish children practice poi routines to crackling beach-speaker Bryan Adams.  It was a good way to spend our last night on Ko Lanta.  

We spent the day snorkling around the smaller limestone islands and caves around the island, followed by an unscheduled dousing in a tropical thunderstorm.  When we got  back to our bungalow, Annie, the extremely charming Thai woman who runs Banana Garden Home, told us she was making us some fresh shrimp because she liked Janelle’s style (Janelle picked up a couple of interesting print dresses at some point).  We ate huge plates of home-made curried prawns.

We really couldn’t have asked for a better tropical honeymoon vacation than Ko Lanta.  And I’m really not a beach-holiday person. Fortunately, Ko Lanta also caters to the keeping-your-shirt-on, reading-at-the-bar-sipping-beer crowd (population: moi).

It’s a popular vacation spot–particularly with Swedes, for some reason I was never able to divine, but if you want to eat Swedish candy and meatballs in Thailand, this is clearly the place for you–but there is nowhere near the gross overdevelopment of Phuket.  Bungalows, beachside bars and restaurants line the uncrowded beaches of the west coast, while the rest of the island is more traditional rural Thai.  There is a large Muslim population on the island, most conspicuous in the regular calls to prayer from the island’s many mosques, and the smiling muslim girls in headscarves deftly weaving through traffic on mopeds.  Buddhism is clearly important, too, though.  The little Buddhist shrine next to our bungalow got served fruit and coffee before we did.  I wonder if it’s better to serve a shrine instant, plunger or espresso?

While our little wooden bungalow was basic, it met our needs: a bed, a shower, a shady veranda and a fridge for beer and mangos.  We were brought breakfast on the veranda in the mornings, and fruit from the garden in the afternoon.  Annie and her whole staff were exceedingly helpful and accommodating.  It would have been hard to find a better place on Ko Lanta, and we would know because we tried. When our initial stay was up, we thought about moving to a slightly more remote, backpackery beach further from the town, but after an hour of being shown a series of suspect, decrepit and charmless bungalows (mostly out of our price range) decided we would do a lot better staying on at Banana Garden Home.  And then, when *that* time ran out, we decided staying a few further days was in order.  

When we finally left this morning we felt ready to move on.  Not tired of it, but ready to move on.  Next stop on the increasingly long and meandering road to Bangkok: Khao Sok national park, a rainforest nature reserve I didn’t even know existed three days ago.

Unbuckle Your Seat Belts, We Have Ko Lanta’d


Klong Dao Beach, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

I’ve been in Ko Lanta a while now.  I’m not sure how long, exactly, because I’m not sure what day it is.  I know we have already extended our stay once, but that’s about it.  I guess I’ll find out when I post this and see the time stamp.

For now, time blurs together pleasantly, the day marked by the call to prayer from the nearby mosque. Coffee and toast delivered to the bungalow in the morning, swimming with Janelle, reading and writing at beachside bars and restaurants, then watching the sun go down while eating Thai seafood or drinking cocktails or swimming in the tropical-warm Andaman sea.

I sometimes feel I should be doing something, taking tours or kayaking or something.  And I think we will soon–we’ve checked out some activities, and I have to admit I am starting to crave a *bit* more stimulation.  But after an extremely busy few months, I’m also okay to just. Slow. Down.

For a bit.