Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This And That

Here are incidents, thoughts, observations and details from my trip that didn’t make it into other entries due to not fitting in, or I just plain forgot at the time…


When I boarded the double-decker bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, I was seated in the front seat of the upper deck, right in front of the video monitor. It was just as we were pulling out that a karaoke greatest hits DVD was put on. At first I thought it was a joke, but then the music started. I was actually wondering if a microphone was going to be passed around, but we were just there to watch the videos and the color changing Thai text while not singing.

The first video was a girl who gets dumped by a guy who then flaunts his less pretty girl in front of her.

The second video was a guy who gets dumped by a girl who then flaunts her less handsome guy in front of him.

The third video, and my personal favorite, was a girl who gets dumped by her guy and ends up homeless on the street. She is then enslaved by an evil woman who makes her do all the household chores. The girl holds fast to her dreams of love and freedom and one day runs away and gets on a bus.

The fourth video was a girl who gets dumped by a guy and moves in with the guy who secretly loves her only to dump him for the guy who originally dumped her.

I was happy the DVD stopped after four songs. I had clearly been on an emotional journey through the relationship landscape.


I spent some time on a beach and have this piece of advice for all the men out there either wearing or contemplating wearing a speedo:

Stand in front of a full-length mirror
Strip naked.
Look at yourself.
Stand straight with your arms at your side.
Moving only your head, look down.

Now, if you can see your dangly bits, then maybe a speedo is for you. But if your dangly bits are even slightly obscured from view, don’t even think of anything stretchy on the beach. Oh, and while you are naked, check out your back. If there is hair, shave it, wax it or cover it up.


I was in Boots, a British pharmacy on every corner in most Thai cities, looking to stock up on some FCUK hair wax when another product caught my attention. In fact, I did a double take to make sure I had seen what I think I saw, and sure enough, there it was, Finale Pink Nipple Cream a product that “make nipples color soft”. Call me naïve. Call me out of the loop, but since when did nipple coloring come into vogue? I almost bought a tube for myself, just to see what would happen, but I am a bit scared that I might end up with strawberry pink nipples just as I might be heading towards a beach. And I don’t want people telling their funny holiday stories while referring to me as “that pink nipple guy”.


Another product I found in Boots a short while later is “Smart Oil for Men” which is a “product for specific area”. Now, the box didn’t saw what the specific area is, but it does say “Micronutrients help penetrate effectively”, so I kind of have an idea of what “specific area” means. What I am not clear on is if the micronutrients help the oil to penetrate or the oil helps the specific area to… Must investigate.


I was walking down the street in Bangkok one night and felt something grab me from behind. At first I brushed it off as being in my mind as it was crowded, but there was some definite feeling action going on. All over my back and then onto my shoulder. When I turned around to check it out and put a stop to it, there was a curious baby elephant behind me.


I don’t understand people who spend money to travel, who decide to go on holidays to what I imagine for many are dream locations and in many cases, one-in-a-lifetime experiences, then go out of their way to stay in the bubble of home. It pains me when I am in places like France, Spain, Greece, Israel, India, Thailand or wherever, and instead of indulging in what I believe is one of the best things about travel, the food, they make a mad dash for McDonald’s. Or KFC, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen or any place else where they can taste the same old thing cooked the same old way they can have it back home. Go to any foreign country, and the more exotic it is, the more people you will find crammed into some American fast food restaurant. What is the point? I have even been in countries where people do try the food and then complain the Chinese food in Beijing doesn’t taste like Ping’s Chinese restaurant in Des Moines, which is “a hell of a lot better, if you ask me!”


There seems to be a craze in Thailand. Collagen in just about any and everything. While wandering the airport, I did come across a fast food restaurant that has, among other things, collagen burgers. I kept walking.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Airport Security... How I do Love Thee...

I feel the need to complain. I was at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok and if you were there early Friday morning, August 15, 2009, you would have found me at gate E9 both waiting for my flight to board and also fuming at the incredibly ridiculous rules one is subjected to if one is attempting air travel. As I often do. And to top it off, I had been up for over twenty-four hours. I had been at the airport for about seven hours, and in spite of having had a yummy breakfast of a Whopper with Cheese menu from Burger King, I was not in the best of moods. If I were a woman, you might even say I was PMS-ing.

I have had it to here, HERE I say, with airport security rules. I don’t understand them. Yes, I have seen the signs and I don’t pack ice-skates, axes, canisters of petrol, semi-automatic weapons, kerosene, or even leaf blowers in my carry-on luggage. I know better than that. I’m a safety boy and a good little traveler. But I did happen to have a glass, a real live breakable glass beer mug from Myanmar in my carry-on. In fact, I only had the one backpack, so everything I had with me was destined to be stowed away in the overhead bin.

Anyone who flies knows that the laptop has to come out and be scanned separately, belts tend to be removed, pockets get emptied and any liquid or gel goes into the clear plastic baggies available at the security check for “your convenience”. I would like to know who decided it was convenient for me, because I would like to give them a little cuddle.

So I get to the security check and get asked if I have any liquids. The first thing I pull out is my over-priced waterproof, and it REALLY is waterproof and didn’t once melt into my eyes, sunblock I bought on Ko Samet. I don’t want it as a souvenir, but like most things on an island it was triple the normal price. And as I am quite small, I used only a portion of it. It got confiscated. Why? Because it is in a container of over 100 milliliters. 125ml to be exact. She looked at me as if I had some dastardly plan cooking, to sunblock myself at 36,000 feet.

Then she took my brand new tube of Colgate because there was almost the full 150ml of it. It was the same tube I bought in Sukhothai. The tube I have carried as if it were my own child. And it wouldn’t be so bad if there were size selections in smaller cities and villages. But there aren’t. You bloody well take what they give you, mister! So I will be flying back without my sunblock and without toothpaste. And I was planning on brushing just after security and again just before I landed, as is my ritual. And I had news-worthy Whopper breath!

But what really gets me is the fact that right after she took my sunblock but before she eyed my Colgate gel, I accidentally pulled out the glass mug. Both security people saw it, and I was even forthcoming with the information and said “oh, this is glass” expecting that to be tossed in the bin. I knew that might happen when I took it out of Myanmar. I had been expecting it, really. But they didn’t even flinch and so I put it back in my backpack. I also had miles and miles of cables with me, a laptop, a camera with multiple lenses and multiple batteries. I had a Lonely Planet thick enough to be used as a wheel block for the plane. But what to they take? My sunblock and toothpaste. I forget about the bottle of Kamillosan in my bag, my MAC lipbalm and my FCUK hair wax. All of which should have been in the plastic baggie, none of which were and none of which got noticed or confiscated during the scan. Next time, I will “forget” anything oversized and see what happens. I am always early. I always have time to kill at the airport, might as well have some fun by getting on the nerves of those behind me.

I know this is all about safety and I am all for getting from A to Z without any mid-air disasters, but I don’t get the logic. I can take thick, breakable glass on board, but not toothpaste. They serve the meals with metal knives and forks and glasses. In all classes on Thai Airways, which I happen to be flying. I know this is my fault, I forgot to check the volume, but where is the logic to all of this? Since when is brushing teeth a security issue?

It isn’t even about the amount of the substance, it is about the mount of the substance per package. Last time I took five tubes of the same L’Oreal face wash home and it was no problem. Each package was under 100ml. So had my backpack been filled with hundreds of packets of toothpaste or sunblock, they would not have cared as long as each individual package was under 100ml. Makes no sense to me at all.

And all of this was after being told I could not listen to my iPod or have my mobile turned on in the visa processing center a few days earlier, because batteries were a security hazard. So I turned of my iPod and my iPhone, put them both in the bag that held my digital camera and extra battery which the guard examined and was admitted into the visa processing center by the very same guard.

I am all for rules, but let’s have some logic and some consistency. And some common sense. That is really what gets on my nerves. Well, that and the lady behind me who poured what smelled like gallons of Patpong Girl perfume all over herself while we were descending, but before we got put into an hour-long holding pattern over the Delhi.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Just Beachy

With my one-year Indian visa in my hot little hand, I decided it was time for some beach action. I went online and checked the weather forecast that said it was nothing but thunderstorms no matter where I decided to go. So, I decided to go to Ko Samet. By the time I got my visa, there would not be time to get to Ko Samet the same day. I picked up my visa at four and the last boat from Ban Phe, 3 hours away minimum, leaves at five. I opted to go only to Pattaya for the night before continuing on to Ban Phe and Ko Samet.

I got to Pattaya and headed immediately for the beach. I was desperate for water and waves and sand between my toes. What I got was a lot of loud music, drunken people and girls dancing on poles. My hotel was just a hundred or so meters away from the infamous “Walking Street”, which make the ping pong bars in Bangkok and Bourbon Street in New Orleans seem so Disney and family oriented.

The place is full of “Nana Couples”, which is basically an older western guy and his much younger, sometimes shockingly so, young girl/boyfriend. The whole place is geared for drinking and sex. Girls dancing on the bars, girls on poles, girls lined up outside, girls pulling you in, calling after you and for just about thirty dollars, girls to go home with you and do whatever you like. If girls are not your thing, Boyztown is the same thing, just change the gender, and if you are looking for a smash of the two, there are ladyboys everywhere…

After the quiet ruins and temples of the week before, it was a bit of a shock to the system, just a little too much and all up close and personal. I didn’t like it at all and so opted to go to bed and get an early start, which ended with me going to bed and then taking another look at the place in the light of day. The whole place smelled of suntan oil, stale beer and cigarettes. While the dancing girls were hanging out at the bars, the ladyboys were out in full force. the streets were deserted and I had the full, if not unwanted, attention. “Where you go? What you like to do? You want to have the sex with me? Why not?” is what you hear as they grab you around the waist to pull you closer. And they are freakishly strong and one time I actually had to shove the person away. I took that as a clear sign I needed to get my things on a minivan and get myself to Ko Samet.

I had been warned a bit about Ko Samet. Told how touristy it was, the drugs, the noise and everything else one can imagine from an island cut off from the rest of the world after five in the evening. I had also been told the weather would be horrible, that I should stay in Pattaya, but I had decided that I would risk it. And what an amazing choice it was. The skies were clear, the water was blue-green and the sand was white. I found a little place just a few meters from the sand and spent the next two days shoeless and lazy. I would wake early and take a sunrise swim followed by a walk, another swim and then I would stake out a beach chair and an umbrella where I would hang out, swimming and eating until about four, when I would take a short nap, shower and head out to the beach for a beer and dinner and a sheesha. At night I would watch the fire show, go for a walk and then off to bed to repeat it all again.

That is how I spent my birthday. I was worried about being alone, wondering if I would get sad or depressed, but not at all. I am at that place where I enjoy my own company. Yeah, it would have been nice if my friends were there, but I had a great day on my own.

Now I am back in Bangkok for the final few hours before heading back home to Delhi. I am both ready and not ready. I feel relaxed and detoxed from the past few months and not really ready to head back to reality… In fact, the entire trip, only four people had my Thai mobile number, so I was able to really disconnect. On the other hand, I am excited to be heading back as I am working on a fabulous project that I am planning on kicking off on October 1,which I will tell everyone about when the timing is right… And Ulco is coming for a holiday in just two weeks and we will be backpacking around a different piece of India than last time. What he doesn’t know is that last time I was gentle on him. This time, he is getting the full Indian backpacking experience.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Unexpected Detour

I had a brilliant idea. Brilliant. I decided I would go to the elephant camp and spend a few days working with elephants. As almost everyone knows, I am obsessed with them and I thought this would be great. I would get to spend three entire days with them, training, riding, bathing and whatever else one does when working with elephants. I went online to check it out and there were no spots available. So next time I know I am coming to Thailand, I will book well in advance.

So I went with my second choice of Nong Khai as I feel a few days doing nothing would be a nice change after the pace I have been keeping the past few days and I am thinking of taking a short course in Thai boxing to kick-start my getting back into the gym groove. I checked out of my quiet little guesthouse and took a tuk-tuk to the bus station to catch the 7pm bus, putting me in Nong Khai about twelve hours later. I figured it was better to arrive without a place during daylight rather than take a bus mid day and arriving after two in the morning or something like that.

I got to the bus station and was informed that all buses to Udon Thani where sold out. And Udon Thani is where the bus change happens for the last hour or so to Nong Khai. So, as I have not yet had my Thai boxing classes, I couldn’t bust-a-move and get my way, I had to decide what else to do. The only buses still leaving were heading to Bangkok and that is where I find myself at the moment. While I wasn’t too happy about it at first, it works out well. I have a few things I need to take care of and will pick up my visa on Monday so that will be out of the way. As soon as that is done, then I am off again. Not sure where, but am tossing around either heading a bit south and doing some island hopping, or heading east and going to Angkor Wat. I would love to see Angkor Wat and also, it would give me a few days in Cambodia, but it takes a full day to get there and at least three days to explore the ruins. I am not sure I want to be that rushed, but at the moment I am tired, having been traveling on the bus all night and now waiting for my room to get free so I can move in.

I was at the bus station in Bangkok just before 5am, having no clue where to go and the metro doesn’t open until 6. I also needed to find a place to stay and was not looking forward to wandering the streets of Bangkok so early. It was then that I met the semi-heavily tattooed Tabitha. She is English, university age and taking a bit of time out to study Thai boxing. I was jealous and we hit it off immediately. She had stayed in a guesthouse named Suk 11 and suggested I give it a try. Once it was late enough, we shared a taxi to the metro station and chatted until I reached my stop at Nana. It took me all of five minutes to find the place, and just like Tabitha said, it feels like a tree house. I registered and paid and now just killing time waiting for the room to be free as, once again, I am in desperate need of a shower, which seems to be a common situation for me on this trip.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Loving Chiang Mai

Ok, maybe I am a bit of an addict. A whore, even. But toss a temple, Buddha, dragon or elephant at me and I am all yours. Throw them at me all at once and I become something of a screamer. I’ll even beg for more. Bring it on and keep it coming. Yes, yes, yes! That’s it…

Chiang Mai seems to know this, and how. The whole city seems built with only those four images in mind, and I keep walking from temple to temple trying to get my next fix. Every temple I see leaves me wanting more and more and more and I fear I may end up overdoing it.

And being in a city with over four hundred temples, temptation is everywhere. I have even tried promising myself that ‘this one is the last one’ and then I see a golden pagoda and I give into the urge the binge. I feel embarrassed by my lack of willpower as I succumb to my desires, feeding them. And feeding them only makes them hungrier. It is a vicious circle in which I find myself and I just can’t get enough.

Chiang Mai is absolutely gorgeous, and has a laid back vibe. While Bangkok is all about faster and now, Chiang Mai is all about doing it slower, taking the time and doing it right. No rushing here. Service is slower, people walk slower, drive slower. This makes it so much nice to just walk around and explore all the little nooks and crannies. And that is how Chiang Mai is to be discovered. Slowly and like a lover, taking the time to find and enjoy all the secret places that bring so much pleasure. I started with the Lonely Planet walking tour and after ten minutes decided to just make my own way. From pretty much each temple, another temple can be seen. And if not, just walk for a minute or two, something is bound to be there. Walking down almost any street or even alleyway is almost guaranteed to uncover a lonely temple off the touristy path.

But unfortunately, like it happens so many times, it is over before it feels like it even began and while I would love for it to go on and on, my time in Chiang Mai is coming to an end. I am not sure yet where I should go. I am thinking of either heading more north to Chiang Rai, or heading east to Nong Khai for a few lazy days sitting by the Mekong or perhaps on a slowboat going a bit down the river. I am thinking of crossing over into Laos, but not sure yet. But I will figure that out later. Right now, I am basking in the afterglow with a smile that says I have been satisfied yet left wanting more.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Myawaddi, Myanmar

Mae Sot is a nothing little town, really, but it serves as a border crossing in Myanmar and that was my entire reason for going there. Unfortunately, only a day pass is issued and passports are held hostage to guarantee a return before 16:30. I rose early and took a motorcycle taxi to the Friendship Bridge and within a minute or two I was signed out of Thailand started the 420 meter walk across the bridge and in a few minutes was being stamped into Myanmar and then I was on my own in the border town of Myawaddi.

It may only be 420 meters away, but the differences are vast. Myawaddi was like being back in India in many ways. The roads were in bad condition, pot-holed and in places non existent. Immediately across the border, there are lines and lines of cycle tuk-tuks ready to take visitors anywhere. But for all the tuk-tuks waiting, I was the only tourist, and the only firangi I saw all day. I decided to do as much as possible on foot and took the first street that left the main road.

While it did remind me of India in many ways, it was also very different. The biggest difference was the people, from the children to the adults. It was obvious they don’t get so many tourists. People watched from a distance and kids shied away from the camera. They were obviously poor, but not one person approached me for money or anything else.

I did after some point stumble across a small billiard hall and was invited in for a game. I didn’t play as I imagined there would be so much to see, so many temples to explore and the clock was ticking. Looking back I should have stayed for a while and relaxed. As it turned out, there are a few temples around, but they are very small and don’t take much exploring like some of the larger ones in Thailand or India.

But I did see what is by far the most bizarre and unusual temple I have ever seen. It is in the shape of a giant crocodile that happens to have a pagoda on his back. In his open mouth that is baring the usual set of teeth one would expect on a crocodile, there are several Buddhas. Yes, the temple itself is in the open mouth of the crocodile.

From there we did several more temples and I have no idea what the names are. Everything was in Burmese. As I said, it is not touristy like Thailand, and even here it is often difficult to find descriptions in anything other than the local language. But at one temple I did get invited to join in for lunch, an offer I immediately took them up on. The spread of food there was absolutely unbelievable. I didn’t even realize I was hungry until I saw the sea of bowls all brimming with different dishes. I have no idea what I had, they just put a few kinds of noodles in a bowl, and started adding things and then poured a creamy chicken sauce and some hot peppers. It was one of the better meals I have had on the trip so far.

It was soon clear there was not really anything else to do, at least not in that area and there was no time to travel anywhere else, so I headed back to the border area looking for market. It was then I realized I had not seen a single market of any type all day. There were stores, but only selling what people needed. There were no stalls with handicrafts or souvenirs. Not even a single Myawaddi snowdome. I wasn’t ready to go yet, so I went to the Riverside Café which is conveniently located on the river overlooking Thailand and ordered myself a Myanmar brand beer, which comes served with a Myanmar brand beer glass mug. It was then I realized it was the perfect souvenir and so I managed to buy it from the café.

I only spent a few hours in Myanmar, but it was enough to drive me to see more. I am hoping that soon I will be able to go to Yangon and then visit one of my dream places, Mandalay. I don’t know why, but that name just conjures up the most exotic images. But for now, it is off to the north and the city of Chiang Mai… Only seven or so hours of travel ahead of me and hopefully no sniffing honeys sitting next to me…

A Little Voice Named Ann

Pinocchio had his Jiminy and I have mine. Her name is Ann. It was today, while I was at Sukhothai Historical Park that Ann decided to make an appearance. She started nagging me and she didn’t let up. I kept screaming at her to “shut up!”, but she went on and on like a broken record. Not that she was there, but her voice was there, in my head.

See, for some reason I burn in Thailand faster than any place else I have ever been. I don’t know why, but it does. And whenever I get even the slightest indication that I might possibly be changing skin tones, Ann’s voice plays in my head. It is a conversation I have had so many times wit her, that now it just goes on without her…

“Your face is burning. You should be using sunscreen” Ann would say
“I am.”
“You’re not. You’re pinking”
“I have sunscreen. I’m wearing it.“
“Are you sure? Did it say ‘sunscreen’ or make any references to SPF on the package?”
“Yes, it is just melting off my face.”
“You should be using waterproof.”
“It is waterproof.”
“If it was waterproof, why is it melting off your face?”
“I don’t know, Ann, it just is.”
“But you said it was waterproof. Did it actually say ‘waterproof’ on the bottle?”
“Let’s have a look at the bottle, then”
“I don’t have it with me”
“Don’t have it with you? How can you even consider leaving the house without at least three different options of sunblock? What SPF are you using?”
“30? THIRTY? I won’t expose my skin to even the light in the fridge unless I am wearing at least three layers of 60!”
“Don’t hmmmm me. Well, all I can say is ‘thank heavens it is not my face’, I mean really, look at you…” She says as she flashes her elasticity my way… “well, you better go put on some of this right now, before you do more irreparable damage to your already road-mapped skin. You’ll never have skin like mine, but you should make an attempt to salvage what you can, at least. And don’t for a moment think you can just keep injecting weapons of mass destruction into your face. It only makes it worse in the long run.”

And this was the conversation I had with myself today touring the ancient ruins, feeling my face turning red while the waterproof SPF30 lotion from Nivea – which is all they have anywhere, and I did check the label three times, with Ann’s voice coaching me on – melted into my eyes. I kept hearing "I told you so>' see, Ann is not unlike Hermione Granger. In fact, I would say she has a serious case against Miss Rowling for using her likeness so completely in her books. I can imagine her in school, knowing everything, or even if she didn't, she would pretend to, just to one-up the other kids and give them something of an inferiority complex. But I have to say, she has always had my best interests at heart and I love her dearly. even when she nags.

Kind of.

But there may be hope for me. Just today I saw an ad for milk here in Thailand. Among the other normal benefits like calcium and all that kind of healthy crap, it also has been collagen enhanced. So now, I am thinking that if I drink collagen enhanced milk, I can replace the collagen in my skin, thereby reenergizing the lost elasticity and then I won’t have to worry about how much I smile and whether that particular facial expression was worth dipping into my rapidly depleting resources.

Friday, August 07, 2009


I forgot to mention one thing in that last post. The girl who snarled at me at the station? Remember her? She was on my bus to Sukhothai and she just would not stop snarling and giving me dirty looks. Anyway, I had just gotten to the guesthouse and taken the last room, when who should show up? Snarling girl and her boyfriend. It was almost midnight and they were turned away because the place was full. I waved and smiled and wished them luck.

Established in the thirteenth century, Sukhothai (Rising of Happiness) was the very first capital of Siam. It is now known as Sukhothai Historical Park, filled with the ruins of the ancient capital. I had imagined a sort of Ayuthaya and was completely unprepared for what was waiting for me. I rented a bike to be able to see more of the place as it is quite spread out. If Ayuthya was stunning, then Sukhothai was spectacular and in at least one case for me, breathtaking. Seriously.

The first ruin, which is just past the entrance I used is Wat Mathahat. This was considered the spiritual center of the old city. It is filled with Buddhas and if you squint your eyes and use a little imagination, it is easy to visualize how magnificent it must have been.

One thing I really loved about Skuhothai Historical Park is the way they have kept everything sectioned off from the rest of the developing world. There were no phone lines going through the area, no McDonald’s arches enhancing the scenery. It was lush and green and full of ponds with Lotus flowers in bloom. Most people were on bicycles or walking and there was no graffiti anywhere. I saw no declarations of love carved into old walls as I have seen on way too many places.

From Wat Mathahat, I was determined to see Wat Si Chum. I got a bit lost, but I love it when that happens. I stumbled across Wat Chang Rop, a chedi with a base of elephants. Everyone knows I have a HUGE love of elephants and this was a most welcome surprise and I took a bit of a break from biking to just sit back and admire it. To most people, it is probably not such a big thing, but for me, it was perfect.

From there I went to Wat Si Chum and I can honestly say from the first sight, I gasped. It was amazing. The Wat itself is very small and there is a narrow opening facing the entrance. It is through that opening that one gets a glimpse of the twenty five meter high Buddha sitting inside. I can’t explain it, really, but just when you get to a point where you think you have kind of seen it, to have something that incredible appear was just awesome. As it was a bit further away by bike and most people can’t take the heat (I feel it is a bit cool compared to Delhi) I had the place to myself.

I won’t say much more about the park as I think the pictures will do a much better job of explaining it that I ever could.

All too soon it was time to head back, shower and get to the bus station for the trip to Mae Sot. What I thought would be a nice bus, like the one from Ayuthaya to Sukhothai, turned out to be an overcrowded minivan. Two guys were sitting in the narrow aisle on chairs made for children, but they where the only ones that would fit between the actual seats. It all started off ok, but once we hit the mountains, it became a white-knuckle ride. We zigged and zagged at top speed, slowing down only for the military checkpoints. To add to the entertainment, the woman to my left would sniff from her inhaler about every three to five minutes. I timed it. And then she would act really weird for a few minutes, doing all sorts of odd things with her fingers and the window. Because she kept looking at me and smiling, I thought she was trying to show me something of interest, a temple or elephant perhaps. But I realized she was just in her own space and began to wonder if there wasn’t glue in her inhaler.

And as if one sniffing woman on a minivan is not enough, the air suddenly filled the a sweet citrusy smell. The woman to my right was holding a green orange and using her thumbnail to press little dents into the skin, releasing the smell. She would then shove it against her nose and hold it there for a few seconds. She repeated the process 8 times (yes, I counted) and then put the orange back in her handbag and zipped it up.

It was in the downpour of the monsoon that I arrived in Mae Sot without a place to stay arranged. That is part of the plan this trip… No plans. Play it by ear and see what happens. Lucky for me, I got a place that is basically a group of teak bungalows all spread out around a garden. There is no bar here, no restaurant except for breakfast, and ever that is toast and coffee or tea. For beer or anything else, there are places just a couple of minutes walk away, but here, here in this place is silence and nature. The chorus of frogs who are going to be singing me to sleep tonight.

All Thai'ed Up

I am at the end of my second day in Thailand and finally have a few moments to write. At this very moment I am in a little town named Mae Sot, sitting in my little teak bungalow, listening to the almost deafening chorus of frogs. I can’t hear anything else. No cars. No people. No music. Just frogs, and it is wonderful. A wonderful end to a great day.

I arrived in Bangkok yesterday morning at five, and by half past ten, everything for my visa was done. I had filled I my papers, been interviewed and the visa was approved. It still takes five days for them to process that for reasons I don’t understand, but it did mean that I was as Hualamphong train station ready to get a train to anywhere. As it turned out, there was a train leaving for Ayuthaya in 15 minutes. It was only a 3rd class non air-conditioned train, but I figured it was only for two hours, so I would do it. I booked the ticket and less than twenty minutes later I was heading north. The train was not bad at all. I wouldn’t want to spend endless hours on it, but for two hours, it wasn’t bad. The only episode was when I tried to get a bit more comfortable and broke the seat. The bench gave way and fell to the floor with me on it. I was a bit embarrassed, but more scared that someone would yell at me and I would have no clue what they were saying. But nobody even glanced my way and the guy across from me gave me his seat and fixed the bench in just a few minutes like it was something that happened everyday. Maybe it does.

After two hours, I arrived in Ayuthaya, checked my backpack, rented a bike and took a long boat across the river to go explore the ruins. The whole place is a mix between new and old. It was the capital of Thailand before Bangkok. It had over four hundred temples, but most of them now are nothing but ruins. Some of them little more than a few bricks from the foundation. I only had a few hours as I decided I did not want to stay the night there, so I went through the Lonely Planet and narrowed down the one must-see, and for me, that was Wat Phra Mahathat. By coincidence, it was the first ruin I came upon. It was stunning with dramatically leaning structures and remnants of what must have been several hundreds, if not thousands of Buddhas. The site I was most interested in seeing is the stone Buddha head which has been taken over by a the twisted base of a tree, making it look as though the Buddha is merely taking a peak at the outside world from his hiding place.

From there I crossed back over the river to another Wat, and then another, the last one with a nineteen meter high Buddha and a room with 84,000 Buddha images. I quickly found the nineteen meter high Buddha, but could not find the other room, but time was running out and so I headed back. It was only after I returned the bike and sat down for a quick meal before my bus, that I discovered the 84,000 Buddhas are on the wall right behind the nineteen meter one. So I saw it, but I didn’t realize it.

After just a couple of short hours in Ayuthaya, I decided it was time to move on and be someplace else for the night, so headed to the bus station to see what was going where. I am not sure some of the people on the bus were too happy to see me. In fact, one French girls kept snarling at me while we were still at the station. Not sure what her problem was, but I had been up for over a day and a half, a day filled with plane, taxi, subway, train, bicycle, motorcycle and now a bus (in that order). I felt, and probably looked disgusting, but actually I was too tired to really care.

I ultimately decided to head from Ayuthaya to Sukhothai, the original capital of Siam, before it was moved to Ayuthaya. There is a World Hertitage Park I was determined to see. It was about six hours by bus before I arrived in Sukhothai at almost eleven in the night without a reservation. I have decided that reservations are out this trip. I am making it all up as I go along. As happens when a foreigner steps off any mode of transport, there is a wave of people coming at you “were going?”, “you need hotel? Sleep? I know good place. You like. Very close. Very cheap. Only one room left.” Normally I wouldn’t go for it, but I was in desperate need of a shower, a toothbrush and sleep. And since I decided this trip was all about the adventure, I decided to throw caution to the wind and see what came back to me.

The guesthouse was very cool, and there was a nice vibe to the place and it was the perfect ending to an exhausting day. I settled in for the night and tried to sleep, but was too worried about oversleeping my alarm and I wanted to be at the Sukhothai Old City first thing in the morning, so I kept waking up and checking the time even though I had set the alarm. I did manage to get a few hours of sleep and after a nice breakfast and feeling a bit more human, I got a tuk-tuk to the old city…

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Going to Thailand

I have my ticket to Thailand in my hot little hand and tomorrow night I am heading to Bangkok. This trip will be decidedly different than last time. Last trip, I basically stayed put in Bangkok, leaving the city for only a few days to go to Prachuapkhirikhan for some non-touristy time.

This time, I am planning on heading straight from the airport to the visa handling center and once everything is dropped off, I am going to take myself to a bus station and head north. The goal is to make it to Chiang Mai and see a bunch of things in between. I am also planning on doing this on as minimal a budget as possible, so it will be buses, trains, and any other transport that does not leave the ground. I want to see Thailand, not view it at a distance through a tiny window from 36,000 feet. The only unfortunate thing is that I will not have my passport with me, as I have to leave it at the visa center for the week. That means I can’t just make brief trips into Laos or Myanmar. I might do an excursion to Cambodia once I get my visa back, depending on how that goes.

I am also packing light. And by light, I mean going with basically nothing. Most of my clothes need to go to the laundry and I haven’t had the time to send them out. So my thinking is to just arrive in Bangkok with my laptop, camera and toothbrush and sort out the rest as I go along. If I have changed in any way since living in India, it is the fact that I can get by with so much less than ever before. Packing for a weekend would mean at least five pairs of shoes. I would pack an entire carry-on suitcase and extra bag for a night in Brussels. Now I am heading out for a week without anything. I am just craving adventure right now. I want to be shocked, surprised, inspired and awed. I want to just go and see what happens. Or what doesn’t. I want to be out of my comfort zone, although after India, I am not sure where that is anymore. Things I deal with now on a daily basis would have been unimaginable even for an hour just a few years ago.

I know people don’t understand. I met someone here in Delhi, an Indian guy living abroad, but here for a brief period for work. He doesn’t get it at all. We would have long discussions about it and I would find myself at something of a loss to explain it. He hates being in India. It makes him miserable. He can’t understand why I would choose to live here. I know most people who know me wonder the same thing, especially after reading some of the stuff that comes my way. I often ask myself what I am doing here. I wonder if it would not be better, easier, more relaxed, if I lived back in Europe or the US. But for some reason I stay. I have stopped trying to explain it. I have stopped trying to analyze it. I am just going to let it be and when the time comes to make a change, I will do it.

But for now, there is Thailand. There is adventure. There are temples to see, people to meet, elephants to ride and lots of stories yet to be written.