Saturday, December 12, 2009

Get on the bus, Gus

Well, now that I've been out of Cambodia for a few days and my head has cleared I can finally discuss the trials and tribulations of trying to leave that godforsaken place. So, 2 choices, the first consists of - catching a taxi to the bus terminal, bus to Phnom Phen, taxi from the bus terminal to the airport, waiting at the airport, catching a bus from the terminal to the plane, flying, customs in Bangkok, taxi to the hotel. Second, shuttle bus to the end of the street to board a bus to the border, customs, then another bus from the border to Bangkok followed by a taxi. So you think, Oh my Buddha option 2 sounds so much better. Ha. Ha. Ha.

The bus had no toilet, it's a four hour ride and we stopped once. Luckily I drank almost no water so while lack of toilet wasn't an issue, dehrydation in 32C heat was. Crossing the border consists of actually getting off the bus, carrying all your luggage through Customs and Immigration, waking across a bridge to sit and wait for another bus. Why the walking? I don't know as I'll never be doing it again I could honestly care less at this point. We sat at a restaurant for 4 hours, yes, 4 hours because the air conditioning broke on the bus and as the very nice, polite and incredibly apologetic lady at the travel agency said, "we would have put you on the bus with no aircon but the bus's windows don't open". Good call there not to have 50 tourists bake in a tin can travelling 100km an hour down the highway to arrive in Bangkok desiccated like shrivelled mummies.

You think it couldn't get worse than a four hour wait? Well, we had the slowest bus driver possible. My seatmate, a very charming and interesting young man from Holland, was keeping track of how many buses exactly like ours were passing us. He was calling out the numbers til he got bored with that. I tried teaching him that old song we'd sing on the school bus "old bus driver, speed up a little bit, speed up a little bit" but we got bored of that too. The trip finally ended 13 hours after we left Siem Reap. It would have been 12 but we got stuck in traffic in Bangkok which was gridlocked due to celebrations for the King's birthday.

On a positive note I cashed in some airmiles and stayed at a real hotel. One with a doorman, elevators, more towels than I need and a bed that was actually comfortable. It was just a Best Western but I thought I'd checked into the Four Seasons after the guesthouses and hotels I've been staying at on this trip. So I'm in Pattaya now, with a head cold but hey, I'd rather have a head cold in Thailand where it's clean, the food is good, the people are polite and there is a nice breeze from the ocean than ever, ever going back to Cambodia.

Monday, December 7, 2009

If you don't have anything nice to say

Well, what I can say is that the Angkor temples were pretty fricking cool. Other than that, Siem Reap and Cambodia as a whole is one of the last places I ever, ever, ever want to come back to visit. Honestly I could rant and rave for pages about this place, dirty, dusty, pushy, the food is mediocre and did I mention the dust? I'll write more later on once I'm away from here (tomorrow! Yah!) because I know there is some good but it's hard to see it after being here for 10 days.

Did I mention how cool the temples were? Seriously. The one good thing I'll say for now is the whole time here was worth it just to able to say I've finally been there and done that because I've wanted to be there and do it for years.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pastoral Siem Reap

Just when you think things couldn't get worse

they sometimes actually get better. So I wound up leaving the charger for my laptop in Phnom Phen. My first 4 phones calls yielded no help at all, they swore up and down that it wasn't there. Do you know how much it costs to replace a charger for an Apple laptop? $99. Yes, that's right, for a power cord. Needless to say I was having a stroke and on my last call I actually had to hang up because for the first time in 2 1/2 months I was this close to going full on homo meltdown on someone. Thankfully the manager emailed today, oddly enough it was exactly where I said it was, plugged into the damn outlet beside the bed. Now we're just trying to figure out how to actually get it to Siem Reap. I don't care if I have to do a 13 hour roundtrip on a bus but he's trying to get it up here for me.

On other good news I found out you can actually take a very nice motor coach from Siem Reap to Bangkok, yes there is some issues with switching to mini-vans at one point and it's a 12 hour trip but it's almost as long to bus it down to Phnom Phen, wait at the airport, fly and then take a taxi into Bangkok. Added bonus? It costs $16 and the other alterative is $90.

Finally, I had the sweetest encounter with the old Cambodian grandma who runs the corner "store"near my hotel. Out of the blue today in her very limited English asked if I spoke French. Well, quelle surprise I do. Not very well mind you but we could have a much better limited conversation in French than in English. That's one of the cool things about Cambodia, while we can hate for the French for being rude the fact that they colonized southeast Asia and forced the people to adopt their language AND learn how to bake a killer baguette certainly wins them some points in my book.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gimme a head with hair, long beautiful hair

Well, back to back days of visiting 2 of probably the most depressing places in all of southeast Asia: The Genocide Museum yesterday and The Killing Fields today. While I'm not known for being one of those New Age-y types, I will say that you really do get the creeps being in the museum, the Killing Fields, not so much, just a dusty field with some trees and holes in the ground. The ride today there and back on motorcycle taxi was the usual adventure, dusty streets, views of the rice paddies as you whip by. Yet again I had one of those moments where I want to just call out to someone, "Hey, you, oh my God, I'm actually in Cambodia! Can you believe it?"

You read on travel guides that riding on motorcycle taxis in Cambodia is dangerous, truth be told I've only seen 2 accidents. Not so much accidents as the aftermath which both times consisted of the riders getting up, brushing themselves off, picking up their bikes and riding off again. I'll say the worst part of riding them is the combination of your skin getting coated with vehicle exhaust which then allows a nice binding surface for all the dust to adhere to. By the time I got back to town my skin felt like a fine grade of sandpaper.

Well, while I'm on the topic of accidents, I guess I should fess up, I stopped by the barber today. Note to self, after telling the barber you want a number 1 on the clippers you should mention that is only for the sides. Unfortunately I kind of closed my eyes, drifted off and realized at some point he was working on the top of my head too. Not that I hate the result but I do look like a jarhead. Luckily it'll grow in some before I get home and as an added bonus I don't need to worry about hair products or frankly probably even shampoo.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Phnom Phen

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Home Sweet Home

I'm just at the point of my trip where if I could get on a plane and be sleeping in my own bed I would. I've been away for almost 2 1/2 months and I miss my friends, my cats, my family, my big comfy chair and our automated coffee maker.

Enough complaining, I'm in Cambodia and what a difference a one hour flight makes. Cambodia is world's apart from Thailand: dirty, dusty, garbage in the streets along with shoeless half naked children begging for money. Phnom Phen has this wild west feel to it, at any moment you expect saloon doors to swing open and a gunfight to break out. The people are ruder, the whole city has a grubby feel to it and the motorcycle taxi and tuk-tuk drivers are relentless in their sales pitches when you walk by. On the plus side English is widely spoken, which means unfortunately you can't fake not understanding people, the food choices are pretty overwhelming which is nice after Thai, Thai and more Thai and the prices are damn cheap.

To be honest there are only two main attractions worth seeing so today I was off to The National Museum which I have to admit was pretty amazing. Most of the exhibits are from Siem Reap and they have almost no security and everything is openly displayed. I of course ignored the "no cameras" rule and surreptitiously took few pics. What? Don't look at me like that, I'm a rebel, a rule breaker! OK, I saw some cool stuff and didn't want to buy the stupid souvenir pictures. I think my money is better spent on getting a massage at some point.

I'd post some pics but 3rd world also means 3rd rate internet service.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Same shit, different day

Well, Chiang Mai, bu-bye. Don't get me wrong I had a good time there but man, oh man was I happy to get all my bags packed (now up to 2 backpacks!) and get on the train and get out of Dodge. The train ride was half good, half bad. I didn't have a seat mate this time so I got to sprawl out like a princess but I think that train was overdue for some maintenance. I barely got any sleep because it was one step up from riding on a rollercoaster, just as I would drift off I'd find myself being thrown from one side of the bunk to the other because of the bouncing and bucking of the train on the tracks. Anywhoodle, made it in one piece but I'm not sure how many times I'd ride that train before the odds weren't in my favor.

So Pattaya, again. Eat, sleep, beach, the boy, same same as they say in Thailand. I'm just here til Monday morning and then head off on what in my head is a whirlwind tour of Phnom Phen, Siem Reap, Kuala Lumpur and Penang but 5 days in each isn't so whirlwind. After being away for over 2 months I've lost all sense of time, it could be Tuesday, maybe Friday and so having to actually plan to be in places with flights and reserving accommodations makes it feel almost, I'd hate to say stressful, how about it feels like real life.

On another good note, Pattaya is busy and it's not so much that old song "The Freaks Come Out At Night" because it's non-stop 24/7. I wish I could have taken a picture at the beach today of the broad (and I use that term in the perfect context) who was head to toe in pink. Right from her pink biker's hat encrusted with rhinestones, her bikini, the chandelier earrings and pierced belly button jewelry. Did I mention saying she was 60 would be kind and that her arm probably outweighed me?

It's fabulous here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

people, Places and Things - Elephant Camp Part 3

O.K., time to wrap up elephant camp! So good day and a not so good day. You know those idyllic scenes you see on postcards or commercials for Jamaica? Well, they actually exist. We took a break one afternoon, hopped in the back of a pickup truck were driven by a maniacal lunatic off road partway up the mountain to to this spot. And by maniacal I mean he was known to smoke ditchweed and every time we were teetering on the edge of a mountain on what could best be described as a cow path, we could hear him cackling like a crazy old woman from the driver's seat of the truck. Anywho, we made it one piece and spent some time splashing around in the probably the nicest spot I've been to on this trip. Also, shirtless, hard bodied Thai boys. Does it get any better than that?

One of the other days, which was not the best one, was the day we went to volunteer for the morning at the school in the local village. Matt, Stacey, Beck and I volunteered for the English class and everything was fine until it dawned on me, everything that had been taught was geared towards conversing with tourists. Where are you from, how long are you here for, do you need a cab. I realized too what some of the other classes were, handicrafts and Thai massage. This is a grade school were talking about, it was a sobering experience to see how few opportunities there are. Anyways, the point of the week was to learn about life here and part of the deal was that it wasn't going to be all mud fights, good food and elephants.

But speaking of food, I know there are a few people who really get off on food porn, so have a look at the northern Thai meal we had on our last night, drool away, it was the best meal we had all week. That or I was finally sick of what we were being served the other 6 days.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

People, Places and Things - Elephant Camp Part 2

Thank God I'm heading out of Chiang Mai soon (5 days and counting)....there is absolutely no stone left unturned in this town. Anywho, back to camp.

Yes that's my rustic bamboo hut your looking at. I forgot to take pictures of the equally rustic shower and toilets but at least they had water and there weren't squat toilets. Who am I kidding, after the ballbusting workdays we had, you could have given me a blanket and a concrete floor and I would have been happy. The ongoing argument at dinner every night was whether the sounds we heard on the roof at night were leaves falling or were rats climbing across the roof. I was voting for leaves as it made it a bit easier to sleep. But look! Mosquito netting, how cool is that?

Showering was quite the challenge, there wasn't always electricity for the water pump and truth be told the shower was not up to snuff. So the alternative? There was always a large rubber garbage can filled with cold rain water and a bucket to use. Try doing that at 6:30am. On more mornings than not I would usually just lather up my dry skin with liquid soap and then douse myself with buckets water to rinse off, all the time trying not to scream like a girl because it was so. damn. cold. Mind you after coming in from a hot day of work I will say said bathing was also incredibly refreshing.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

People, Places and Things - Elephant Camp Part 1

Sweet baby Jesus, my back hurts, I can't get my feet clean and I'm afraid to open my backpack because it's contents probably smells like a sewer. Oh, by the way, Best. Week. Ever. I don't even know how to write about a week at elephant camp, I was originally going to do a day by day entry, I even was keeping a journal so I could remember what I did but it just doesn't seem to work.
So the people, what a mix. We had 25 volunteers there for the week and it was the widest assortment of types, ages, shapes and personalities you could imagine. The largest contingent was Australian, a few from the UK, one lonely American, 2 Canucks and a few French gals. Right, and a German. A German doctor. A loud, annoying, opinionated German doctor. Well there has to be one in every group, the guy who gets on your last gay nerve in the shortest time possible. Luckily it was also a bonding experience for the rest of us. We thought he was on staff but shortly found out he was just starting his second week as a volunteer. Why did we think he was staff? You'd think so too with the way he was bossing everyone around and walking around like he owned the place. All it took was catching someone's eye as they gave an eyeroll or you'd hear them mutter under their breathe "O.K. Adolph we heard you the first time" and a laugh would be shared and bonding would happen. Anywho, enough about him, the best part of the whole experience really was working, eating, laughing and having fun with the rest of the crew.

Our day started with breakfast at 7, chores, and by chores I mean cutting down 10 foot highgrass with machetes, unloading pickup trucks filled with fruits and vegetables for the elephants, mucking out the elephant pens (or poo patrol as we called it), elephant feeding, bathing, more eating, more chores, more eating and in bed by 10 at the latest to get up early and start it all over again. Don't worry though we had fun. Cleaning out the elephant mud pit would end in a mud fight, elephant bathing resulted in water fights and playing a card game called shithead means there was much hooting and hollering and laughing and talking.

I'll be writing more over the next few days, probably until you're sick of hearing about elephant camp. Just wanted to say hey, I'm alive and I think I lost my gay card in the elephant mud pit because no sane gay man would ever post a picture like this one.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I just called, to say....

I'm heading out of town for a week. I'm off to the wilderness to volunteer at elephant camp. So, no email or internet, there may be cellphone access......if I don't post the week I get back you can assume that I either got lost in the jungle, trampled by elephants or lynched by the other volunteers for my sarcastic comments about their poor choices in hats.

Other than trying to figure out how many articles of clothing to bring (they recommend 1 set of clothes per day plus 1){this was obviously not determined by a gay man which would be 2 per day minimum}, I've been finalizing my last 6 weeks or so in southeast Asia. It's funny because I did plenty of research but never actually made any type of itinerary, completely forgetting that things like flights and accommodations might actually need to be done in advance. So once I get back, God willing, I just have to fire off some emails and hit up a travel agent in town to get everything finalized. It's working out roughly to 4 days in Pattaya to see Jay, 10 days in Cambodia (Phnom Phen, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville) and then off to Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia for another 10 days. After that, Vancouver.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Give me 5 minutes, I'm sure my mood will change

So, in my head I had a long blog, o.k. a rant, about how bored I am, I'm ready to leave Chiang Mai and within a few short hours all gone. Why? Well I heard from a guy who I've been in touch with but hadn't yet met and with some arm twisting he got me out of the house and off to the final night of Loy Kratong. Yes there was arm twisting because I was ready to just settle in, be cranky, eat junk food and bemoan the fact that I was in Thailand. I know, my life sucks. Truth be told, if I was to do this again I would stay in Chiang Mai a shorter period of time and also make sure I had more cash in the bank. I'm living cheque to cheque right now and it makes me damn anxious always wondering how much commission will be coming in. Right now I have enough to last me til my next payday so keep praying for me that the next 2 weeks are good ones for money coming in.

Anyways, I digress. So, arm twisted I hopped on the back of D.J.'s scooter and we tore off down to the centre of all the action down near Tha Pae Gate. Parades, fireworks and crowds of people. None of these would usually appeal to me but things are different here, the people actually have manners. No elbowing, pushing, feet being trampled by obnoxious bimbos wearing high heels. They do it right here, orderly, well mannered and gracious. For the first time ever I actually enjoyed going to parade.

The best thing of all is the launching all night of thousands of paper lanterns fuelled by candles, something we would never be able able to do in the west. Fire hazards? Of course they are, there's a reason there are teams of guys armed with 20 foot poles running around whacking the damn things out of trees and power lines. It's up in the air whether the power failure at my apartment last night should be attributed to a lantern gone astray or errant fireworks but it's 6 of one, half dozen of another at this point because the lanterns are pretty cool.

Anyways, I'm almost halfway done my trip. I know, right? While I feel like I've overstayed my time in Chiang Mai a bit, my week at elephant camp is only 5 days away. When I was at the camp office today I heard there are 10 other volunteers this round so I have 10 new people to contend and get along with in addition to the rustic setting north of Chiang Mai complete with bamboo huts, mosquito netting, squat toilets and rainwater showers. You know I'll have plenty to say about all of it when I return.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

Well, in this case I actually mean home in Chiang Mai, not home in Vancouver. 4 days of the beach....I wish I had something more exciting than that to report about my days but really, it was me, a beach chair, an umbrella, a book, my iPod and little else. Mind you it's not all relaxation as there is the never ending stream of vendors who even after their 20th pass of your chair still think you might be interested in their deep fried shrimp, designer sunglasses, useless trinkets and DVD porn. At least when you say no to the beach whores they tend to not come back again.

What's that you ask, beach whores? Oh yes, beach whores. For those of you who don't know, Pattaya has more prostitutes per square foot than probably anywhere else on God's green Earth. In the bars, the discos, go go bars and there are even streets lined with open air beer bars all of which are stuffed to the brim with prostitutes: male, female, ladyboy you name it. I'm not sure why some choose to ply their trade on the beach but hey, if you're ever in the mood for some afternoon delight it's readily available.

The evenings were not much to write about either, unless I start segueing into written porn. Pattaya boy (OK, he has a name, Jay) and I wound up spending the evenings together, out for dinner, we hit a few movies, one of which was a Thai horror film (the subtitles weren't really that necessary to follow the story) and then sleepovers on the nights he'd remember to bring earplugs. No, my snoring isn't that bad that someone needs earplugs! It's that damn karaoke place across the soi from my hotel. Some nights the high pitched screeching of the lady boys belting out Mariah Carey just drilled into your brain like some alien thing in a Star Trek episode.

Yet again, the travel to & from was the usual get there and wait and wait and wait. That and the haggling every time you try to plant your ass into a baht bus or taxi. I'm dying to find the tourists who actually agree to the prices they quote, someone must because they keep asking them. Quoted price for a taxi from the bus station to the train station - 300 baht. The price I paid last time, 100 baht. There are days I get tired of the haggling and I know it's only the difference between paying $10 and $3.50 but I didn't just fall off the turnip truck loaded with dumbass tourists so I have to get into the whole routine of scoffing at their price, counteroffer, they scoff at mine and counter again. On and on it goes until we settle to price I paid the last time. A price which I'm sure is still way too high but give me some credit, I saved $6.50!

I'm glad I scored the lower bunk this time for the overnight train home. It was the bumpiest train ride ever, I'm not prone to motion sickness but I was feeling queasy on this round. That top bunk probably would have killed me. It didn't help that there was recently a train derailment here so of course I could barely sleep because I was expecting every bump and jostle would result in us hurtling off the tracks. Sadly the only thing I could think of was, "I hope my laptop survives the crash". Needless to say, your reading about my trip here and not about it in the newspapers with a headline like "Canadian tourist dies in another Thailand train wreck".

On a good note my seat mate was a cute young British man who lives in New Zealnd. We wound up talking for hours and shared a baht bus into town this morning. We ended our brief friendship at my usual haunt, the Starbucks at Tha Pae Gate where I was warmly greeted by the staff, all of whom wondered where I had disappeared to for 4 days. I must say it was quite refreshing to speak with someone who is fluent in English. I love my Thai friends but fluent doesn't mean they are the best conversationalists. Mind you with a cross between a British and NZ accent there were still times I was like "huh?".

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Planes? Check. Automobiles? Check. Trains? As we speak my friends. That clickity clacking I’m listening to isn’t the keys on my keyboard, I’m riding the rails on the night train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok then hopping a bus down to Pattaya for a few days of sitting by the ocean.

I’m living in Chiang Mai and while it’s a lovely city it’s 1/ stifling hot and 2/ not a hotbed of gay life. So, as I friend of mine used to say when we were at a party not having much fun – “it’s time to hike up our petticoats and flee the premises.” So petticoats have been hiked, I booked a ticket on the overnight train, packed my new 5 litre knapsack with a few t-shirts, shorts and board shorts (oh and hair care products) and am heading off for a few days. Plus the cute guy I hung out with last time I was in Pats has called and texted, so I’m traveling by train for a booty call.

I’m in my bunk right now, the upper one unfortunately. Luckily on the trip back I snagged the lower bunk which is larger and also closer to the ground. I’m not really trusting that the 2 leather straps they have to keep you in your bunk if you roll will hold. Just saying. Speaking of larger, the upper bunk might be fine for a small adult but seeing I’m 5’9” I’ll be generous and say it’s length is 5’9” and a smidge. Not a quarter inch or a half, a smidge.

This is traveling 2nd class in Thailand. Aircon and at some point attendants come around convert the seats into a lower bunk, lower the upper bunk, make the beds up, sweet deal and all for $50 round trip.

The swaying of the train is both nauseating but lulling me to sleep…………..

Friday, October 16, 2009

I really loathe Tom Hanks....

but you know that awful movie where he's stuck on an island alone and befriends a basketball? I totally get that. I've had almost no human contact as I'm on day 4 of not dying from the worst head cold ever. I wish I had something exciting to report, well, outside of the not dying part, but I've turned into that guy. The one wearing boxers, laying in bed eating brownies, drinking orange juice, the bed littered with used kleenexes watching movie marathons.

I suppose I could be annoyed with being sick but I don't have the energy to get riled up about it. On the plus side I'm all caught up on "The Vampire Diaries", just watched Zombieland (2 thumbs up!) and for some reason downloaded not 1 but 2 Jodi Foster movies, Panic Room and Flight Plan. This is what I've become.

Luckily what has saved me is the Lotus Tesco store 5 minutes from my condo. And by 5 minutes I mean I drive to the end of the soi on my scooter, park it and then walk 4 buildings down. Why not drive all the way you ask? Stupid one way street. So off I go twice a day to load up on orange juice, a delectable frozen dinner and those delicious brownies.

The good news is that as of a few hours ago my head stopped feeling like a helium balloon, I can breathe out of one nostril so I'm thinking things should clear up soon. Because really, I don't want to be one of those people we make fun of.

And yes, I've showered....every day. Please don't think things have gotten that pathetic.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chiang Mai at night

My Favourite Things

Julie Andrews can suck it with her "raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens". Some of my favourite things are $6 mani/pedi's, $2 to get your laundry washed, ironed and folded and $27 to get your teeth cleaned by a dentist who graduated from UCLA. That's the great thing about Thailand and I'm sure one the reasons people love it here, it has all the modern conveniences we expect but the prices are a steal.

Another thing, toothpicks. I know, right? They actually have them here at every restaurant. What with all the various vegetables which seem to get stuck in your teeth along with stringy beef and well to be honest, all the meat is kind of stringy, it pays to be able to do a bit of dental hygiene every time you eat. You go one meal without and go out afterwards and you'll be driven insane feeling like there's a popcorn kernel stuck in your tooth for the rest of the night, it tends to be a bit distracting.

It funny how quickly you can become adapted to a place, after a little over a week I've settled into a routine and while I won't say it feels like home, it feels like I live here. I was walking to pick up dinner the other night and it popped into my head, "I'm actually in a foreign country". It sounds stupid but once you're not in vacation mode and you're off to Starbucks in the morning, racing to school, meeting friends for a drink, you settle into a regular life. The only difference is they speak a different language, the money is a different color and they're a hell of a lot more friendly than the surly service we're used to in Vancouver.

School is finally starting to pay off, while I have a hell of a time saying the words at least I can understand a little bit more. Whether it's my manicurist looking at me and saying "rawn mak mak" (very, very hot) or the vendor where I buy my dinner saying the price. The only downside is when it comes to numbers I still have to start at one and count my way up til I hit the number in my head, but hey, it's progress not perfection.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Conjunction Conjunction, what's your function....

So school started yesterday, I wish I could say I'm jumping for joy at the thought of another 13 days of class but I'm not. I was thinking walking in that maybe there would be some people I could hit it off with, but man, they were a stone cold bunch yesterday. I'm not known for being the most outgoing, social person but I'm really making the effort on this trip or else it will be 3 of the loneliest months ever. Anyways, it was a bit better today but I'm not really holding my breath thinking I'll even really make anything more than passing acquaintances.

Now class itself......uhmm....yah. Let's just say I won't be taking level 2 next month. The teacher Aom is pretty awesome, great energy and is good at drilling it in but I honestly don't think I have enough functioning brain cells to hold more than a few good phrases. Not that I think it's going to be a waste of time because these are some key phrases we're talking about: where is the toilet, where is the bus station and most important, what is the name of that handsome man?

Long, short, the more you know the more the people here think you know. You get into these dicey situations where you say a few phrases and wind up with a deluge coming back at you. You can only have that happen a few times and shrug your shoulders saying "Thai nit noi" (Thai little bit) before you think I'm better off just knowing the basics because I'm starting to feel incredibly stupid.

In lieu of level 2 I'll just do a bit of traveling instead. I had my heart set of volunteering at this elephant rescue camp but the school schedule would have made it a bit tight schedule wise. I'm going to apply to get a volunteer position and see if I get accepted, I don't know when I'd ever get a chance to do something like that again so, in the end, it might be a good idea as opposed to one I had.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Food Porn

Bags from road side restaurant, turn into soup!

Dessert you ask? Banana and egg roti drizzled with condensed milk.

This is the reason I might be gaining weight.

Strange Fruit

An Ugly Tourist Moment Averted

It was another stinking, hot day so I hopped on the scooter and went on another tour around the city. Once you travel the roads enough the pattern finally emerges from the chaos. You learn what lanes to stick to, how to dodge the tuk tuks and baht buses and you get the added pleasure of whizzing past those God forsaken tourists who thought walking around town during midday under the hot, blazing sun would be a good idea.

School starts tomorrow so one of the things I needed to accomplish today was doing a little recon to figure out where I had to be for 9:00am tomorrow. First stop, checking to see what time my Starbucks opens at. 7:30! Sweet. They already know my order there, say what you will but there is a time and a place for drone-like corporate culture. Next stop, the university which turned out to be a much longer drive than I had anticipated. No worries, arrived and then needed to find the Language Institute. This is when things get bad, I approached 5 people as I drove around this huge campus trying to find someone who spoke English, someone who might understand "Language Institute". After an hour of driving around and around, neck sunburnt, sweaty head from the helmet I almost just parked roadside to lay in the dirt pounding my fists screaming "For God sakes, English is an international language why can't YOU speak it!".

Thankfully down the road I spotted salvation, the library. You can't go wrong with asking a librarian for help, it's in their blood. In no time flat I had a map printed, arrows drawn, X's marked and I was off. Even better I found a shortcut that will shave some time off my commute when I head out tomorrow morning. Now I just have to figure out how to McGyver a cup holder for my scooter's basket so I can get "to go" and not "stay" from the baristas tomorrow.

Sunday Around Town

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pretty fly for a white guy

There are moments when I'm out and about running errands when I look around and realize, "hey I am like the ONLY white person as far as the eye can see". I know you're thinking, well genius you are in Thailand, but in certain areas of the city, notably in the area surrounding Thapae Gate there are hoards of tourists. If you stayed in that area, which I think many tourists do, you wouldn't experience the actual city of Chiang Mai. It's the area where staff actually speak o.k. English, the signs are in both languages and you can actually get your latte at Starbucks and a Whopper at BK.

I stumbled across the local market earlier this week and went to stock up on the basics for the condo, you know, that dish you have by the front door for your keys and change, some vases that sort of thing. It was there I looked around and realized, damn I actually am in Thailand. I have 2 Thai friends here so far and they were both amazed that I found that market. They both exclaimed "farang never shop there, how did you find it?". Little do they realize I have a sixth sense for 2 things: the nearest Starbucks and a bargain. It's the kind of market that you can get 3 pairs of boxer shorts for 150bht, outfit a Buddhist alter for your house and get dried pig snouts.

Speaking of, not the pig snouts but the house. I finally got settled into my condo today. Sweet deal, furnished, 1 bedroom, 2 bath and a pool. It's nice to finally unpack, I have a limited tolerance for hotel living and I had officially hit my breaking point yesterday. It's nice to have a coffee table to put your feet up on, plates to eat off of and a microwave. Not that I'll actually be cooking, I'll do what everyone else does, get take out from the multitude of roadside restaurants that set up shop at 4 every day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

God, eat a cheeseburger already.....

I broke down, I couldn't take it any more....soup and noodles, soup and noodles every day. I won't say it's the best burger I ever had, in fact it was one of the odder ones. The bun, might have been a donut in a previous life and was reincarnated as a hamburger bun, I'm not sure if they actually make cheese here but it couldn't be worse than what McDonald's puts on theirs.

Best thing so far, I finally rented a scooter. I did the math and by running all over town in tuk tuks and baht buses I'd spend more per month than on the rental. My training, as it were, consisted of 20 minutes out in a parking lot with a teenage Thai boy giving me what might have been instructions. I guess I did well enough for him because at the end he hopped on the back and said "O.K. you good now, you drive" and off we went back to the rental place to finalize the paperwork. I love it, the freedom is awesome. Chiang Mai is actually pretty spread out and I spent the evening booting all over town, whipping in and out of traffic. That's why I came here, to do something different and this one certainly counts.

On a housekeeping note, I also rented a condo, sweet 1 bedroom, brand new building with a pool. It costing me a whopping $350 a month, I'll post pics once I get moved in on Thursday. I looked at a few places but this one is the same price as other ones I saw and is so much nicer. I was at one of the big complexes, where many farang live and they are paying the same price for these tiny bachelors. Safety in numbers I guess.

I'm so done with hotel living and not having any kind of schedule, I can't wait for school to start in 6 days.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Chiang Mai old city wall

Chiang Mai moat around the old city

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mom, are we there yet?

7 hours of travel today and outside of riding a donkey I think I covered most of the types of transportation in Thailand, songthaew, charter bus, taxi, airplane, hired car and tuk tuk.

The highlight, and not in a good way, was the 2 hour bus ride from Pattaya to Bangkok. For those of you who know me, I have a bladder the size of a walnut and being in southeast Asia one of the rules is drink plenty of water. Not really the best combination for a bus ride on what was either a really bumpy highway or a bus with the worst set of shocks ever. So, after putting off the inevitable for a long as possible, The deal had to be done. Imagine, if you will, a cramped bus toilet one step up from the squat toilets you hear about, a low ceiling, a broken door latch and said bumpy ride. At one point I was gripping the side of the toilet with my knees, one arm behind holding on for dear life to the broken latch with my head wedged into the corner of the wall for balance and stability. Needless to say, the next time I make a bus trip here I'll suffer through dehydration rather than go through that again.

Chiang Mai, from the little I've seen so far finally feels like Thailand. They talk about Thailand being the Land of Smiles but I didn't actually experience that until I stepped up to the gate at the airport to come here. All of a sudden it was all smiles and greeting and wai's which has continued for the short time I've been in the city.

I think I'm going to like it here......

This is Chiang Mai

Thursday, September 24, 2009