Saturday, May 31, 2008

Day 89 of Great Banana Chip Standoff

Though I am weak from a 24 hour bus ride from Vietnam to Laos, you have not bested me yet, Banana Chips. I will not cheat and use my nail clippers as I am so inclined, though you sneer with contempt. I will rip you seam from seam by my fierce bare hands, so help me, SOMEDAY. Until then, oh Banana Chips, you are a admirable enemy. Somedays, I fear the universe may end if you relent to me or I to you - such is the consequence of our battle. But I'm not ready for surrender - I still have time. You will weaken yet... and then I shall enjoy my hard won victory, yet mourn a worthy adversary.

Even though you're from New Jersey.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chiang Mai Trek!

Weather seemed to be with me the next day so I decided I'd finally play tourist. Making sure I had long pants and long sleeves on, I headed to the Palace first. Bit of a game of "Frogger" with Bangkok traffic trying to get there. I arrived in one piece, somehow, and joined the line of tourists who didn't wear appropriate clothing, as I assumed my flipflops would be met with disdain. They waved me through, fortunately. I had a giggle over the tourists who were given men's work shirts and long pants or skirts to wear if they had arrived in shorts and tank tops. I think after a month in India where one doesn't show much skin unless they're at the beach, I'm surprised at how crass westerners are -- not even trying to not offend locals. At Taj Mahal even, I saw a group of pasty, fat, western women shoved into teensy shorts and sausage-casing spaghetti-strapped tank tops. No clue, no clue.

I wandered into the Grand Palace where Wat Phra Kaew houses the Emerald Boudha, and almost instantly the skies opened. Along with a hundred other people, I took shelter under a nearby pagoda typed porch. The rain was incredibly heavy. But it did afford me un-touristed shots of the beautiful golden domed temple in front of me. At one point, a young woman (Chinese possibly?) braved the rain and ran to the steps in front of the temple to have her picture taken. Everyone under the roof hooted, clapped, laughed and cheered for her. As the rain started to peter off -- and by peter off, I mean slightly less heavy than the BUCKETS it was raining when it started-- I handed over my camera to the girls next to me and high-tailed it through the puddles and up the steps. I was also cheered on, particularly when I struck a rather dramatic pose -- they laughed and laughed and clapped harder.

I noticed, after the rain stopped and everyone headed out again, that most of the Asian women around me (and particularly Thai women) seem to not be into comfortable shoes. They were almost all in some sort of heels. Even flipflops had heels. Wat_______ was beautiful. At one point, I found myself walking behind a young man in a navy blue baseball hat that had the NFL logo on the back. I went ahead of him to look back and found that he was wearing a Chicago Bears hat and a Cubs shirt.

He was with a whole crew of Chicagoans. I don't know why I didn't think to bring some sort of logo'd apparel with me. Something that would grab the attention of other Americans -- it would have been a great way to meet other people. I had a boss when I lived in Hollywood who always wore something with Florida State on it, be it a hat or a shirt. I thought this was a bit obsessive, especially when it was just for the office, but it made sense when he was out traveling. He said he met SO many other FSers and made new friends that way. Of course, wearing Goucher Gopher apparel would probably not do the same for me. But why didn't I at least bring my Cubs hat??The Palace seemed to be roped off for some sort of "lying in state" event (I don't know who was "lying in state") so I left and walked around the outside wall to Wat Pho, home of the giant reclining Boudha. I spent a lot of time being a photoblogger (which apparently is a terrible bad word according to a certain photographer friend of mine) and taking photos of the temples in the puddles ::GASP:: I know it's lame but it was fun. I noticed I wasn't the only one doing it, too.

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Afterwards, I wandered back through the streets to my hotel. I noticed that even though I was walking through a market, and past vendors lining the sidewalks, they weren't yelling at me! "Miss! Miss! Madam! Madam! You like? You buy?" What a relief! You can't even let your eyes fall on something in India without the stall-owner/storekeeper instantly falling on you to make a deal.But I also noticed, later on, haggling is a whole 'nother beast in Thailand. Instead of in India where they name a price and you usually halve or tree-quarter it and start from there, Thais appear to instantly throw snippy fits and throw their hands up and walk away -- particularly with any sort of transportation worker. No haggling. They'd rather not make any money and walk away then lower their ridiculous asking prices. Indians take it in stride, rolling their eyes at your price, with a smile though, and, "Oh! You're killing me!" -- it's part of dance. Then you finally make a deal and the Indian shopkeeper often invites you for chai. Civilized! No hissy fits! I miss that.Spent the evening writing and wandering around Khao San Road and places nearby -- now that it was safe since all the Super Soakers were gone. Stopped in a pharmacy and weighed myself, but as I didn't know the kilogram to pound ratio, I had no idea what 50 kg meant.

I forgot to mention that on my first real day in Bangkok, I'd braved the Super Soaker Brigade and I'd had one of the most amazing meals of my life. A bacon, double cheese Whopper. BACON!

Friday - I relaxed and prepared for my first night-train up to Chiang Mai. Before leaving, however, I decided to take up my guesthouse's offer of foreign phonecalls for 10 baht a minute (which is about 30 cents or so). Pretty good. The woman who seems to run the guesthouse (and never has a smile on her face or anything but a grumble when you ask for change to use HER computers, thereby giving that money right back to her) dialed the number and started her stopwatch. I was calling home pretty early but I figured Mom would be up for work and Dad gets up early as well. BUT! I forgot it was Friday -- Mom's day off. Oops. It was great to hear their voices though -- haven't spoken to Dad since Easter and haven't talked to Mom at all. We spoke for about ten minutes and when I hung up, I'd gone 2 seconds into the next minute. The GH Woman demanded 110 baht. Now I realize it's ridiculous to argue over 30 cents. But this wasn't exactly a payphone! Here I've been staying at this guesthouse for several nights, paying to use the internet for hours, and she wasn't going to let two seconds slip by. I said, without raising my voice or getting fractious, "I don't think it's very considerate of you to charge me for an extra minute when I only went 2 seconds over." Instantly, she was snarling at me, "MY PHONE! MY HOTEL! YOU PAY OR YOU DON'T USE! MY PHONE! MY MONEY! YOU DON'T LIKE YOU LEAVE!!!" Wow. So much for "Land of Smiles." I was happy not to come back.

I grabbed a taxi after storing one of my bags and headed for the train station. I boarded the train and was instantly struck by the complete difference between Thai and Indian trains. Now, I realize at this point, I should stop comparing, but the night trains in India were a mixed bag. I had the horrible night stuck in 3rd class, and the reasonable nights of sleeping on the three-tiered cots, covered in dust. I also realize that I only paid 6 bucks for those tickets while the night train to Chiang-mai was around 26 bucks. But wow. It was air-conditioned and you sat at a table with another person until the conductor came around and made up your beds, one above and one below. Sheets, blankets, comfy foam mattress and fluffy soft pillow. I slept like a log. Arrived in Chiang Mai around 9:30 a.m. and was picked up by the Lodge I was staying at, BMP. Very nice lodge -- swimming pool!

I had a meeting with our trek guide that evening, but until then, I sat out by the pool. It was lovely. The meeting got started at 6. There were going to be 9 of us on the trek: 4 Irish boys (Colm, Colin, Dave and Ron), Robbie the young Brit, Lene and Kaspar from Denmark, Hanni the "European" and myself. We were due up and out by 9 and urged not to stay up too late. After the meeting, we all hung out in the BMP's restaurant before deciding to check out Chiang-Mai's Night Market. We walked into town and had a great dinner, the boys eyed some Chinese throwing stars, and then wandered back, but not before stopping at 7-11 for some "large Changs" and squid-flavored potato chips!

mmmm.  Hot Squid Flavor.

Colm offered to open my Chang, using a lighter, which ended in my Chang shattered on the sidewalk. He went back and got me another. Back at the guesthouse, we watched soccer (Man United vs... um... shoot, can't remember) for a bit before retiring -- the Irish boys being rabid football fans and all.Next morning, I wasn't feeling so hot. Tummy was absolutely terrible and the thought of trekking all day was not looking good. Nonetheless, I packed the small backpack I was given with the necessary items and headed downstairs after stowing the rest of my stuff away in storage. The backpack was pretty heavy with camera equipment and whatnot. All the boys seemed to have rather light packs. We climbed into a songthraew (a converted pick-up truck with benches and a roof) and headed out into the country. Tummy was feeling worse and worse. About 45 minutes later, we stopped at a market while Simon, our guide, picked up food supplies. I sought out a bathroom. This was going to be a long, long day.

Climbed back into the truck for another 45 minutes to the National Park where we were trekking.At first the trek was easy -- relatively flat land, although my feet were wet instantly due to trying to jump across streams and missing. Where was my balance? I didn't like my pack much though. It hung low on my back and was straining my shoulders. We stopped for lunch pretty quickly and a 20 minute rest. Then it got harder, more hills, not much shade -- the trees were remarkably bare. Stopped again by another stream. My back was really hurting now. The camera was weighing me down and I looked jealously at the Irish boys with their tiny packs. Then it got SO MUCH WORSE. I realize we were going to be staying with HILL tribes but i was not prepared for the hills we climbed. I was quickly the last person in the group. Simon lead and a young Thai boy who never spoke brought up the rear, making sure none of us got left behind. At one point I considered paying him to take some of my stuff, I was that exhausted. I remembered what Andy told me in India -- that sometimes when he was particularly exhausted, he'd play Commando or something and imagine he'd have to drag someone through the desert. I tried to buck up, imagine i was in the Marines or something. But every burst of energy flagged immediately, my legs wobbled, my back was killing me.


After one particularly hard-core uphill hike, we stopped at a lovely waterfall and I nearly keeled over. Simon told us there was only about a ten minute walk ahead of us before we were done for the night, but it was entire uphill. And by uphill, it was practically straight up. I wanted to cry. I told Simon that the bag he gave me's straps didn't work right. I couldn't tighten them to fit the pack closer to my upper back instead of hanging down just above my butt, thereby dragging me backwards. Simon took my pack, moved the stuff around inside, and then wrapped the straps around it. He handed it back to me and it was much MUCH better. Still too heavy, but at least not breaking my back.

We got up and started the last daunting length. I tried to keep up my momentum but almost immediately was the last person again. I stopped for breath every couple of feet. I so wanted to dramatically fall to the ground and groan to everyone, "go on without me!" When we reached the top, I could have flung myself down and stayed there all night. We walked a few more minutes to a small group of houses on stilts. I couldn't' believe we made it.

We were invited to use showers and eat lychee fruit from the trees while dinner was prepared. I think all of us were too stupefied to move. Beer was offered, but no one was drinking it. We were all zombies. Dinner was served and we wolfed it down. It was still early, so I got out my iPod and speakers and we sat around chatting. I was playing my "R&R Thailand" playlist that David made me. Mostly, my fellow trekkers didn't know the songs on it although the Irish lads were familiar with Flight of the Conchords "Most Beautiful Girl in the Room." As we sat and talked, Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks" started playing and I noticed the Irish boys bobbing their heads and whistling along. Ah! They know this one, I thought. Then one of them turned to others and said, "Which advert is this again?" "Budweiser," answered another. And they continued whistling along. I thought this was pretty funny because I am familiar with this commercial although it has never aired in America because a friend of mine, Brian Floyd, is in it. We crashed pretty early on-- we were given a large barn-like structure to sleep in where they'd laid out lots of futons under mosquito netting. I slept pretty well except for the two animals which sounded like they were trying to kill each other just outside.

Day 2 of Trek

I was surprised I wasn't totally exhausted the next morning but I was not looking forward to the long haul ahead of us. We only had a little more uphill walking to do, fortunately. Not far from where we started, Simon stopped the group and picked up a long piece of grass. He poked it gingerly in a large hole on the side of the path. He poked and poked and eventually, and I can only imagine quite irritably, a HUGE tarantula emerged. It stood with its front legs raised and struck viciously at the piece of grass as Simon poked and prodded it. As is my habit of anthropormorphizing everything, in my head the tarantula was saying, "Really? I mean, really? Every Tuesday, Simon! Can I just have a break for once? Can't you go bug Louise... she's just a few holes down, for crying out loud. ::sigh:: All right, here. Grr. (raises legs, attacks half-heartedly) Okay, can I go back to tea now? Thanks. See you next week."


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Finally we headed downhill where we got the chance to Tarzan our way across a stream by holding a vine and later came across a farmer who was roasting a lovely stretch of cow hide across a fire -- with the cows head in the fire itself. Mmmm, lunch.

Lunch actually took place at Simon's mom and dad's place. While Simon cooked a delicious and simple noodle and broth soup, we lay about and rested. We were absolutely filthy.





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Simon's grandmother stopped by and sold us some necklaces and allowed me to take her picture. She had amazing earlobes that, unadorned, hung nearly to her shoulders.

Most of my fellow trekkers took short naps but I couldn't, instead took some shots around the hut -- i love that even many of the simplest of homes have satellite television.

Finally we roused ourselves to hike for the first of two waterfalls. The boys played with a half-filled volleyball. I waded in but it was a lot colder than I expected. We didn't stay long.
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We trekked for a bit longer, at one point walking along a very narrow spit of land with quite a fall on one side. My legs were starting to shake again. We crossed through an area where the ground burned. There are two types of farming methods for two types of rice - rice paddies for white rice and dry ground for brown rice. In order to clear ground for the brown rice, farmers tend to slash and burn -- which the government frowns upon, but no one wants to take the livelihood of the hill tribes from them. They alternate where they grow crops, but still you can see jets of smoke coming from all over the landscape. It's a bit strange to be walking through a forest that's half on fire. I don't know how they keep it under control.

We reached a shallow stream. Simon crossed a log first then lifted a thin bamboo rod across by supporting it on a forked branch. I guess this was supposed to be a railing. I was last to cross and I knew I wasn't going to make it - not with my legs as jello-y as they were. I took one step out, then another, and my legs went... I grappled for the "railing" but it was not supportive whatsoever and I fell. It was shallow, but nonetheless, the rocks were slippery and I couldn't keep my balance and fell all the way in. Luckily, I saved my camera, thrusting it into the air, at the expense of my elbow, which took my weight on the log. I was mightily embarassed.

As we returned to that narrow spit of land to continue the hike, I again slipped. My legs were a mess. I sat down heavily and wanted to cry. Where was my energy? The group was far ahead of me now and I felt like a bit of a failure. This shouldn't have been a difficult trek.

Finally we reached the second waterfall, which was also where we were staying for the evening. I put my stuff in a bungalow and noticed that there was a sign on the door that read, "Boum boum, no knock." Simon and his mother were lingering nearby and I asked him what it meant (although I had a fair idea). He grew flustered and his mother said something in Thai. Simon said, "It means, 'Loud noises.'" Uh huh.

We relaxed while Simon and his family prepared dinner. There was a chicken in an overturned basket when we arrived. I noticed the basket was empty a bit later and that chicken was on the menu. I will now forever refer to those cages as the Baskets of Doom.

The second waterfall is apparently the waterfall used in the movie, "The Beach" (where it was digitally enhanced by height and also had more water forced over it).

It's beautiful but also a little cold so I contented myself by watching the puppies that were scampering about and playing. Then I went to arrange my stuff in my thatch hut and as I sat in the doorway, I saw a HUGE wolf spider on the door. I enlisted the help of a couple of boys to bat it from the door (insisting they not kill it) but everytime they swung at it, it would scurry to the other side of the door and I'd squeal. Not my finest hour* I admit.

Dinner was served - I guess that might be the freshest chicken I've ever had. And then the beer started flowing.
I lamented my lack of strength during the walk and it occurred to me to ask if anyone knew the pound to kilogram ratio. One of the Irish boys broke out his guide book which listed that it was 1 kg = 2.2 lbs. I'd lost 10 pounds since leaving the states. That explained a lot. Also considering the 6 weeks of bad tummy, I thought it might be prudent to see a doctor when I got back to Bangkok. I broke out the music again and a fine time was had by all -- which included a late night dip under the waterfall. The full moon lit up the sky like daylight. The next day was going to be much easier so we made the most of the night.


Day Three

Up early for breakfast and a shower under the waterfall - brrr.
The trek back to the truck was pretty easy (although we again walked through burning fields) and my strength kept up.
The next adventure was an elephant ride. We stopped for a bit of lunch and arrived at the Elephant trekking area. We paired up, I was with Robbie from UK. We exchanged cameras with the Danes, Lene and Kasper. Apparently the elephants are big fans of bananas so we purchased a bunch (or 3) before climbing the platform. We were told to keep the bananas from the elephants' view but after Robbie climbed onto our elephant, I gracelessly dropped the bananas from the bag we'd hidden in them and another elephant, with lightning-quick speed, grabbed them with his trunk.
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I tried to wrestle them away but to no avail. Luckily, Robbie had another bunch but we were out of those before we even exited the yard. Those elephants are greedy! They'd take 3 or 4 steps and their trunk would snap back at us, demanding a banana. It was like a toll or gas or something. There was a banana stand just outside the yard, before the trail, where we bought more. Again, these quickly ran out and the mahout would have to poke at the elephant's trunk to keep it from demanding fruit every 15 seconds.



I'm not so sure about this elephant ride activity. I don't think the elephants are treated very nicely and the mahouts were certainly bored out of their minds. Because it was no longer being paid its toll, the elephant had a charming new tactic of expressing its frustration with us. Every 30 seconds or so, its ears would stop flapping, it would thrust its trunk into its mouth and then whip it back at us and spray us with elephant snot/saliva!! Robbie and I started to know when to duck for cover, but we were already covered in it. The mahout assured us that the elephant was only trying to "keep cool" -- but, funny how the snot-spray stopped when we purchased another bunch of bananas at the next stand. Jerk.

Midway during the trek, the mahouts guided the elephants over to some large tubs of water. I knew then that we were in for some trouble.
I did my best to shield my camera and bag as the elephant took giant gulps and sprayed himself repeatedly -- drenching Robbie and me. One of the mahouts jumped into the tubs as well and swam around, mingling with the trunks. I was shocked at how strong the elephants trunks are and how dexterous the tip is at grabbing and holding.

As we continued, the Mahout invited me to sit out on the neck of the elephant with him. This was a very strange sensation -- I was not used to holding on with my thighs and his hairy, coarse, thick skin felt weird on my legs. It was also pretty precarious; I was certain I was going to flop off at any moment. We ran out of bananas again and the spit/mucus started spraying. At this point, I was just one big glob of elephant snot. Delicious.

We made it back and continued on to our next destination: river rafting. There were 4 to a raft. At the front was our guide with a long bamboo pole, then two people sat in the middle and one of us would stand at the back with a second pole. The raft consisted of about 6 thick bamboo poles, about 15 feet long, roped together -- and that's it. I was on a raft with Robbie and Colm. Robbie took the back and Colm and I enjoyed the ride in the middle. Our guide was hilarious. When we'd approach rapids, or get a little too close to an outcropping of rock, he'd squeal in a high pitch (and what I think was supposed to be an American accent), "Oh my Buddha!!!"

We got into a race with the other backpackers/guides. Robbie was pretty good for most of the ride until we came too close to the bank and he stuck his pole into a rock to push us away -- which he did.... except his pole stayed stuck in the rock and nearly took him with it. Now we were rudderless and the "Oh my Buddha's" really picked up.

One of the other rafts was piloted by a girl who couldn't have been more than 14 and she was ruthless, whenever we'd get close, she'd smack her pole in the water, spraying us. We'd splash back. Also, along the way, the riverbanks were lined with picnicking Thais. There were little platforms with roofs where the families would sit, legs dangling in the water eating and drinking. Emphasis on the drinking. I noticed there were restaurants on the other side of the river, some with wires across the river. It looked like you could order food and it would swing down the wire to you. The families would splash and splash us as we passed and we'd splash them right back. Apparently they were yelling at the Irish boys, "Monkey men! Monkey men!" due to their slightly furry-ness. But when the Danes went by, the Thais would go quiet. We think it had something to do with Lene's gold bikini. So much fun!
It was sad when it was over.

It was about a 2 hour drive back and we were exhausted. After a quick dinner, I fell into bed for about 14 hours!

*But I would redeem myself in a BIG BIG way Vietnam, so it's okay.

Friday, May 16, 2008

(More than) One Night in Bangkok

I'm sorry, I'm having a terrible time remembering the Germans' names. Thai Airways is really quite nice. The food was exceptional and I had a couple of glasses (small small glasses) of wine. I was excited to be moving on, but worried that I wouldn't like Thailand as much as India. The plane showed some strange E! Entertainment style shows followed by an episode of "Everyone Hates Chris." I have no idea why. We arrived in Bangkok and I was immediately struck by the pristine, modern, steel-and-glass and CLEAN airport. So clean. The bathrooms were clean, everything was SO CLEAN and shiny and new. And there was a STARBUCKS. I had joked with Sam as he took me to the bus to Kathmandu if he wouldn't mind stopping at a Starbucks. I really had no idea I'd be seeing one 36 hours later! I didn't go...

I ran into the Germans at the luggage claim. We decided to share a taxi into the city. They had a hotel in mind but I was playing it by ear. The taxi did about 120 mph into the
city center where we beheld a new horror waiting for us... Songkren.

Songkren is the Thai New Year. Every year the entire country takes a few days off to completely soak each other with water and smear each others' faces/clothes/hair with white rice paste. And we found ourselves at Ground Zero.


The streets were line with Bangkokians (?), three-person deep, all armed with neon-colored missile-launcher-sized Super Soakers. Or huge buckets. Or regular sized Super Soakers with hoses attached to backpacks shaped like Pooh or Dora the Explorer. And they were tensed and waiting... waiting for us. Okay, actually it was pretty awesome but we knew the moment the taxi stopped we were going to get it. Everywhere you looked, Thai girls and boys were all drenched to the bone, smeared in white paste and laughing. Tuk Tuks tore by us, their occupants leaning out the sides and spraying the taxi. Or pedestrians would press white hand prints all over the windshield.
The Germans and I desperately made preparations for our imminent arrival at Khao San Road, where the real party was. I had plastic garbage bags in my backpack and wrapped them around anything of value. The Germans did the same. We reached where their hotel supposedly was but by the looks of the roadblock and the water demons cackling as they surrounded us, we weren't going to be stopping there. The taxi took us onto a relatively quiet side street where we got out and darted looks of fear left and right. We hiked our packs up onto our backs and stopped a relatively dry-looking American, Jack, to find out where was a good place to stay. He lead us quickly to his hotel -- we only got a couple of soakings. I guess the Thais don't want to be the first one to soak a foreigner (unless it's from behind, the jerks) and they definitely don't want to be the first one to smear your face with paste. We dropped our stuff off and regrouped - Jack joining the Germans and me. We were hungry...and eager to jump into the fray.

We hit a nearby restaurant first that had amazing food. We enjoyed the people-watching as well, except for the drivebys. Everyone was having so much fun.


Back out into the streets -- we were "gunned" down pretty quickly. Finally, a drunken bunch of Thai guys smeared us with rice paste and after that EVERYONE was rubbing paste all over our faces.
The German Guy really got into it -- he started buying bottles of tap water and going to town, dousing anyone who dared point a watergun at us.


We made it down to Khao San road and a side street where we encountered quite a gauntlet ahead of us.
The Gauntlet

There was no escaping it and we were dripping by the time we got through it. Some jerks had filled their waterguns with ice water, which I feel was not particularly fair. I don't like squealing like a stuck pig when that stuff hits me square in the small of my back. Cowards!

The music was pumping, the lady boys were voguing and we decided to join the party. Pretty much didn't recognize any of the music until they played "Gasolina" and I realized it was Monday night - Karaoke time! "Seaaaaaan Muuurphy" I yelled to no one in particular as he is the karaoke regular who tends to sing Gasolina every other week. We danced and threw water and smeared faces with the rest of the Thais and tourists. I was a MESS when I got back to the hotel but it was an insane good time and, I feel, an excellent introduction to Bangkok.


The next day, the Germans headed to the airport to go down to the islands and I headed to
the equally exotic setting -- of 7/11. I had myself a coke slushie...and then instantly regretted it, not thinking about the ICE. But it's okay as most of the places in Thailand
bring in water to make ice and don't use tap water.

I spent some time online and tried to figure out my next steps. After all the running
through India and Nepal over the last few weeks, I felt suddenly rudderless. And lonely.

I made friends with a Canadian fellow, Drew, and his eccentric friend, a British woman who could have been either 50 or 90, I had no idea. Along with Jack, we decided to get dinner. Another amazing meal, with vines of peppercorns and spices that made each mouthful a little tastebud festival. The boys wanted Jim Beam and ordered a bottle of it. We had a nice little party... before realizing we were the only ones left in the restaurant (a gorgeous riverside, outdoor place) and headed out on the town, bottle in hand. I'm not sure why, to be honest. I should probably have just gone to bed at that point. All I know is we ended up at another pub where I blearily watched Arsenal and Man United playing at midnight before demanding to go home.

Next day, I contacted Gavin. He was due into Bangkok later that night and urged me to go out and see some sights. But I was still not in the mood to be touristy. I worked on my "travelogues" instead, updating through the end of India and then wandered around the neighborhood a bit. Later, I waited for Gavin to arrive and his tour of Bangkok.

It was SO nice to see Gavin! A familiar face! I realized I've known Gavin for ten years now -- since our days at "Strange Universe" in LA -- my first job after college. He's barely changed, still working -- producing tv shows and dividing his time between England, Thailand and wherever else his work takes him. We jumped in a waiting taxi, Gavin directing the driver in his British-accented Thai. We zoomed off into the night.
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Our first stop was a bar which at first seemed to be having a swimsuit competition. All the women stood looking bored up on the bar, with numbers attached to their swimsuits. They were all GORGEOUS, slender, shapely ladies gyrating ever so slightly to the pounding music. "Notice anything unusual?" Gavin asked. It dawned on me immediately -- they were all men. "Ladyboys" as they're known. But they looked great! They had hips... and other curves. I would be totally fooled if not for Gavin. And by the looks of the customers around us, either they were fooling everyone, or... "What's with the numbers?" I asked. "Um," Gavin took a long swig of beer. "That's in case you want" Oh. Of course. We drank our drinks and left.

Up next was a gorgeous rooftop bar in downtown Bangkok. Apparently Havaianas are not appropriate footwear so I was loaned a classy pair of white loafers that were a bit on the large size.
Borrowed shoes
I guess that's my "classy loafer" face.

We marveled over the skyline and caught up on the last year or so since we saw each other in New York. After that, I wanted to hit karaoke. It was only midnight, and I was shocked to find most of Bangkok kind of shuts down. We headed back to Khaosan road area and had no luck finding karaoke. Did find a guy with a dried squid bike:
Squid bike guy
Who doesn't love dried squid on a bike?

We settled on a nice late dinner and a crazy ride on a tuk-tuk back to my hotel.
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I wished Gavin good night and completely crashed.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Dear Thailand (again),

Look, I'm sorry. I didnt' really mean those things. You don't have to cry. Seriously, it's my last day on the island and you're RAINING NOW. It was gorgeous just a few minutes ago, I was just about to head to the beach. But NO, you have to be all dramatic and start POURING. Wah wah wah. Look at me, I'm Thailand and I'm sad. Wah.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I am not angry with you. It's just the little things you know? I want to love you. I do. But you make it hard. So damn hard. You're beautiful, Thailand, don't get me wrong. You're stunning... sometimes you look a little hookerish--NO WAIT, I didn't mean that. I just mean, you don't have to do much to look good and sometimes, well, you're a little trashy. You are very pretty but on the inside, Thailand, you're not really my type.

What we had was great, most of the time. But it has to end because there's not future for us. And do you really want to end it this way? Can't we just remember the good times? Can't you let me leave with a smile instead of a frown? Thailand, don't make me hate you. Can't you let me sit on the beach with a pina colada PLEASE???


Oh, screw you, Thailand. I'm leaving you -- go have fun with those Aussies I saw you eyeing up. I'm out.

Dear Thailand

I realize I shouldn't blame you for what India started, but you haven't been treating me much better, I have to admit. And maybe that's my fault -- maybe somewhere deep inside, I seek out abusive countries on purpose. Perhaps you remind me of America. But this has to stop. First the parasites (again, not really your fault), then the massive eye infection, and now the sea lice welts. I guess you thought it would be pretty funny, huh? Catch me unawares? I finally take my belated-birthday snorkeling trip and suddenly I feel like I'm in an underwater sand storm? Real cool, Thailand. Real cool. At least you didn't bloody me like you did the men I was diving with. Jealous much?

So I'm leaving you. There, I said it. Tomorrow at 11 a.m. I have a bus ride back to Bangkok and then on to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Do you know what Siem Reap means, Thailand? I means "Siam (or Thailand) Defeated." Yeah. That's right. In your FACE, Thailand. In your face!


You ain't gonna hold me back. I will survive. Weren't you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye? Did I crumble? Did you think I'd lay down and die? Oh no, not I. I will survive...

Now, if you'll excuse me, my sun tan seems to be peeling and leaving moist little bloody spots on my arm. DAMN YOU THAILAND!

Nepal - 2nd day of trek and onwards.

Okay, where was I?

Nepal, second day of trek. We were woken up early in order to catch the sunrise over the
Annapurnas. It was chilly out so I wrapped up before heading to the hill above the guest
house. The sunrise was pink on the snowy peaks. Absolutely beautiful.

Breakfast was served and soon we headed back down the hill towards Pokhara.
Going down was not particularly easier than going up. Every moment I was concerned I'd take
a tumble. My shoes were not exactly the best suited for hiking and gravity pushed my toes
deep into the shoes where they rubbed and blistered. My legs trembled and grew weak. It did
not help when our guide pointed out that the path had been wiped out a year ago by a
landslide that killed 9 people.
Today was election day and the locals were jubilant.


Many passed us on their way up or down
the mountain to vote. As I cautiously took each step down the hill, suddenly a family
passed me. Mother, father, son and daughter. The daughter was in jeans and flip flops and
texting on her mobile phone as she hopped down the mountain side like a sure-footed, teenage
girl mountain goat. I was reminded that many families have two homes -- one in the village
and one in the mountains and were washing the chemicals off their finger so they could vote


When we finally reached level ground, I pulled out my flip flops -- my feet were on fire.
We plodded our way back into Pokhara. I haven't been that tired in a long time. When we
reached the hotel, Markus and I planned to meet for dinner after we showered and took naps.
However, the moment I got to my room, I lay down on my bed -- all dirty and sweaty -- and
passed out for three hours.
We finally met (after a little internet time) and went for pizza! I had hawaiian. It
wasn't too bad actually.
The next day, I was due to leave for Chitwan National Park. It was a little sketchy, my
travel, due to the election but I was able to find a bus. Some time during my trip, a
mother gestured at me and then at her child. I didn't understand. She said something to me
and I shrugged the international, "What are you talking about, lady?" sign at her. The man
next to me understood her and took the child and put him on his lap. Oh. Well, I
don't really want a four year old in my lap for 2 hours, I think a local can take this one
for the team.
The bus reached the end of the line in no time. It was an enjoyable ride - great scenery
and the bus boys (?) were really nimble and quick with the jumping out the door and
clamboring onto the roof while the bus was in motion. At one point, the bus was so full, a
couple of school boys hung off the side of the bus as we raced top speed down a mountain
Unfortunately, because we'd had to take a local bus, another woman and I who were going to
Chitwan, didn't have anyone meeting us to take us to our respective resorts. We were, of
course, greeted by touts wanting to give us rides. "I have someone picking me up," I told
one of them. He continued to pester me and then when I brushed him off, he told me I was
rude. Oh okay, so getting in my face when I am saying I already have a ride ISN'T rude? My
ride showed up and looked at me with dismay. Or rather, looked at my STUFF with dismay.
He'd come on motorbike. Oh boy. Perching one of my bags in front of him, my big bag on my
back and my important bag (with camera etc) in between us, we carefully made our way to the
resort, which luckily was only a few minutes away. I hadn't been on the back of a
motorcycle in ten years so I was fairly nervous.
We arrived at the resort and I was shown to my room. I noticed a number of staff sitting
around listening to the radio about the election but no other guests. I asked my guide,
Sam, where everyone was. "You're the only guest" he told me. Huh. I came down to sit in
the yard and read for a bit with a pot of coffee (all the coffee or tea I could drink was
free). Sam sat with me. I noticed that he always sat with me -- I guess he thought I might
get lonely even though I was reading. A bit later, we went out for a walk through a local
village and along the river. He showed me that the village was surrounded by electric
fencing to keep the rhinos out. Or... as he called them: "Rhinosaurs". Throughout the next
few days I thought "rhinosaurs" was a mispronunciation until I picked up some postcards and
saw that that was the pronunciation for them. And why not? They are pretty prehistoric-
We walked back and dinner was prepared and served. It was very strange to eat in a rather
large dining hall all by myself. Sam sat with me but didn't speak. I read. Eventually I
went off to bed as I had a pretty full day ahead of me.
Sam stopped by pretty early to get me up. I told him that I'd like two pots of coffee with
my breakfast. As was typical throughout India (and still here in Thailand), coffee was
Nescafe. I can drink a pot of coffee which is really 2.5 very small cups of coffee but I
wanted to take coffee to go on my Elephant ride. I'd specifically kept an empty water
bottle for the occasion. But I didn't get my second pot of coffee which I found rather
infuriating -- after all, I'm the only guest! Sam walked me down the road to where the
elephant rides into the jungle departed. My elephant arrived and there were already three
people on it: and Indian guy and a British woman and her son. The top of the elephant has a
wooden railing in the shape of a square. We are seated each straddling a corner. Which
means that the Indian man and British woman are more or less facing forward and the boy and
I are facing backwards.
This was not a fun experience actually. An elephant is a pretty lumbering beast which means
I was rocking wildly back and forth, my thighs slapping the wooden post repeatedly. I
bruise like a peach as it is, so I could only imagine the size of bruises that awaited me
(about peach-sized actually). We blundered forward into the jungle, the guide pointing out
beasts (mostly deer) to us, causing me to strain my neck to look around for. At one point,
the Indian fellow decided to make a phone call. In the jungle. From on top of an elephant.
"Hello!!!" He yelled into the phone and continued in Indian. I could not believe it. We
were supposed to be seeing wild animals but with this guy practically screaming, we would be
lucky if we saw a couple of beetles. I poked him in the back, "Excuse me, could you make
your phone call another time?" He looked at me sullenly and hung up. And I thought cell
phones in restaurants were annoying. Then he and the guide started having a long, loud
conversation. Again, I prodded him...hard. "We're supposed to be looking for animals and
you are being very loud!" He shut up after that.
I was pretty disappointed for most of the ride. Then the guide took the elephant out into
the river and pointed out a large rock to us. Only the rock was actually the head of an
alligator. Excellent.
We moved back into the brush when the guide brought the elephant to a halt. He pointed into
the bushes. About twelve feet in front of us -- a rhino and her baby.
IMG_4721 (135)

How bizarre, I have
to admit. They moved towards and open field, completely unconcerned by the elephant with
three humans attached to it. We followed. Finally my bruising felt worth it. We headed
home. Sam picked me up and took me back to the hotel. I had some free time before my
"jungle trek" so I asked to be taken to an internet cafe. Sam drove me on his moped and I
got online -- to find several emails from friends telling me that i was "famous" -- or
rather infamous, I think. A well known New York based website had posted a picture taken by
my talented photographer friend... a picture he'd taken of me back in December that he'd
finally gotten around to posting on his own website -- but the owner of the popular website
had taken it to use on his site because apparently he likes pictures that are "very New
York." I like the picture but I did not like all the snarky comments left by readers of the
website and it upset me. Also, some of my friends who saw the picture were confused because
the website stated the photo had been taken on "Thursday"-- when I wasn't in the country. I
know it's stupid now, but I was pretty upset. I think I could normally take a bunch of
strangers taking potshots at me, but not when I was on the other side of the globe and
couldn't defend myself. I felt really alone all of a sudden. Went back to the resort and
tried to read and have coffee and not think about it, but it really bothered me. Eventually
it was time for my jungle trek.
Sam and some other resort guys took me to the river where we boarded a very narrow wooden


I suddenly wished I hadn't brought my camera with me. But we made it down river
without incident (except for the rather large alligator that HISSED at me!)
Not to be messed with.

and climbed the embankment into the jungle. Before we went deeper into the forest, Sam turned to give me some ground rules to follow in case of a rhino or tiger attack.
In case of a charging rhino, one should run in a zig-zag pattern as rhinos are large and
can't move all that delicately. But they are fast! If you can't outrun it, throw an item
of clothing, a bag or a hat in another direction as sometimes the rhino will go off to
inspect it and you can get away. If one can't run fast enough or distract the rhino with a
shirt/bag/hat, one needs to climb a tree -- a thick tree, one that a rhino can't knock over.
And you have to climb high because rhinos will get up on their hind legs.
In case of an attacking tiger, one should run and throw a piece of clothing/bag/hat away and
if that doesn't work, climb a tree -- a thin tree because tigers can't climb thin trees
because their paws go all the way around it, which is awkward for them.
We start into the forest, the guide in front of me holding a club of some sort, meanwhile
I'm trying to remember which type of tree I'm supposed to be climbing. I'm not too worried
about running into a tiger as they're fairly scarce, but as I DID see a rhino and her baby
that morning, I was terrified we'd run into them again. And all the big trees around were
of the straight, branchless variety and I have NO idea how I was supposed to climb that.
We walked through the forest and realized that a terrific storm was approaching. The sky was a
very menacing black/green. We barely made it to the elephant training camp before the skies
opened up.
It was very dark and we huddled under a porch for awhile. Apparently this was a training
facility where elephants are taught commands that make them useful in doing work around
Nepal - building and carrying and such. Like living construction equipment. It was
interesting but rather sad as well, since the animals are taken away from their mother and
spend several years penned up with only a few feet of chain to move around. I didn't really
care to stick around. We headed back to the canoe and truck.
That night, I was due to see a traditional show of dances.
The drumming and dancing was
pretty amazing, but the interesting bit was the fact that when the dances called for ladies,
a man would dress up like a woman to play the part.
That was cute -- but illustrated to me
that even the women couldn't take part in the fun. However, Sam explained later that the
ladies had their own dance parties, if you will.
I was off to Kathmandu the next morning. Sam seemed sad to see me go and got suddenly very
flirty. It was the Nepalese New year, 2065. He told me I should come back next year. I
told him I'd try to come back in 2066 -- but I'd be an old, old lady. He took me to my bus
and waved goodbye.
There is something I don't understand about the bus system. So, we wait for twenty minutes
at the bus station, get on the bus... and then STOP 2 minutes later for more people to get
on. It's like people can't be bothered to go the extra half mile to a bus stop, but instead
flag down the bus at irregular intervals -- making bus rides go on FOREVER. I think I
mentioned this before, but it's very annoying. It's lazy and not fair to the people who
took care to go out of their way to get to the original bus station. The "four hour" bus
ride to Kathmandu took seven hours! I was really irritated by the time we got there. Then
a taxi driver tried to rip me off to take me to my hotel and suddenly I HATED KATHMANDU. I
found little to redeem it. When I got to the hotel that was pre-booked for me, they didn't
have any rooms because I was supposed to be there several hours earlier. They said this to
me like it was my fault. Oh yes, sorry my bus took almost twice as much time -- obviously
that was all my doing. Now I had very little time to do anything as I was due to leave the
next day. I was taken to another nearby hotel with a very smelly bathroom. I dumped my stuff
and headed out to see the monkey temple. I argued with a taxi driver AGAIn and made my way
to the temple, which was on top of a very steep hill. I was too tired to enjoy it by the
time I got to the top. Some little boys befriended me as I descended.. but of course, after
they were finished with all the questions they had for me, they just wanted "rupees?
chocolate? pens?" I was OVER Nepal.
I headed back to the hotel to get some dinner. I heard some rock and roll playing down the
street and headed in that direction but it turned out to be a very loud/smokey bar. I ended
up at The Yak Restaurant, where I had a strange dinner of Momos (Nepalese dumplings), apple
fritters, Everest beer and coffee. I went home and watched a little tv -- CNN was showing
some news on Obama and Clinton and the crawl on the bottom of the screen mentioned something
about a Lonely Planet author plagiarizing books -- but I never really found out what that
was about.
Super MOMO!!

The next a.m., I got up to buy souvenirs and get breakfast before my plane ride to Bangkok.
I got very irritated at all the touts in Kathmandu and when it was time to leave, I happily
boarded my taxi (who tried to gouge me, of course) to the airport.
Once at the airport, i got in line to pick up my ticket behind two very tall Germans.
Suddenly one of them realized we had to actually pay a departure tax BEFORE checking in and
raced off to another counter to do so. I asked the remaining German if she'd mind watching
my bag while I followed her boyfriend. It cost about 30 bucks to LEAVE Nepal. Ugh. We
raced back to the line where the German girl was holding her own. Apparently the people behind us were none too happy we'd left the line to pay the taxes (I can't say I don't blame them -- but we didn't hold them up, so relax). We checked in and proceeded the boarding area. I was
sad to leave without seeing Everest -- but I guess there's always another time... and I was
ready to leave Nepal and head for a new country/culture. Soon it was time to board the
GIGANTIC Thai Airways plane and I was on my way...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Better now.

I am finally on the mend. A week ago after another terrible bout of traveler's tummy (okay, it never actually stopped) and feeling weak, I dragged myself to Bumrungrad Hospital (I'll keep the puns re: the first two syllables of the hospital to myself...or not) in Bangkok. Gorgeous hospital -- Starbucks in the lobby and McDonald's on the second floor, oddly enough-- and sought a doctor. I was seen by a very kindly, elfin, giggly doctor with huge eyeglasses and a tragic comb-over. They ran some tests on me; I had definitely lost more than ten pounds since leaving the States. Lab results came back -- parasite infection. Hurray! Due to dubious hygienic practices in India (their quaint ideas of no toilet paper and sporadic hand-washing) that no amount of Purell could keep me safe from, I picked up some critters who cozied up in my innards for the last month or so. They got to enjoy more of my food than I did, I guess. I was prescribed a heavy dose of antibiotics to take over the next 3 days and to avoid alcohol for six days. I left the hospital in heavy rain and found my way to the train station for a night bus bound for Krabi.

I am now in Koh Phi Phi which is nice but a little too Ultimate Spring Break for me plus it's strange to sun oneself on a beach where who knows how many died 3 years ago. There's a great swath of land that is clearly just being rebuilt -- foundations of swept away buildings lie covered in weeds and there are a number of topless palm-trees.

Woke up to a gang of monkeys surrounding the bungalow this a.m. One let a paw dangle over the porch roof near my face. I high-fived him, marveling at the soft, yielding baby-hand feeling. He didn't appreciate it.

Internet is expensive -- I'm hiding from the sun at the moment and have left Christian to fend for himself, surrounded by topless women under the topless palm trees. He said he didn't mind, he didn't feel too harassed.

Pictures soon, more entries soon. Falling behind, I know. Two of my five memory cards have decided to stop working when I try to upload them. Not good. I'm blaming elephant snot.