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02 January 2006

flagged down by a mindreader

another day of transport to another chiang, khong, a small town on the thai side of the mekong river across from the laotian town of huay xai... an overland border crossing portal between the two countries. i woke up early and checked out of the mae kok villa and walked downtown to grab some breakfast. the guidebook indicated that buses ran frequently between chiang rai and chiang khong. i made my way over to the nearby bus station and scanned all of the signs looking for the words 'chiang' and 'khong'... nothing. in the bus stands outside i was flagged down by a mindreader.

'you are going to chiang khong,' he said.

'uh... yes... i am.'

he pointed at the windshield of the bus directly in front of me... giant letters... 'CHIANG KHONG' [the eighth wonder of the world]. 54 baht. he loaded my backpack into the cargo hold beneath the bus and told me it would be departing in 15 minutes. i ran over to the local 7-eleven clone and grabbed some snacks for the journey. i said thank you in thai to the checkout clerk and my words surprised him...

'you speak thai?' he asked eagerly.

ha! not even close. chiang rai was a typical stop for all travelers heading to the border crossing at chiang khong... certainly at least a few of those foreigners had muttered a few words of the local language. i recited the thai phrases i knew... 'hello', 'thank you', 'goodbye'. that's it, sir.

the bus wasn't quite as nice as the bus from mai to rai, but it was fairly empty and i had a seat to myself for the entire four hour journey. more beautiful scenery, more blue sky, more lovely country.

we arrived in chiang khong at about 1600 and after a quick scan of the area and a short discussion with a couple of danes who had been on the same bus, i made a quick decision to just continue right into laos. i typically don't make these types of decisions without at least a bit of research, but i was feeling lucky and with the clock ticking on my vietnam visa (valid only in january), i decided it would be best to keep moving. i waved down a tuk tuk and was off to the river where i'd catch a boat to laos. i knew laos issued visas on arrival for 30 usd... i had the tuk tuk driver pull over at an atm so i could withdraw 1500 baht for the visa.

passed through thai immigration... quick departure stamp... then down to the river to catch a 20 baht boat across the mekong... and pow! i was in laos.

the laos visa was payable either as 30 us dollars or 1500 thai baht (which, given the current exchange rate, worked out to be 37.5 usd). i've been carrying 50 usd cash in my money belt since i left, but i wanted to hang onto it for an emergency situation and this didn't qualify. i completed some paperwork, handed over a small passport picture, paid the 1500 baht, and a few minutes later i had a laos visa and an entry stamp in my passport. i was official.

i walked up the hill from immigration, was 'directed' to the friendship guesthouse, checked in, paid in baht, and was out to explore huay xai. it took all of ten minutes to fully explore the metropolis. again, i hadn't been sure about my travel plans... whether or not i was going to spend a few nights in huay xai or just continue on the next day... but after the ten minute tour i knew i'd be departing tomorrow. i walked back to the guesthouse and discussed boat options with the guy at the desk.

. slow boat to luang prabang: 800 baht. two day journey down the mekong with an overnight stop in pakbeng.

. fast boat to luang prabang: 1300 baht. six hour journey down the mekong, life vests and crash helmets provided.

i opted for the slow scenic two day journey. unfortunately i didn't have 800 baht on me... i'd need to hit an atm before i could pay him. back out to the street. a few minutes later i was at the far end of the town and hadn't seen a bank. i passed a couple of travelers on the street and asked them if they'd seen an atm in town.

'there are no international atm's in laos.' they told me.

[alert] the words hung in the air... no. international. atm's. in. laos.

shit. what an idiot. how could i have missed that in the guidebook? no freaking atm's in the entire country? that couldn't be possible.

i contemplated a trip back across the river into thailand where there were an abundance of atm's. what a pain. i decided it was time to try out my american express gift checks. i'd received several amex gift checks before i'd left for the trip and had always hoped that i wouldn't need to use them... they weren't exactly 'traveler's checks' per se... but they operated in the same way (i hoped)... sign, countersign, replaceable if lost. unfortunately the one currency exchange bank in town was closed for the day... i'd have to go back the next morning.

i ate dinner in the restaurant of another guesthouse and after i'd finished eating, the woman running the place asked me what i was doing tomorrow.

'slow boat to luang prabang,' i told her.

'have you bought your ticket yet?' she asked.

'well, i reserved a ticket at my guesthouse, but i haven't paid yet. i need to exchange money tomorrow morning.'

'how much did you pay?' she asked.

'800 baht.'

she seemed surprised.

'800 baht? i can't believe someone is charging you 800 baht. you can reserve the same boat here for 750 baht.'

i felt a little bad about backing out of the 'deal' with the man at my guesthouse, but he had obviously added a special tax for the ticket. i reserved a ticket with the woman.

'tomorrow... be here at 0800 for breakfast. truck will take you to the boat at 0830.'

i thanked her, hit one of the two internet cafes in town, met danielle [usa] and courtney [can], and then retired for the night.

chiang khong, thailand, as seen from huay xai, laos. darkness.

posted by paul at Mon 02 Jan 2006 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

01 January 2006

with the mostly barren

the first day of the new year was a transport day for me... i'd be leaving chiang mai on a bus bound for chiang rai. i checked out of the pun pun without much time to spare and walked halfway to the bus station before i saw and flagged down a tuk tuk to take me the rest of the way. the bus was very clean and the staff was well organized; the four hour ride was very enjoyable. this was the first time i'd taken overland transport in thailand (i'd flown from bangkok to chiang mai) and i got to see the beautiful hills and forests of the northern kingdom. a combination of the beautiful weather, the beautiful scenery, and the friendliness of the thai people had put me in a smiling mood.

we arrived in chiang rai at around 1400 and after brushing aside some guesthouse touts i began my walk to the nearby pintamorn guesthouse, recommended by my guidebook for its good value. i found the correct street... found the correct cross street... couldn't find the pintamorn. i stopped and asked two women sitting right where it should have been and asked for directions. they managed to convey that the pintamorn had moved and pointed me down the street and to the right. i thanked them and was off again... down the street to the right... no pintamorn. i asked two other people for directions but they weren't able to help. after fifteen minutes of walking i was still in a very good mood despite the heat and the pack making my back heavy with sweat, but i was a little weary of the walk and decided to abandon the pintamorn for the next guesthouse on the list. i arrived at the mae kok villa about five minutes later. an older man sized me up as i approached.

'do you have any rooms available?' i asked.

'only expensive rooms. 300 baht. where are you coming from?' he responded.

'i came from chiang mai on a bus.'

'no, what country?'

'united states,' i said.

my mind had only registered that he had 'expensive' rooms available and had not completed the conversion of baht to usd. 300 baht is approximately 7.50 usd. i asked him if he knew of another guesthouse and he directed me to the chat house around the corner. i got the impression that he really didn't want me staying at his guesthouse. typically the accomodation management goes out of their way for business, sending scouts out to bus stations and airports to pull in travelers. this man seemed all too eager to send me on my way to the cheaper competition.

i lugged my pack away in a half-hearted attempt to find the chat house and after a cursory search decided that 300 baht was perfectly fine. i returned to the mae kok villa.

'300 baht is fine,' i announced to the man. he looked up with a grimace.

'i'll show you the room and then you decide.' on the way to the room he asked me what state i was from.

'massachusetts. boston,' i responded.

'ah, big irish population there. but you're not irish?'

'some irish. a mixture really... irish, italian. i didn't grow up in boston. i'm originally from pennsylvania.'

'ah, penn state. football.'

wow. his response really surprised me. this man was either well read or well traveled.

the room was perfect... one of the nicest ones of the entire trip. i checked in, did some reading, and then took off back into town for some recon. i still wasn't sure whether i was going to hang out in chiang rai for another day or continue on to chiang khong near the laos border.

the town, like chiang mai, was very laid back although i'm sure the new year holiday had something to do with the mostly barren streets. i wandered through the food markets... fresh fish still flapping, big chunks of fly covered flesh, the skin of a pig's head hung from a hook, and large stacks of fruit lined the tables. i continued my walk towards the bus station, hit an internet cafe, and then stopped into a restaurant to grab some dinner. evening had fallen and i headed to the night market... t-shirts, silk, massage stands. during the guesthouse search and the afternoon recon i'd covered a good portion of the town. i decided to depart the next morning and head straight for chiang khong, my third chiang of thailand.

posted by paul at Sun 01 Jan 2006 at 00:00:01 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

31 December 2005

the whole sky sparkling

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the birth of a star... if i were reporting any faster i'd be carrying a freaking satellite uplink on my shoulder. globalrecon.org... comin' atcha... ~ REALTIME.

posted by paul at Sat 31 Dec 2005 at 12:32:16 EST (-05:00)

the maximum overdrive

tomorrow, the first day of a new year, for me another chiang, rai, on my route to the east, to laos. my morning mission: secure a bus ticket from mai to rai. i stopped in to ask the slick owner of the pun pun, john, if he thought there might be scheduling chaos due to the new year holiday. he was fairly certain the schedule would remain intact but thought i might have a problem securing a seat on what would most likely be a heavy travel day in the kingdom. when i arrived at the bus station after a twenty minute walk, i had no problem purchasing a 158 baht ticket for an air conditioned bus departing chiang mai for chiang rai from a woman whose smile beamed friendliness. i examined the ticket as i walked away from the counter loving thailand and discovered one minor problem... the bus wouldn't be leaving for 543 years. i'd been scammed!

i took a tuk tuk downtown, ate some breakfast, and spent the afternoon walking the old city waiting for the new year's celebration to begin near the tha phae gate. the evening show kicked off with less of a knee to the nose and more of a glancing swipe to the calf. five dancers might have benefited from a few extra days of rehearsal. the host's hat hung precariously on his head. i had high hopes for the band when they took the stage but quickly readjusted my expectations after the first few chords and i realized they were simply a backing band for what would become a string of thai soft rock singers [cringe], one after the other performing energy sucking stand in one place hand slapping the thigh songs. the band mix was off; the bass cranked to a dull thud which overpowered the drums and guitars. this simply was not the maximum overdrive [31k audio wav : source] i'd hoped for.

i left the tha phae gate to grab some dinner and when i returned discovered a new act on stage... a three piece slapstick act which included a man wearing a dress and clown makeup. curious. two more men, one carrying the other, wearing a dress and clown makeup, joined the first three. lots of slapping and feigned beatings while a sixth man stood to the side at a keyboard and hit boom-crack drum samples in time with the slaps and beats. still curious. i looked around and saw that most of the thais in the audience were laughing while most of the western tourists had 'what the hell is this?' looks on their faces.

the sky began sparkling with tiny hot air balloons and soon there were new constellations. the most beautiful. i left the square again to watch everyone launch their flaming balloons and when i returned, a new singer was on stage with her band... a young thai pop singer who tried her best to involve the crowd, running from one side of the stage to the other. i got the impression that she was a fairly well known singer in thailand as i saw many locals singing along. a traditional thai band owned the stage until 2345 when the mayor (just a guess) made a speech and several city officials (another guess) came up for the final countdown.

midnight hit and the square erupted in a giant fireworks display. similar to the diwali festival in india, it seemed like some of the fireworks were exploding just a little too close to the onlookers. i hung around for another half hour while a series of men and women took to the stage sporting various zebra print oddities in a mock fashion show before taking off for the pun pun.

posted by paul at Sat 31 Dec 2005 at 00:00:03 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

28 December 2005

will frenzy no more

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the guesthouse where i've been staying in chiang mai had a pet squirrel in a wire cage. i watched it for about a half hour on tuesday as it performed endless loops up one side, flipping to the other, and down to a branch resting in the cage in a frenzied craze. yesterday the squirrel escaped. i saw several of the guesthouse staff looking at the cage with blank expressions. the cage door was open. one of the staff pointed up to the underside of the guesthouse roof and there i saw the squirrel huddled up in a little ball of furr with a big grin on its face. the squirrel will frenzy no more.

in addition to 'hello', 'goodbye', and 'thank you', it really helps to know the numbers 1 through 10 in the native language. numbers come up all the time... prices, distances, time, addresses. i haven't gotten all of the thai numbers yet, but i'm working on it. i already had a headstart on the vietnamese numbers... a vietnamese friend taught them to me in grade school and i took care to file them away in my mind a place where they'd be easily found.

i've been watching a lot of bands here in chiang mai over the past three nights. all of the bands play covers and usually don't have the lyrics down quite right... similar to me screaming in german at the rammstein concert in berlin. i know generally what the german words sound like but i have no idea what i'm saying. i will learn german one day.

denver is very popular here it seems. john denver. i've heard 'country road' four times in chiang mai... the most recent was last night when a band played it. damn that chorus is catchy.

knocked down but i have enough hate to breathe
down your throat and steal your energy
you took everything but my will to be
now the loss of your god won't make me bleed

[i can't remember : alice in chains]

posted by paul at Wed 28 Dec 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

26 December 2005

bananas and sugar cane: suck

had a killer time on a three day two night trek with eleven and then ten other trekkers (conor [ire], femka [ned], marcel [ned], linh [aus], miranda [aus], simon [swe], annie [swe], bill [usa], nok [tha], junko [jap], and akio [jap]) and our two thai guides, ray and kuad. christmas came and went as we hiked through the thai forests, saw beautiful waterfalls, visited two hill tribe villages, rode elephants, and navigated bamboo rafts down a small river. superkick. it was great to get out of the city.

i don't think i'd ever been as close to an elephant before we visited the huay poeng elephant camp. the animals were gigantic... far bigger than the elephants in my mind. giant heads, amazing grasping trunks, gracefully plodding tree trunk legs. all of the elephants seemed to be very healthy and were treated well... although i could have done without the trainers clonking them on the heads with big wooden sticks in order to spur them on. the march took us for an hour long loop on an uphill climb which looked quite daunting; the animals navigated the trail with purposeful powerful lumbering steps. bananas and sugar cane: suck. truly beautiful.

i unfortunately don't have any pictures of the rafting adventure due to the wet conditions... here's a pic i found on the web. the rafts were barely rafts; they were comprised of eight or nine long pieces of bamboo tied together in the middle and at each end. a shorter piece of bamboo laid across the middle created an elevated seat of sorts. a thai guide stood in the front with a long pole to push against the river bottom and obstacles. conor, nok, and i took turns on the back of the raft with the second pole. i had the prestigious honor of being the only one of our group to completely wipe out into the river when our raft got very close to the shore and an overhanging tree slammed me right off the back. i saw it coming... my mind began racing... lay down to try to get under it? try to push us away with the pole? jump over it? i'm not exactly sure what i did... whatever it was was the wrong option.

the dynamics of our group didn't make for a very tight bond unfortunately... nothing near the friendships that i saw while hanging with the other trekking group at the muay thai fight on friday. of the twelve trekkers, there were five couples... one swedish, one australian, one dutch, one japanese, and one american and thai. couples generally spoke their native language with each other and tended to stick together. i bet i'm one of the few people in the group who actually knew everyone's names and that's only because i introduced myself to each person. maybe we'd have bonded more if we'd been together a bit longer; on the second night many of our group had a great time playing cards and charades. [digression: i had the most difficult time portraying the word 'africa' during the game of charades. i successfully got the group to guess 'north america', 'south america', 'europe', and 'australia'... then i acted out 'south of europe'... it took about another five minutes for someone to actually get africa. oh my god. end digression.]

where am i going next? good question. i'm not really sure. i'd hoped to be somewhere ice cold for new year's eve, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. chiang mai is supercool but not quite ice cold. i think i'm going to be heading into laos at some point next week and then into vietnam.

i've made another large itinerary decision... well, i think i've made it... about 90% there. i'm not going to visit australia and instead spend that time in new zealand. i picked up a second hand lonely planet new zealand guide in chiang mai and the country looks absolutely incredible. my plan is to buy a cheap car there and then sell it when i leave... six or seven weeks in the country would allow me to do that. like china, australia is gigantic and i really feel like i'd be cheating the country if i only dropped in for a couple weeks. like i said, i haven't committed to the decision... there's always the possibility that i'll just hit sydney or possibly melbourne. comments are appreciated.

i _definitely_ need to do something about my camera. the spots on the inside of the lens are really driving me crazy and are affecting my pictures. i'm sure most people would be hard pressed to pick out the two blurs in the photos... they're really only evident during zoomed in shots. but i know. _I KNOW_. in fact, that's _ALL_ i know when i'm taking pictures. i really don't want to go the remaining three months with this issue... i need to upgrade during the trip. one problem: i didn't factor in the cost of a camera upgrade during the trip. if you'd like to contribute to the global recon camera fund, you can send money to paypalATglobalreconDOTorg via paypal. in addition to getting an enormous heap of thanks from yours truly, each contributor will get a superfancy postcard.

sunday marked two months since the haircut and shave and my beard is yet again attracting negative attention. i can feel it. but i can't break down this time... i'm going to grow this biker beard until april and then ride like a heathen across the united states of america with the 'all your daughter are belong to us' motorcycle club.

if you're wondering what that red thing is tied around my neck in the trekking galleries, it's the indian gumcha i bought in varanasi. i've named it 'death from above'. death from above and i don't care what you think.

'i'm not afraid.' 'you will be. you _will_ be.' [source]

posted by paul at Mon 26 Dec 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

23 December 2005

the fight to the thai

my guesthouse lies on the outskirts of chiang mai... twenty minute walk or five minute tuk tuk ride to the old city center square surrounded by a moat. i ate some breakfast and then wandered throughout the moon muang area in search of a good trekking company to take me away from the city into the jungle. by 1400 i'd grown tired of the search. it's so difficult to determine which company is reputable and where the best value lies... i eventually decided to just book through my guesthouse. i gave the guesthouse a call and booked the trek leaving tomorrow at 0900.

in the evening i met up with australians rob and stella who had just returned from the same trek which i'd be taking tomorrow morning. positive review. kick. i shared a tuk tuk with them to a muay thai fight in chiang mai where we met their seven fellow trekkers and guide, rambo (no kidding). unfortunately, rambo would not be leading my trek. damn.

the ten matches were far more brutal than those i'd seen in bangkok. whereas the fighters in bangkok generally just danced around for the first two rounds, the fighters here went right at each other from the opening bell. two fights were stopped due to TKO... one fighter got nailed in the face with an elbow and the other suffered an apparently broken arm. evil. the ninth match of the night pitted a man from england against a thai. the english man dominated the entire fight and was the clear victor yet the judges awarded the fight to the thai amidst much booing from the mostly foreign audience.

i got a better look at the band and instruments this time. what i thought was a tamborine is more like a pair of cymbals which are clanged together. the pipe, rambo told me, is called an 'opie'. for the first eight matches, the piper played the same weedling unmelodic frenzy that i'd heard in bangkok. for the ninth fight (the one in which the english man was fighting), he began playing an almost poppish melodic pipe riff. i wasn't the only one to notice the complete change-up in style... i'd been talking to two americans sitting behind me for several of the matches and when the pop pipe riff began, i looked back at them and they had strange looks on their faces... 'the pipe?' 'yes!' we couldn't control our laughter for three minutes straight. and yes, you had to be there.

posted by paul at Fri 23 Dec 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

22 December 2005

there have been incidents

i'm currently chilling in a net cafe in chiang mai in northern thailand after a transport day that began in bangkok at 0515 this morning. 0600 shuttle to the airport, 0945 flight delayed until 1030 from bkk to cnx, a relatively short taxi ride with becka [eng] from the airport to guesthouse number one, and then a twenty minute walk to guesthouse number two. i crashed for three hours and i'm now about to wander around in search of food. from what i've seen of the city so far, chiang mai operates at a much slower pace than bangkok. same friendly smiles.

i'm contemplating going out on a three day trek which will include an elephant ride, a bamboo raft ride down a river, and visits to several of northern thailand's hill tribes. there are a gazillion licensed trek operators on this street... makes the choice a little more difficult. the manager of my guesthouse told me that the treks that he operates head south from chiang mai because there have been incidents of trekking groups running into problems to the north near the burmese border (border patrol officers planting drugs, robberies, muggings, etc.). at least this narrows down my search a little: head north.

posted by paul at Thu 22 Dec 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

21 December 2005

in search of the almighty yellow citrus

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i can feel the devil walking next to me. i couldn't get the song out of my head for three straight days.

ten days have dripped away since i arrived in bangkok in the early morning hours last sunday with sayo [usa], raj [usa], geraldo [arg], and cheryl [aus]. in the traveler world of the khao san road, motivation to experience thai culture has continuously been one more movie away. i've allowed hours to drone by while watching movies on restaurant terraces, relaxing, eating, and allowing myself to forget that i'm on the far side of the planet. while the lazy days have done much to recharge my spirit, the hours haven't all been friendly, especially the ones right before i fall asleep.

about myself i know this: it's important for me to keep my mind active and occupied. since arriving in bangkok, i've found myself falling back into a nocturnal schedule and the late hours of nothingness have allowed a feeling of homesickness to creep into me. my feelings vary from day to day, hour to hour. i am really missing my girlfriend and family and to a certain extent the regularity of 'normal life'. i still have energy to travel and i'm very excited to see the countries remaining on the itinerary. i've regained my health after the incident in india. but there's a growing missing in my life and i'm increasingly anxious to return to the states... almost as if i want to return to the very thing which i wanted to leave... the every day like the one before. and i'm sick of wearing this damned money belt and blue jeans. blue. blech.

sayo had been to thailand before and i questioned her anxiously about the conditions in bangkok while we were waiting for our flight to depart from delhi last saturday. my big concern was that thailand would resemble india in terms of pollution and harrassment; i truly didn't think i could survive another beatdown. after we'd landed and had boarded a bus to khao san road, i discovered that the city that passed by on the other side of the window looked nothing like any indian city i'd visited. the city was clean and traffic flowed quietly down the streets, a modern urban metropolis indistinguishable from any large american or european city from a distance, given away by the tuk tuks, temple architecture, and ubiquitous images of the king. i immediately felt very comfortable in bangkok. relieved may be a better word.

as i mentioned, i've been watching a lot of movies lately. there are several restaurants near my guesthouse which play dvd's throughout the day on televisions positioned around the tables. the movies are shown in english and with english subtitles turned on and i've yet to see a movie where the subtitles have matched up accurately with the audio dialogue. most sentences are fairly close approximations... some not at all. i was watching 'star wars iii: revenge of the sith' and for the entire first half of the movie, the word 'jedi' was subtitled as 'chedar'. fits of laughter erupted frequently from the audience as the jedi counsel was consistently subtitled as 'the chedar counsel'. one subtitle: 'the chedar are use their power for good.' i've been able to see a lot of fairly recent movies that i missed while traveling... and some movies which are either currently playing in the theaters or haven't even been released yet. last night i watched 'the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe'... not scheduled for release here in thailand until 29 december. 'king kong' and the latest harry potter film are also playing.

a food stand near my guesthouse grills half chickens all day long. for about four straight days after arriving, i couldn't walk by that stand without stopping to buy a hot juicy bbq chicken for 30 baht (75 us cents). [given the recent avian flu scare (and the fact that the only deaths have occurred in southeast asia), there is a distinct possibility that my parents may have a heart attack after reading this... although i think i mentioned this already in a reconboard entry. i'm alive and well mom and dad!]. i've been splitting up my diet between thai food and standard western food like club sandwiches and bacon and eggs. i've been having a gigantic enormous unstoppable lemon craving lately... went to a tesco supermarket with sayo last week in search of the almighty yellow citrus with disappointing results. i had to satisfy my sour craving by buying salad preparations and enjoying a tasty balsamic vinagraitte green lettuce salad. after my supply of lettuce had wilted in my room, i continued to satisfy the urge at restaurants. imagine that... eating lettuce at a restaurant... i'd never have done that in india. i'm pleased to announce that i've had no ill affects from any food prepared here in bangkok... to the contrary, my digestive system seems to have stabilized significantly (although i think i made that claim after traveling in india for a short while and look what happened).

i finally made it out yesterday to take on some thai culture at a temple called wat pho within walking distance of my guesthouse. today i went out again to visit wat phra kaew and the grand palace. one word: wow. two words: kung pow! many of the temple buildings are covered with intricate geometric patterns of mirrored glass (glass?) which brilliantly reflect the sunlight and cause each building to shimmer and sparkle. giant stone guardians. golden buddhas. i had an overwhelming feeling of peace and calmness while walking the grounds. and the amazing sculpted trees... stunningly beautiful. i couldn't walk away.

this entry wouldn't be complete without a bangkok weather report for all of those experiencing the north american winter in the northeast: short version: warm and sunny. long version: http://www.weather.com/outlook/travel/businesstraveler/local/THXX0002 . t-shirt and shorts weather if you will. christmas is approaching and it feels very unchristmas-like here. despite the fact that the majority of thais practice buddhism (95% says my guidebook), i've seen store employees wearing santa hats while christmas carols whisper over the store sound system. i've also seen giant 'merry christmas' signs hanging on buildings in the siam square shopping area as well as manger scenes near lumphini park. still, i feel far removed from the holidays and i'm sure christmas and new year day will pass very much like regular days.

i'll end with some randomness:

. the thai tuk tuks are much beefier than the indian rickshaws. these things look like they could do some hardcore offroading.

. the thai people smile and laugh often and are filled with friendliness. this makes me happy.

. if you ever had doubt that the 7 eleven store chain was in jeopardy, come to bangkok and your doubts will be erased.

. while sayo and i were eating at a restaurant a few days ago, a woman came up to us selling small cages filled with tiny birds. what the hell is a traveler going to do with a tiny cage filled with small birds... or a small cage filled with tiny birds for that matter? a few days later a man carrying two baskets, one filled with a honeycomb 'display', came up to us at the same restaurant and tried to sell us a bottle of honey. he looked at me and then did a stereotypical 'muscleman flexing in front of a mirror' pose and then squeezed one of my biceps and looked at me pathetically. apparently his honey possesses magical properties which will help me grown giant muscles. i felt like such a girly man that i immediately purchased his entire stock of honey and drank down every last bottle on the spot.

. there are pictures of the thai king, his majesty bhumibol adulyadej, _all over the place_ in bangkok... hanging on the sides of buildings, along the streets, everywhere. he's also pictured on all of the thai currency... one note (not shown in the photo) shows him with a camera. my guidebook says he is the longest-reigning king in thai history. seems like a cool guy... the thais sure love him.

. fake dreads and tattoos are very popular with westerners in this area. there are several tattoo parlors in the khao san area and a billion (1,000,000,000) small dread/hair extension stands where for the small fee of x baht westerners can receive dreads or hair extensions. umm... no comment.

. took in a muay thai fight last week... not quite as brutal as i thought it would be. there were ten matches each of five rounds. the first two rounds were generally 'feeling out' rounds where the fighters didn't do much at all... rounds three and four were generally filled with a lot of locking up and knee kicks... the fifth round was the most exciting with flurries of knees and elbows. each time a fighter would throw a knee, the crowd in the area would scream out 'knee!' (or more likely a thai word that sounded a lot like the english word 'knee'). the band was comprised of two drummers, a pipe player, and a tamborine player. [surely these instruments are not called a 'pipe' and 'tamborine'... i couldn't find the real names after a cursory search. i am but an ignorant farang. my apologies to the band members.]

. i saw my first siamese cat here a few days ago. many dogs here wear t-shirts. [?]

. still taking the malaria medication... but who needs medication when you've got the kung pow mosquito punch? that's right... I TOOK IT OUT! DESTROY WHAT DESTROYS YOU.

posted by paul at Wed 21 Dec 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

19 December 2005

your papers are... out of order.

passport00.jpg

i just picked up my passport from the vietnam embassy here in bangkok. visa secured. if you're interested in checking out my passport stamps, click on the thumbs below.

[ depending on your screen resolution setting, your browser may shrink these images to make them fit within the browser window. this will cause the overlaid text to distort slightly. you should be able to just click on the image to enlarge it to 800x600. ]



passport01.jpg passport02.jpg passport03.jpg

passport04.jpg passport05.jpg passport06.jpg

posted by paul at Mon 19 Dec 2005 at 08:47:30 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)