I Get Around: 7" RemixYesterday (was it just yesterday?) we rode a "VIP" bus from Krabi to Bangkok. It's a 13 hour trip. Or at least it's supposed to be. There are two basic types of busses you can take in Thailand, government and private. The government busses are all big affairs: the aircons are like your Greyhounds and the non air-cons are like a school, or city bus. Private busses come in all shapes and sizes.
We'd read in the guidebook to be wary of these private busses, which are usually called "VIP" busses and filled with Farang (no Thais) on package tours. But we bought tickets on one anyway because it was so cheap, would drop us off directl in Baglamphu, and because we had already ridden on a ferry boat run by the same operator, P.P. Family.
When we got to the bus depot, there were two busses, and we were slated for the second. I asked repeatedly if the busses were the same, and was assured that they were. I noted that the first looked better. (I even said it in Thai to make sure I was understood). They told me again and again that it was. "Same same! No different! Same!"
Well, it wasn't.
First of all, it dropped us off in Surat Thani, and we had to climb onto another bus headed for Bangkok while the folks aboard bus number 1 just kept their seats. That was okay. Not too cool. But okay. The action movies they showed until midnight were a further annoyance. But also, whatever. Okay. Hey, I mean, some people actually enjoy Arnold Schwartzenigger movies. But then. Then. Then the damn thing kept breaking down (after the driver hit something when he pulled into a restaraunt).
They stopped a couple of times and banged on the engine below. They got it restarted. We crept along. I finally fell asleep at about 2 in the morning.
I woke up a little after five to find the bus stopped on the side of the road. (We were scheduled to arrive in Bangkok at 5:30AM, we'd left Krabi at 4:30 in the afternoon.) I asked Harper, who had not slept at all, where we were.
This was the same town we had been in when I fell asleep. I got off the bus to try to... to... well... I dunno what I thought I'd accomplish. But something, dammit! It would have to be better than sitting on the bus, which was starting to get pretty stuffy after a few hours of no a/c and fifty sleeping, snoring, Farang.
So, failing to see how I could be of assistance repairing a deisel engine, I asked the driver what time we'd leave for Bangkok. He told me six AM. We'd already been in the same spot for several hours.
About this time, a local bus pulls up, and I asked him where he was going. ("Bai nei?" "Bai Petchaburi.") But he also told me a Bangkok bus would be coming to the same stop soon.
By now, several other Farang had started to trickle off of the bus. Somehow or another, I had managed to keep my sense of humor about the whole situation, I kept remembering a line from an email that our friend Josh sent us: attitude is the only difference between an adventure and an ordeal. And in any case, I'd rather light a candle than curse the darkness, H.I.
But I'd describe the overall air as a cross between "surly" and "murderous." The Farang had seen me talking to the driver. I'm quizzed. They aren't happy with me either. Hey, I just work here, buddy.
Around 6:30, a bus pulls up to the stop and I notice Bangkok on the side.
"Bai Bangkok, mai?"
We jumped on with about 10 other farang. Not all of them were aware of the score. Some thought, apparantly, that this was a replacement bus and proceeded to yell at the poor bus attendent (who litereally did not speak one word of English) when he tried to collect the fares. Actually, there was only one woman who did that, but I felt like it made a bad impresion on all of us.
But 100 Baht and four hours later we rolled into Bangkok. We then took a city bus to Baglampu, and here we are now. We'd been in Baglampu for about an hour, wandering around looking for a place to stay, when we bumped into two other people from the broken-down bus who had just arrived. Perhaps we should have waited it out afterall. But I'm glad we did not.
We leave for Vietnam on the 4th. Wish us luck.
- l i n k -
Happy Thanksgiving!Have some bird and dressing for me. All's I got is red curry pizza.
- l i n k -
I Get AroundI've been asked how we physically get from place to place. There is no one answer, it changes every time. But I'll describe our journey since Ranong.
We left the hotel in the morning and walked 2K to the bus station. We took the air-con government bus to the crossroads where Khao Sok starts wnd were dropped off. A chorus line of Touts waits for you there, all of them yelling, shoving and elbowing their way to your wallet. They want to take you to bungalows (the bungalows pay them to drop people off there.) Harper and I chose to walk, instead. So we hiked about 2K to the side track where a number of bungalows were set up. This doesn't sound like very far, but in 95 degree weather at 90 percent plus humidity with a 40 pound pack on your back and a daypack strapped on your front; it's a hike. It's slightly cheaper to stay outside the park, so that's what we did. We walked up and down the track (maybe 1K itself) and looked at several bungalows until we found one we liked.
When we left, the bungalow owner drove us to the crossroads in his pickup truck, where we waited for a local (non air-con) bus. When it came, we took it through the hills to the crossroads at Takua Pa. The driver specialized in terror, whipping it through the hills at top speed. In Takua Pa we almost took a local bus all the way to Krabi (there was not a direct air-con bus for another six hours), but decided at the last minute to take our chances switching at a town down the line. So, we hopped off of the local, and onto a Phuket-bound bus. I asked the driver if he could drop us at Khok Kloi, and if we could change busses there. After having previously been told this was not possible by the local bus driver and assorted workers at the Takua Pa terminal, the air-con driver told me that we could indeed do just that.
(I should point out that Khok Kloi was not on the map in our guidebook, and had it not been for the excellent Thailand map Steve Strang gave us just before we left, it would have been six hours in a hotbox).
The bus dropped us off at Khok Kloi, we were told that the bus to Krabi would come by at 2:15 PM. It was 11 AM. The street stank of urine. We quizzed a few other people also waiting (all Thais, no Farang here at all) to see if they knew anything about a Krabi bus, and 2:15 seemed to be the consensus. Every local bus that passed tried to get us to ride on it, no matter where they were going.
Since we had some time, I walked down the street a bit, looking for a toilet, and bumped into a bus station. They told me that, no, there was a 12 bus for Krabi, air-con at that. I needed to run to make it. So I did, jogging back to the bus stop where Harper waited with our bags. We grabbed our bags and ran down to the station. This was harder than it normally would have because we had stashed out packs in duffels (which we do on busses, longtails, etc.) and had not taken them out. But it was allgood, as the duffels also protected our precious packs from some street goo, that got all over Harper's outer bag.
The bus, which like all busses, blared Thai music the whole way (and I've really come to like Thai music, by the way. It's a mix of traditional Thai stuff and rock and roll.) eventually droped us off at the station outside of Krabi. Tuk Tuk drivers tried to get us to ride with them to our hotel, but we fended them off with a steady chorus of "mai ao khrap/kah"s (a must learn phrase for Thailand: "no thanks") and opted for the songthaeu, which was 40 Bhat cheaper (a total of 40B, rather than 80B). The songtheau is essentially a pickup truck with two benches in the back and a metal frame overhead. We took the songthaeu into Krabi, and then hiked all around town until we found a place to stay that was both clean and affordable.
When we decided to go to the beach at Hat Napharaat Thara a few days later, we once again rode a songthaeu there. This one was full, and we had to stack our bags in the roof, and ride standing on the metal frame on the back of the truck. Once at H.N.T., we put our bags on a longtail and took it across the river to the beach on the other side (10B). Then we hiked along the beach, looking at various bungalows. As you can see, we usually aren't packing more than a kilometer or two at a time. I went back and forth one time from HNT to use the Internet across the river.
When I was returning (also with six liters of water, which are cheaper to buy at markets than bungalows, 25B vs. 60-90B), the boatman wanted to charge me 20B, rather than the posted fare of 10. This was bad enough, but then he made fun of my Thai to this cronies. I couldn't understand it all, but I got the gist when he was repeating my phrases and they were laughing. I told him "mai ao, khrap, I'll swim." He laughed. "Too deep." Pissed off and determined, I swam the river instead, six liters of water in one hand, hat, shirt and CD-RW in another held aloft over my head. Since the river is only about 30 meters wide, and almost walkably shallow, this was no big deal for anyone but the boatman.
We reversed the longtail/songthaeu process back to Krabi, and a few days later, took a ferry to Ko Jum. The ferry boat-big, modern and full of Farang, was bound for Ko Lanta. But you take it to get to Ko Jum also. It stops halfway to Lanta, where it is met by four longtails from the bungalows on Ko Jum. The longtails tie off on the ferry, and you jump on, pack on your back. This is sorta nervy. Especially since only one longtail can tie up on each side of the boat. If yours is the outside longtail, you have to climb off the ferry, onto a longtail, across that longtail, and onto another. All the time rocking in the sea.
So, the long and short of it is transport is always different, always interesting, and usually really fun. Bits of it can be exasperating at times, but if you keep a good attitude it's one of the best parts of the travel experience.
- l i n k -
Scorps!The ferry boat we took from Krabi to Ko Chang was a big modern boat, equally at home in the San Francisco Bay as in Thailand. (Although in San Francisco there would have been more Asians and fewer white people aboard.) Onboard were four TV sets, all of which were playing a DVD of a live concert by German uberrockers, The Scorpians.
Now, if you had asked me, I would have told you that the Scorps had disbanded sometime during the early years of grunge, mourning the long gone days of hair metal and power ballads. I assumed the dwindled into obscurity, rocking like a light breeze. Or a slightly overcast day with an outside chance of scattered showers.
I would have been wrong.
The Scorps are huge in Thailand. Massive. You hear them all over the place. On the bus. In the market. In bars and cafes. Thor (a guide in Khao Sok National Park) was way into them, as were his friends. At night they'd sit around listening to the same live album (which looked relatively recently recorded) that was playing on the boat. I've seen several young Thai men sporting Scorps T-shirts; all black, natch. Go figure.
Moreover, the Scorps are not just the German language version of Quiet Riot I remember from my youth. No, these are kinder, gentler Scorpians, more likely to whisper sweet nothings in your ear (and then run off to go do a line in the bathroom) than to sting. Gone is the hurricane rocking, replaced by the alt-PowerBallad.
Today they're more like the German language version of Spinal Tap. Old farts in new hair. Two drummers. Lead guitarist who switches instruments after every song, breaking out both the Flying V, and the double neck 6/12 string combo. Acoustic Flying V and double neck 6/12 string combo. Soul patches all around, boys. Don't skimp on the hair gel.
- l i n k -
Ko Jum, ThailandKo Jum was lovely. Spiritually uplifting. It's one of those places that makes you think of all the best places you've been to, and compare this to those.
Harper and I tried to come up with our five favorite beaches or stretches of shoreline. Mine were (unordered):
Abbot's Lagoon, Pt. Reyes California
Little Compton Rhode Island
Ko Jum Thailand
Limekiln State Park, Big Sur California
Abbott's Lagoon, Pt. Reyes, California
Ft. Walton Beach, Florida
Ko Jum, Thailand
Ragged Point, Big Sur California
Mauna Lei (sp?), Big Island, Hawaii
Ko Chang, Thailand.
(The astute reader will note that Harper refused to limit herself to five beaches.)
I want to say more about Ko Jum. I want to describe it, but how? And what would I say? "Today, I woke up and went swimming. Ate breakfast and then reclined on one of the world's most pristine beaches, my only activity staring at islands across the way. Ate amazing, and dirt cheap, Thai cuisine for lunch and then went back to melt in the sun until it sank from the sky and I felt the atoms in my body vibrating in perfect harmony with those of the whole universe and I sigh… And breathe… And inhale the beauty and love of God's whole creation." (apologies to Bill Hicks)
That gets boring after a while, no? I could tell you that my last night there I saw three shooting stars. Or that while some bungalows are festooned with Tibetan prayer flags, ours is usually festooned with fetid flags of dirty laundry. A week's worth of stink, flapping in the breeze.
- l i n k -
Loy Krathong, Krabi, ThailandThe Loy Krathong festival in Krabi was utterly amazing. It took over the entire town, and it was standing room only along the riverside. It's quite a beautiful thing.
The Krathongs are little boats made from banana leaves, wood, flowers, incense and candles. The Thais float them out into rivers and streams at the end of the rainy season to cast off their sins by making offerings to the river goddess. The glowing flotillas are wondrous to see. Furthermore, the whole town takes on the atmosphere of a state fair.
After Loy Krathong, we stopped in at "O' Malley's Irish Pub," partially because I used to work at an O'Malley's Tavern when I was in college and had on the shirt. I hoped it would get me a free drink, and it did.
But moreover, I met a couple of really cool people there. We wound up hanging out for a long time with a guy named Pepop, who had lived for several years in The States and in Switzerland. His English was exceptional, and probably more grammatically correct than my own. Like me, he was 30. He turned out to be a really cool guy, the kind of person I would be friends with back in San Francisco. We sat around drinking and talking for several hours. At the end of the night, I traded shirts with his roommate (whose name I did not write down and have since forgotten).
These were two of the nicest people I've met in Thailand. And Loy Krathong was mind-blowing. (And, of course, we love the hotel we stay at here, the K. R. Mansion) I take back all I said about the Krabi area. (But not Ao Nang. Too Touristy. Too many touts. Too, too much.)
- l i n k -
1,200 Steps to a New YouAll the signs in Ao Nang are in English.
I do not consider this to be a good thing. Ao Nang is a beach in the Krabi area, we've been staying in Krabi Town and surrounding areas for over a week now. It's beautiful here. Emerald and saphire seas, island Karsts, and temple caves.
But it's also ugly. The people are considerably less friendly than in other areas of Thailand I've been to, and both Harper and I have sensed a resentment from our hosts. I was even spat at by a woman passing by on a motorcycle, and others have been openly hostile. I've been laughed at and made to feel generally unwelcome.
Why do they hate us?
I can't explain it. Not at all. But perhaps it has something to do with the fact that this area is dominated by tourists, rather than travelers. People who come in for a week or two, never bother to learn anything about the customs, and have al their travel arrangements sorted for them, rather than DIY. When you go to Ao Nang, where fat farang lie prostrate in the sand with their titties hanging out for all the world to see (a cultural no-no all over Thailand, just as in most of America. Imagine, if you will, hordes of naked Asians taking over the beaches of Alabama), while lithe Thai people slave over them, rubbing them down and serving them pineapple; where you see scores of Farang men in their 50s accompanied by Thai men and women (little more than boys and girls) in their early twenties; then you begin to get a sense of why. Or you go to the Tiger Cave Temple, a monastary where 1,200 steps lead 600 meters up to the Buddha's footprint where you see not only shorts (a taboo for both men and women), but even bikini-clad women, clamoring through the temples. Or you watch a Scottsman bitch out the hotel staff after *he* leaves his bags on a songthaeu. Or the 50-something American nerd, who looks at three different hotel rooms, and makes a sport of loudly deriding them all in the lobby. Or the Englishman staying at the resort across the street who strides into the bar and thinks nothing of asking the bartender to sell him marijuana. (and the real rub is that it's mostly Euorpeans spreading the image of the ugly American) And all that lazy money everywhere...
Is it any wonder that we're little more than a dollar bill in their eyes here? That everywhere you go you're harrassed by tour agents and touts, "where you go?" Is it any wonder that you can't be left alone in Krabi-- a way point for the tourist meccas of Ko Phi Phi and Phuket--without being pitched and sold and suckered every five minutes? I can't even consider Ko Phi Phi, where the worst of the bunch go to wallow with their own pathetic party-loving kind. Where 500 Bhat won't even buy you a room with a toilet.
Meanwhile, I was amazed to read a
The tourists here are as awful as they can be, and the hosts aren't much better. Which came first: chicken or egg? I cannot even imagine Phuket. Yes, you're pampered in these places. The rooms are nicer, and the service better. But I'd rather rough it a bit and actually interact with a few (gasp!) Thais. Otherwise, why not just go to Florida?
We escaped to a completely isolated beach, Hat Nopharaat Thara, where there were virtually no Farang. Nevermind that it's only a few kilometers from the horros of Ao Nang and Railay. Probably because it isn't on the package route. I prefer travelers. However. They have a tendency to be boorish. To tell you how much better it was seven years ago. Great. Except. I'm here *now.* So pipe down, Jorn. (And I hope I don't succomb to it, having enough boorish tendencies as is.)
But it is so beautiful here. At HNT, the tide rolls in and out by nearly a kilometer or so. The Karsts rising straight from the ocean floor become sometimes-slands, that you can walk out to at low tide. One of these is split down the middle, and only has a beach for a few hours out of the day. The rest of the time it's a channel, maybe 40 feet wide by 30 meters long. At low tide, you can walk out about 300 metes into the water (crystal clear and the temperature of blood) and still only be up to your mid thigh. And at Tiger Cave Temple, the 600 meters to the top was one of my best experiences yet in Thailand. Even if I did nearly sweat to death on the way up. The hike was a meditation in and of itself. And at the base; my monkey friends.
Meanwhile, I read in the local rag that a McDonald's is opening on Ao Nang. I'll see you on Ko Jum.
Pictures, pictures, pictures in glorious color and big enough to see without glasses.
- l i n k -
I'm going to Mars, yo!
- l i n k -
The Elephant and the CobraKHAO SOK NATIONAL PARK -- We woke up early, and walked down to the Sok river (a mere 35 meters from out bungalow), where our guide, Kiam, came drifiting around the bend in an inflatable canoe. We clamored down the steps, hopped aboard, and set off on a two hour, 10K river trip. To be honest, I was a little disappointed. I thought we'd be paddling our own boat. But Kiam tuend out to be a phenominal guide, and since he was paddling, I was able to take pictures.
THe landscape in Kaho Sok is much as I pictured an Asian Jungle in my mind (thanks largely to teenage years spent watching Apocalypse Now). Steamy. Dense. Karsts rising straight up with trees jutting out from every angle. In the mornings, the land is hidden beneath fog. Later in the day, this becomes steam, then rain, then steam again. Limestone cliffs rise hundreds of feet (500? 800? 1000? Impossible for me to tell) straight up from the riverbed and jungle floor. Nearly every inch of the cliffs is covered in lush growth. Trees grow from impossibly vertical walls, and vines hang from every branch. Thick, knotty, bare-chested Tarzan vines. Rainforest creep. Yours ears hum with the ever-present sound of insects, birds, and beasties unknown.
As we came around a bend in the river, we saw our frist monkeys of the morning, and handful of long-tailed macaques. Four babes and and adult. (The day before we saw 25 - 30 in the same spot). Just afterwards, Kiam pointed out a mangrove snake on an overhanging limb.
And that set the tone for the day: it was filled with wildlife. We saw dozens of Kingfishers (two species) and white herons. Scores of other birds as well: a black heron, a massive horned owl of some sort, a large brown hawk, a "duck bird" (says Kiam, it looked sorta like a coot), a hornbill, several other fishing birds, and chattering songbirds all around.
We also saw another mangrove snake ("not very poisonous," says Kiam), and a python, which dropped obligingly into the river from its perch on a branch so that Harper could see it, being camouflaged while in the tree. Large toads. A snail the size of your fist (or mine at least, you may have big gross hammy fists). Dragonflys. Spiders. More spiders. Still more spiders. And an all aound wonderous parade of creatures. Except humans, we saw no others on the river that morning.
But the most amazing sight was the gibbon. As we passed a bungalow complex, a little man with a white face went running through the clearing like Sha-freaking-zam. The gibbon! It ran on two legs, a man, with hands in front and shoulders hunched over in a chiropractic nightmare, resembling nothing so much as a running back clutching a ball.
It was vaguely unnerving to see something so like a man. In the long-tailed macaques, you can see our facial expressions, mannerisms, and gestures. But you can see this, to some extent, in dogs, dolphins and Democrats too. Yet it doesn't make them seem human; you're merely reminded that we share certain traits.
The gibbon was something different. This was a person, all the more alien because it was so human. It seemed something undiscovered. Wise, by virtue of face and movement. I desperately want to see another...
But the real action came the next day, when we saddled up an Asian elephant named Big Egg, and rode her through the jungle to a hidden waterfall and swimming hole. Things were going, well, swimmingly until we got to the hole.
I had expected the elephant to be a little louder. You know: trumpeting, crashing through the undergrowth, stopping along the way to rip out banana trees by the root and devour them whole. Elephant things. I thought Big Egg would scare off all the wildlife for miles. (Or kilometers, rather. They do thing sin kilometers here). But Big Egg was quiet as a cat. We slipped up streams and along jungle trails noiselessly, save for Harper and my laughter.
Which may have been the problem...
When we reached the swimming hole, we dismounted on a Farang-dismounting platform and waddled down the stepts to pet the elephant like good little tourists. And then suddenly from above, CRASH! Then on the ground next to us, SMACK!
It moved towards us. Harper jumped on the platform, and I lept up on a rock. And then, Big Egg turned, stamped her feet, and made a short little yell. The snake turned and headed into a pile of wood.
And with that, it was gone.
Just in time, too, as Harper's perch broke and she came crashing down tot he ground (scraped up, but allright.) We went swimming, largely out of a feeling of obligation, but even here in Krabi I have not been able to quit looking overhead for cobras. The mahout thought we were very lucky to see a cobra. And I guess we were. (Maybe I deserve it for threatening to eat one.)
But in any case, something I learned was that Western pop-culture has completly short-circuited my thinking. Instead of hitting flight or fight mode, as I should have when the cobra hit the earth, all I could think of was The Simpsons episode when Homer has the night terrors.
- l i n k -
MonkworksOn the way back to Ranong from Ko Phayam (a small island near Ko Chang), I sat at the head of a longtail, surrounded by eight Buddhist monks in orange robes and sandals, heads shaved. They'd been on the island blessing bungalows (including our own) and bars, bringing good fortune tot he people from the Buddha.
One of the monks saw me rubbing my knee in pain (the result of a teenage injury), and applied a tincture to it, one made at the monastary. He then gave me the bottle, his last. The monk went on to explain (by way of a bungalow owner) how I should cure it. It was a rather drastic method.
You get a kilo of ginger and pulverize it. Apply it to the injured area, an inch thick. Then you take one of those firestarting tablets (potassium, I think) and break it into five pieces. You put these pieces on top of the ginger, and light them on fire.
By way of both his facial expressions and my interpreter, I came to understand that this will burn like hell. You then wrap the ginger and leave the poultice on overnight.
4-7 treatments, he says, are enough for a permanent fix. This was the mothod he said he used to cure the pain in this arm from an improperly set bone. I'm not so sure about it. But I do know that my only Western option is surgery. I think I'll try the monk's method first.
coming soon: The elephant and the cobra, adventure in Khao Sok National Park
- l i n k -