Archive | Thailand RSS for this section

Back in Bangkok

I wasn’t going to do a post from Bangkok, but I’ve got…ohhhhh, 8 hours to kill, so I might as well. I don’t think I did a good enough post on Bangkok before anyways, and I want to remember this place. I said goodbye to Ron and left Hong Kong in the morning and headed on the subway to the ferry terminal. It’s always funny walking down the road with your big backpack because everyone looks at you and wonders what the hell your story is. It’s a funny feeling, too – having your house on your back. I had been craving coffee for a few days and seeing as I had foregone breakfast, I was able to justify splurging on some Starbucks. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to walk into a McDonalds or a Starbucks in these foreign places. Let’s put aside the attitude that American cultural imperialism is eroding these countries little by little. At least you can walk into a comfortable place just like back home and get a good cup of coffee. It’s like a mini vacation. It reminds me of so many lazy Sunday evenings that I would head over to Starbucks and read or study and that feels really good. I imagine it’s kind of like how the British had all these islands and random countries in their “empire” so they could just pop over when they felt like it. The Starbucks empire is far more impressive than that ever was.

So I sipped my coffee and wandered to the ferry terminal. I bought my ticket and met two Kiwi (New Zealand) girls and chatted with them for a while. I made the mistake of asking if they were Australian and got a dirty look – but then apologized. They really don’t like that. I fell asleep on the ferry and woke up in Macau and we all piled off the boat. Much to my surprise, though, I didn’t even have to go through customs in Macau – there was a hallway that led straight to the airport shuttle. Once there, they checked me into my flight, scanned my bags and hauled me off to an airport backdoor and classified me as a transfer passenger. It blew me away. You know, Macau really has a good thing going for them with the flights they offer. With airasia.com you can fly to Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur for sometimes 10 dollars. It’s incredible and much cheaper than flying from Hong Kong, so they really accommodate it and make it easy for everyone. I didn’t really have much time to get any impressions of Macau, but I would like to go back and check it out one day.

So after hanging out in the airport for a while, I was off to Bangkok. I met two Dutch girls in the plane and we got into a pretty heated discussion about the European Union constitution which naturally led to a discussion on the value of life (…?). They were both really smart so I learned a bit. We really hit it off and so after landing, I made their lives a little easier by showing them where to get the bus for cheap into town. We asked a few people and finally got which number we were supposed to take and once there, a lady got up and gave us her seat and explained to me that we would need to transfer at a certain place and get another bus. She was really friendly. I chatted with a Thai girl next to me and she told me when to get off, so that was great. Everyone was really friendly and a surprising number of people spoke English. Bangkok passed by outside the bus and I was able to catch a nap. Once we arrived, I went to my favorite hostel which required us going through some random alley ways (I surprised I remembered). So we got checked in (I have a really nice and huge room for 3 bucks) and then I showed Anka and Sandra (the Dutch girls) around the Kao San area. I was really surprised. It’s not peak season anymore so this whole area is way quieter and chilled out. Kao San wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered it and the girls had fun checking out all the random stuff there is on display to buy. I bought some fruit (which is kept on ice) from a fruit vendor on the street and that was something I really missed. I haven’t eaten very well since southeast Asia. I used to eat so much fruit when I was traveling here. In China it was all fried stuff. So it was time to get my ticket to Cairo. My friend Colleen had found a guy who had a ticket “on reserve” for me so I tried to find his office, but just before I asked another guy how much the ticket should be. He quoted 345 dollars. I went to my guy. He quoted $385 – quite a difference, no? So I went back and asked him to match it, plus I would give him 5 bucks for helping me out when I was in Hong Kong. He told me something about how he had to call in the morning and find out about taxes and, “come back tomorrow – I don’t know if I can do that price,” very rudely. Hah. I went next door and bought the ticket. I had to get some money out so they guy said he would be there until midnight. Me and the Dutch girls went out and got dinner (they treated me!) and we chatted for quite a while before I excused myself so I could go pay for the ticket. When I got there, he wasn’t there and the girl told me he had gone and would be back the next day. I asked if she could call him and she was kind of rude to me, asking why I didn’t come earlier. I snapped (very politely) back at her that I was told that I could come back any time before midnight. She reluctantly called her boss and he walked in two minutes later. I paid him and joked around with him for a bit, then joked around with the girl and they liked me after that. Tough crowd though, damn. That’s how a lot of southeast Asia is. If you just go in and do your transaction, you are just another stupid foreigner to get money from. But if you joke around with the people and get them to laugh, they kind of let you in and you learn a bit more about the culture because they let you see more. So me and the Dutch girls then went back to take a look at Kao San. The local beer I had was much stronger than I realized, and I found myself quite tipsy. Some old lady was selling all sorts of fried insects in the street and we met a bunch of Germans and Israelis there pondering which to eat. I had a whole bag of a wide assortment of insects and we all chatted in the street for maybe 30 minutes before heading to a bar and chatting some more. We all talked in this group for another hour or so and I lost track of time. It was great though because I had an excellent time and met lots of people. Me, Anka and Sandra left and headed back home (well, it is my home) after a while where I got ready for bed and passed out.

This morning was all about recovering though. I had a hangover (I NEVER get hangovers! This local Thai beer is some harsh stuff) and it took most of the day to get over it. I’m okay now though, and have spent the day wandering around Bangkok and running some errands. I picked up my ticket and nearly gave the guy a heart attack when I said “but, the destination says Tel Aviv, not Cairo! Why??” and he laughed pretty hard. I then had lunch with a Thai girl. Actually, she ran the bookshop on the corner and I asked her where she bought the food she was eating so I went and bought the same and came back and ate with her. She was quite an interesting girl. I sold my China and India guidebooks and made 15 bucks. I also got one of the worst haircuts of my entire trip. It’s never good when the woman messes up your hair and is rude about it. Oh well.

And I’ve been examining Bangkok while I’ve been here. It really is an interesting place. The people really are friendly and there is always a hilariously random assortment of things going on in the street at any given time. It really is just a big city, but it’s definitely got its own flavor, too. You really get the feeling that this place has a unique and rich culture, but there is of course that feeling of separation too. There are quite a bit of expats here, as well. One thing you notice as soon as you arrive, though, is that the girls here are stunning. They really are. It is amazing. But never once have I seen this sex trafficking while here. I haven’t seen little kids for sale or really even porn for sale anywhere. Of course you see prostitutes and ladyboys, but that’s in all countries. This is a place that you could just sit back and observe it zip by and never get bored of it.

So I leave tonight at midnight for Cairo. I’ve written down a hostel name and the exchange rate, so I’ll brave the chaos when I arrive. I’m glad I got this flight though. Soooo cheap!

Nepal, here I come!

While sitting in the hostel restaurant and joking around with the staff, I overheard a guy tell the waiter that he was from Columbia.

“Ahhh,” I thought to myself. “I haven’t spoken Spanish in a month!”

I strike up a conversation and we chat away for a while. The Columbian accent is pretty funny for those who haven’t heard it. It rises and falls in a melody and accent – just like a song. We talked about Thailand, Southeast Asia, Columbia, Australia (where he’d been living) and stuff like that. I was wondering why the hell he wasn’t asking me where I learned Spanish. Usually people look at me in amazement and are really curious about it.

“Una pregunta: de donde en Espana eres?” he looked at me inquisitively.

I checked to see if he was joking. I did a quick scan to see if he was the flattering type. He didn’t appear to be. He had just asked me where in Spain I was from.

“Ehhh, California…” I replied with a half smirk.

He was in dismay. It made sense though. The accent wasn’t quite South American and I sure as hell didn’t look Spanish (but there are always exceptions – like half the rich people in Bolivia who look whiter than me) and although I was using a lot of Spain Spanish words, I wasn’t using much slang.

A German girl came and sat with us and he looked at her. “This guy speaks Spanish like a Spaniard!”

Now, I probably don’t need to emphasize how happy that made me. I’ve tried for two years now to ditch the retarded sounding gringo accent and it seems that I’ve finally been able to pull it off. And with time, I’ll only get better. It’s funny how you can play on people’s ignorance of the other accents and the fact that lots of South Americans and Spanish people look white to your advantage. A Spanish guy would never think I was from Spain. A South American would never think I was from his respective country. But they can’t pin the accent – and that’s fine by me.

We spent the rest of the evening joking around and playing pool. It was a fun night.

Now I’m in a city called Ayuthaya. I took the bus in the evening after picking up my ticket for Nepal and eventually arrived around 9:00PM. Once there, I met a Canadian chick and we chatted for a while and made arrangements to visit the temples the next day (this place has lots of really old Angkor style temples throughout the city) and I was telling her about Laos (where she was thinking of going). I told her about the bus ride from Luang Nam Tha to Thailand and how horribly fun it was and how a guys chair actually broke after we were thrown in the air with a huge bump. Just then, the guy whose chair broke walked up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Do I know you? I think I’ve met you somewhere.”

He then joined our conversation. Think about it for a moment. I meet a guy a month and a half ago and then randomly bring up a conversation and bring him up at the exact moment that he walks up to me (he didn’t hear me talking about him). Weird. He had quite a few funny stories about his time in central Thailand and we all eventually went to bed. The next morning, Av (the Canadian chick) and I rented a motorbike and went out to visit the temples. Although they weren’t anything like Angkor, they were pretty cool and fairly impressive. The heat eventually got to us and we went back to the hostel and rested – and I pet the hostel dog for a few hours. She really reminds me of my old dog Patches and a few years ago got ran over by a motorcycle and lost some teeth so her tongue permanently hangs out of the side of her mouth.

After a nap, I took the motorbike out alone and visited a few more temples, an elephant park (where it was quite sad to see all the elephants chained up and stuff) and an old Portuguese settlement where they had excavated a bunch of skeletons and stuff. That evening I went back to the hostel and checked out the market. And just kind of hung out. I’m bracing myself for Nepal.

I’ve thought a lot about how I’ve changed over the past year and a half. I’ve been gone for quite a while and although I’m ready to come home, I still want to see so much – and will stick with this until I’m done. It’s funny the things you miss. I miss my dog. I miss having dinner on Sunday at my dad’s. I miss having dinner with my mom on Friday night. I miss hopping in my truck or on my motorcycle and riding to Alex’s house and having a few beers with my friends. I miss (god forbid) working. But, like when going to university, you see that finishing something like this is much better for you in the long run. Cramming for tests and getting up early every morning isn’t fun, but you have a degree at the end of it. Traveling and being in a strange place and constantly meeting new people and doing things all day can be quite draining and demanding – but you see that you know a lot more and have quite a bit more experience by the end of it. When I started this trip, I liked to think that I was going to be this hardcore traveler and never miss anything. But it’s just not human nature.

I’ve noticed how much better I can navigate places. You could throw me in the middle of a country with a compass, a map, and a few bucks and I could get around just fine (After all, I kinda do it everyday). I can strike up a random conversation with anyone about anything and carry it on for quite a while without any problems. I can end conversations smoothly and efficiently (and leave the person thinking that the conversation just ended naturally).

I’m a lot more confident in what I’m doing and where I’m going. I know myself really well as I’ve passed quite a bit of boring times pondering aspects of me and why I do, did and have done certain things. I’ve seen tons of cultures and talked with people from lots of different countries and I’ve got quite a bit of input as to why they do certain things and what they believe. I’ve even learned a bit of Chinese.

I think I’ve learned more in this past year and a half than I would have learned in 20 years back home. It’s been an incredible time…

It truly has.

Tsunami? Where?

Well, after Bangkok, I hopped on the train to the south. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do in the south, or even if I would do anything other than cross the border into Malaysia and so I figured I’d have the whole train journey to decide. I got an email from a buddy in which he said that I was missing out on a lot here in Thailand by zipping through it like I did Vietnam. Yeah, I know I’m missing out on a lot – but you have to if you’re going to travel the world. I decide on where I will visit based on a few criteria.

1) How much it costs
2) When I need to be in the next destination (mainly due to weather)
3) How many other backpackers there are at a given place (I’ve already mentioned how much my kind annoy me)
and
4) How easy it will be to come back to a given place when I’m old, have two kids and a wife. And a dog. Maybe even a cane.

So let’s expand on this last one. If you were my wife (if there are any ladyboys in Thailand reading this, don’t get any ideas), which would you rather hear?

“Hey babe, I was thinking we could go trekking in the Malaysian jungle for a few weeks. Pack the mosquito repellent and some salt. The salt will keep the leeches away. It’s hard to tell when the leeches get you because you can’t feel anything. They get in your boots and when they get their fill of blood, then plop off to the bottom where your feet squash them. You only know they were on you when you take off your boots to find your socks drenched in blood and leech guts. Don’t worry though. They can’t give you any diseases. It’ll be fun!”

Orrr….

“Hey babe, let’s go to Thailand and lie out on a desolated, white-sand beach and do nothing but drink beer, swim in the ocean, eat seafood and relax for two weeks. It’ll be fun!”

Case in point.

I can always come back to Thailand. And Vietnam. This is also why I probably won’t be going to Europe this trip either. I’m broke and it’s not going anywhere.

Soooo, on the train, I met a Thai guy in the dining car with whom I chatted for a while. He had a bottle of whiskey so he opened it up for me and the dining car staff and we all had a great time. That night I decided that I would go to the beach in southern Thailand. But I didn’t know which coast yet. Songkla to the east was supposed to be okay, but nothing spectacular. But the west coast (Ko Tarutao) was supposedly hit by the Tsunami. Decisions decisions.

When I got to Katya, I hopped off the train and after talking to some Germans headed to Ko Lipe (on the west coast), I decided that I would go to the west coast and check it out. Tarutao National Park is a series of stunning tropical islands off the coast that have very few tourists. With the tsunami, they had even a fraction of the previous number, so I thought it would be nice and quiet. My plan was to find a desolated beach, set up a tent and hammock and call it home for a few days.

After wandering around Katya for a few hours, I made it to the bus station and eventually Pakbarra only to find that the last boat to the island had already gone. So I would have to spend the night there. No worries. I got a bungalow for 5 bucks and spent the night playing chess, cutting open coconuts, and drinking beer with an English guy I met at the next bungalow over.

In the morning, I caught the ferry to Ko Tarutao. Everyone seemed to be going to Ko Lipe (it was the most developed and commercial of the 5 islands) and it was only me and two Thais that got off. I arrived at the park office, rented a tent and set off to the furthest beach I could find. After a few hours of walking through the rain forest, I arrived. There was no one but the park staff there and I set up my tent.

“You have food?” they asked as I passed their house on the mountain on my way to the beach (their house is a fair distance from the beach where I was to camp).
“Yeah. I brought bread and instant noodles,” I replied.

“Good. No have food. Maybe tomorrow.”

From what I gather, there was supposed to be some semblance of a restaurant there, and when I got to the beach, I saw that there was a deserted building that was supposed to resemble a snack bar / kitchen. But, as we all well know now, “No Food”.

I picked a spot on the beach and set up my tent and hammock. I was ready. It was almost getting dark so I went exploring on the beach. I got my bearings. After watching a beautiful sunset over the beach, I came back and gathered up some firewood and started a fire using pages from last week’s edition of The Economist (is there anything that magazine CAN’T do??). I never knew how incredibly satisfying it was to start your own fire and cook your own food over it until I did it in New Zealand. I guess it taps into that primal hunter instinct we all have. I drank tea, ate soup and relaxed in my hammock while I watched the stars and the ships far out at sea with my binoculars. This area was supposed to be devastated by the tsunami but I saw no sign of it. None anywhere. I talked to a lady and she said all they got was a swell and black water. She cried, she told me, but I guess it wasn’t too bad. I couldn’t see any damage, even on the west coast of the island facing the ocean.

In the morning, I got up, started a fire, made some tea and had some bread. It was going to be a nice day. The park staff came down and raked up some leaves for 20 minutes then went back to their house. God, they have a rough job. I’m sure they get compensated well for it though.

I rented one of the staff member’s kayak for $2.50 and set off into the ocean. My plan was to go a little of the ways around the southern tip of the island. A real adventure-like. I got about a kilometer out when I realized that I despised sea kayaks. I sat there drenched in sweat, bobbing up and down and getting nauseous from the surf, getting scorched by the merciless sun and unable to put on sunblock because I was so sweaty. And I was exhausted. I went back to the shore and tried to walk back but it was too hard to do knee deep in water, so I just rowed back using all my will power to continue on and not throw up. When I made it back, I collapsed into my hammock and cursed sea kayaks and whoever it was that invented them. I found comfort in the fact that he was probably dead (God rest his soul) and that he wouldn’t be able to unleash any additional equally horrible inventions upon the world.

After a while, I decided that I wanted a coconut. The only problem was that there were none on the ground and they were only in a few really really high palm trees. I tried throwing stones at them but to no avail. I imagined that I was trapped on a desert island and needed to make some sort of device to get the coconuts so I could survive. I wandered around looking for long sticks and poles along the beach and found a few – none long enough to reach though (it was maybe 35 feet up). So then I went in search of some rope along the beach. I found a variety of sizes and lengths and spent two hours constructing a 35 foot long pole from four small poles and a whole bunch of rope – and !ALAS! my creation was complete! I went to test it out.

Two inches too short. Damn. I found a chair and stood on it. I could touch the coconut but not with any force. I was getting nowhere. I tried throwing more stones. No luck and my arm hurt.

I had to think this one out for a while. I went for a swim in the ocean (the water was soooo warm!) and relaxed on the hammock for a while while I listened to Jack Johnson – perfect music for relaxing on the beach and formulating a plan.

After another swim, I had another go. There was a tree next to the palm tree and I climbed into it. From there, I could hoist my pole into the air and reach the coconuts. YES! I jabbed and jabbed for 5 minutes and finally, a coconut fell.

You know – that’s how I am. If I want something, I make it happen. That day it was a coconut. Tomorrow it will be fame and fortune. Maybe even a yacht.

About that time, a delivery of beer, coke and food came from the main park headquarters. I celebrated my coconut victory with an ice cold coke. Then I set out cutting open the coconut.

Many of you may not be aware of the fact that coconuts are actually really big and have a good 3 inches of bark like padding around them. You have to hack through it to get to the shell, then crack that open. Well, I hacked through it and eventually got to my prize – only to find that the milk inside had fermented and tasted horrible. Oh well. That’s life. Next challenge!

I went for a walk on the beach at low tide and watched all the sea creatures go about their lives. Crabs, birds, fish, snails, etc… scurrying about. It was great. When I got back, I realized that the *$@#ing monkeys had gotten into my food and eaten all of my bread, sugar, tea and even had stolen my knife sharpening stone.

“YOU GOD DAMNED MONKEYS!” I yelled as I ran back to my food.z

They laughed at me from a distance, sugar and bread crumbs in their stupid monkey beards.

Those god damned monkeys.

About that time one of the park rangers came back and asked me if I wanted dinner made.
I told him that I indeed would, seeing as the monkeys had eaten all of my food. He thought that was pretty funny. I wondered if he was in on it. After all, it was conceivable that a man that worked 20 minutes a day raking leaves had time to befriend the monkeys and train them to eat campers’ food and then “coincidentally” show up and offer a meal. But “Fried Lice” with chicken (which I assume was actually fried rice with chicken) was only 50 cents and I would think that a man who went through all the trouble to train monkeys would demand more for dinner so I ruled it out.

That night I made another fire and wrote in my journal. I listened to the waves and pondered life’s great mysteries – like why the monkeys stole my knife sharpening stone. Did they perhaps have a dull knife that needed sharpening? Would their next heist be at knife point?

I may never know the answer to that question. I left this morning, caught the ferry back to the mainland and then a bus back to Hatyai. And so here I am. Goodbye beautiful white sand beaches and warm blue ocean water. Tomorrow I head to Malaysia and the jungle.

Honey, pack the salt!

Dude looks like a lady!

So I crossed over into Bangkok. It wasn’t much of an event. After staying in a pretty nice hotel for a mere 4 bucks (which Zach and I split), we hopped on the ferry to Thailand. It is always interesting to see a completely different country on the other side of a little river. We wondered why they didn’t just build a bridge – but then realized that that would cost money and the ferry boat drivers wouldn’t have jobs. So I guess that’s why.

On the other side, we got stamped into the country then headed into town. There we hit up the ATM and then caught a bus. I can’t tell you how weird it was to see ATM’s in the street after traveling through Cambodia and Laos where there are none. It was just really really weird. The bus was spectacular, as well. No blaring music. No people on the roof or livestock in the aisle. Straight flat roads. Air conditioning. We were in dismay. We went directly to Chiang Mai and spent a few days there while we acclimated to Thailand. Chiang Mai is called the Bangkok of the north, but it’s not really. It’s a big city with a few million people but it’s way more laid back and the people are much friendlier. The city is really nice, as well. I can’t say that I really did too much. I was traveling with Zach, Jean-Michel and Ellen (with whom I did the trek in Laos) and we went out to some nice restaurants and generally relaxed. Zach and I rented some motorbikes and rode through the mountains – and visited some orchid gardens and a snake park on the way. It was beautiful, although hazy because there is so much fire everywhere.

One takes note of a few things upon entering into Thailand. First, there are fires everywhere. It seems like half the forest is on fire at any given time and while you drive down the road you can see the flames devouring the dry bush in endless lines as they progress through the forest. There is smoke everywhere in the north and in the forest it can really burn your eyes. The next thing is that people are incredibly friendly here. They really know how to treat people and you always get a huge smile and maybe a compliment or two. That being said, you can also see the extreme opposite. In heavily touristed areas, you get some of the biggest jerks I have ever encountered on this entire trip. For example: At the tourist market, Ellen wanted to try on a top she wanted to buy. The guy said no. She was confused and asked again, politely (she is a very nice and polite girl). He angrily said that it was his store and his rules and she could not try it on. We were all stunned. I smiled and said, “Well, if he doesn’t want your money, we can go to the store across the street. Simple as that!” He started following us and telling us to get the hell out and mocking everything we said. I couldn’t believe it. Adam Smith’s invisible hand will make short work of his business, thank god.

And of course, last but not least: I have never seen so many MEN DRESSED AS WOMEN in my entire life! Jesus Christ! In Chiang Mai, they are everywhere and it’s crazy. I can’t understand why it’s so rare in all other SE Asian countries (that I’ve visited) but it’s so blatant in Thailand. You are afraid to even check out girls here because upon examination you realize that you are checking out a man – and the moment you realize this are forced to look away in shame lest your sexuality be questioned.

“Ohhhh my god! You think a man is hot??!! YOU FAG!”
“Dude, but I swear – She…he looks like a woman!”
“Yeah right. You are so gay. So that’s why you wanted to move to Hawaii, huh? It all makes sense now.”

I haven’t seen so many in Bangkok, but perhaps that’s because I’ve learned to keep my eyes averted. Or maybe I have – I just didn’t know it. Welcome to Thailand!

I split off from Zach, Jean-Michel and Ellen and headed toward a really nice northern town called Pai. Once there I found a little bungalow for $1.75, although there was also a rat living there and the mattress was on the floor. I could see his droppings all over the bungalow and my backpack was chewed when I awoke. Bastard! I spent the evening wandering around Pai, eating some sticky rice with mango (which is really good) and ran into a Dutch couple I met over a month ago in Cambodia. It really is crazy how you run into people like that. We didn’t have much to talk about because we didn’t even know each others’ names but they explained to me how they both got sick for three weeks with fever, chills, diarrhea, vomiting and exhaustion. But they didn’t go see the doctor yet. Riiiiighhhht.

In the morning, I rented a motorbike and headed even further north to a town called Mae Hong Son. The ride over there was a motorcyclists dream. The roads were sooooo sharply curved it was incredible! I had so much fun. I got pretty high in the mountains and the views would have been spectacular if not for the smoke everywhere. There were bright green rice field terraces everywhere and the weather was excellent. Dense forest surrounded me everywhere and I really enjoyed it. I visited a cave (Tad Lod) and paid for a little boat trip through it which was cool. There were thousands of huge fish in the little river going through the cave and my tour guide (you have to pay for one) was pretty funny. She pointed out the formations in the cave in single word quick shots.

“OK! ICE CREAM CONE!” she said as she pointed at a ice cream cone looking rock and looked at me for approval.
“Yeah…that does look like an ice cream cone!” I would say.
“OK! CROCODILE!”
“Yeah…that does look like a crocodile!” Rinse, repeat.
At some points she thought I should really take a picture so she would command me to do it.
“OK! PICTURE!” she would say.
Not wanting to displease her, I would.

I met an English group who were visiting the cave right behind me and we hit it off and grabbed lunch together after. We had a good chat and then bid our farewells.

After that I visited a Buddhist temple in the forest and that was really nice. I find it really amusing that in some of the beautifully decorated temples, they have carvings and designs of people vomiting on each other and stabbing each other. This one was no exception and it actually had a life size replica of a man lying on the ground while a dog ripped his intestines out and some sort of a claw came up from the ground and gouged out his eyes. Sucks to be him. From what I gathered, they would actually welcome you into the temple for free if you wanted to learn about meditation. You would live with the monks and do everything they did. That would be pretty interesting.

I continued on and finally arrived at Mae Hong Son. There wasn’t a whole lot to do so I got a 2 dollar all you can eat dinner where you had to barbecue your own meat (of which you could get as much as you liked) on a little grill at your table. The thing is that it’s so much work that you work up an even greater appetite while eating. I nearly exploded after I misjudged my stomach’s capacity.

From there, I headed back to my hostel and after chatting with some Canadians, called it a night.

The English guys I had spoken with at the cave told me they had went through Malaysia in January and it wasn’t too rainy. I was planning on going there but cancelled my plan because it is the rainy season and I thought it would suck. They said it wouldn’t so I opened back up the plan and dynamically adjusted my itinerary to fit 2-3 weeks in Malaysia in. In the morning I headed right back to Pai, where I immediately caught a bus going to Chiang Mai and then went straight to the train station where I immediately caught a train going to Bangkok. How’s that for fast? Everything worked out perfectly and before I knew it I was in the second class car heading south. I thought I was going to be stuck in a chair for 14 hours until I realized that the two chairs facing each other actually turned into a bed and another bed folded down from the roof. I was amazed! I would be able to sleep in a bed! There was air conditioning, a dining car and the service was world class – true to Thai fashion. I loved that train. The lady facing me was from Australia and we spent a while chatting. She was just recovering from breast cancer and I gathered that she had realized that she didn’t see enough and was too young to die – and then decided to see the world. And so there she was. She was a really nice woman.

In the morning, I woke up, caught a taxi to Kao San Road and found a place to sleep. Kao San Road really has to be seen to be believed. Somehow this area became THE tourist area with tons of budget accommodations and shops selling anything you can imagine. It’s crazy. There are thousands of tourists wandering around everywhere and loud music thumps in all directions. Taxi drivers vie for your attention and beggars point at their cups when you walk by. Women get their hair braided in the streets and people cook banana pancakes and Pad Thai on the sidewalk for 25 cents – the aroma of which makes you hungry, even if you just ate, every time you walk by. Men dressed as women try to trick you into looking at them and then ask if you want a massage and shop keepers beg you to enter their stores. The heat is almost unbearable both day and night and after an hour of walking around you are drenched in sweat. It’s quite an experience.

The real shame though is how jaded all the shop owners become. They really are jerks, which is understandable seeing as they deal with so many tourists all day. I walk into a travel agency and they don’t even look at me. Or they look up and then go back to eating. You try to bargain and they tell you to go away. It’s incredible. But everywhere else, the people are so friendly. I wandered around the streets yesterday night taking pictures with my new (7 dollar) tripod and I had so many people come up to me and chat – offering directions or advice (and wanting nothing in return, as far as I could gather). I had a few Thais talk with me for 20 minutes and then we would go our separate ways. This has happened to me several times today even. People really are quite friendly here.

What is interesting is how many weirdo foreigners there are here. You see all sorts of people in the streets. Goofy German tourists, crazy hippies, stinky homeless bums (who are from abroad), hot college girls, frat guys, old women walking around talking to themselves, nice old couples, families, and they are all taking this place in like it’s wild. For me, Thailand is a pretty normal place. I had one person tell me that it was like “Asia Lite”, which I think is appropriate. My theory is that when people think of Thailand, they think exotic and then come. They know it’s pretty developed and that they are generally pretty safe on the streets. There are western toilets and electricity. You can buy hamburgers. In my opinion, going to Thailand is like walking up to your ankles in the ocean and then saying you swam in it. It’s nice that it gives people the chance to see “crazy”, even though it’s not really. But relatively, I guess it’s pretty crazy compared to home.

As for me, I’ve speeded here to Bangkok and I leave in 2 hours on a 20 hour train to the Malaysian border where I will head to Taman Negara and do some trekking in the worlds oldest rain forest. I think it’s going to be pretty awesome. After that, I’ll catch a plane back to Bangkok and then off to Nepal. It’s going to cost me 20 bucks for the train to Malaysia, 30 bucks to fly back, then 200 bucks to fly to Nepal. How’s that for budget? Time is flying and I can’t believe how quickly I’ve covered ground. True, everything is a blur, but I think I got a good feel of SE Asia. I would rather spend more time in Nepal, Malaysia, Tibet and China.

So that’s what I’ll do.