Archive for May, 2006

thai top ten

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

the thai are really lovely people – genuinely interested in you and where you’re from (even when they’re not trying to sell you something).

they are, however, ridiculous drivers.

i’ve been trying to think of some uniquely thai cultural observations, but i think that coming off the culture shock of china, thailand feels so… easy to acclimate to, that it’s a bit unfair; i feel like i haven’t given them my full attention or appreciation. so to rectify this, here’s my “top ten things i love about thailand”:

1. the weather – even when it’s raining, it feels exotic and sultry.

2. the beaches – a bit obvious, i know, but they’re beautiful.

3. buddhism – the more i learn, the more i want to know. i took a uni class on buddhism (way back when i was seriously thinking of being a religion major) but this requires some further personal exploration on my part.

4. the architecture – so elegantly soothing to the eye.

5. the street food – we’ve regularly eaten some of the best food from pushcart vendors. pancakes, curries, noodles. yum.

6. papaya salad – i’m addicted.

7. the people are so damn gorgeous.

8. motorbikes – schoolchildren, women in coifs, heels and gloss, little old men who can barely see over the handlebars. everyone drives them. the well co-ordinated drive whilst holding umbrellas.

9. their complete and utter devotion to their king. boy, they sure do love him.

10. songthaews – why don’t we have these in london? cheaper than taxis, more trustworthy than tuk-tuks, these open trucks are hop-on/hop-off shared rides and one of the best ways to get from point a to point b.

so there you have it. i adore thailand, and if i haven’t waxed lyrical, it’s only because it’s so easy to take it for granted. it’s warm and welcoming, and delightful in every way, and i will be very sad to say goodbye. luckily our next flight is out of bangkok, so i don’t have to, just yet.

useful or useless?

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

the most useful things i have packed, to date:

- anti-bacterial hand gel. j, who originally scoffed at the idea, has since apologised profusely, after god knows how many atrocious bus stop toilets and no soap anywhere in sight.

- my ipod travel charger. worth its weight in gold.

- my hooded fleece. invaluable on bus trips, train trips, and protecting me from dodgy headrests.

most useless things i packed, to date:

-travel skirt. never worn, very practical but too frumpy.

-even the *minute* amount of makeup i brought. i assumed there would be days i’d still want to “look nice”. i stopped caring after about day 10.

-travel money belt. never used. see “daybag” below.

useful things picked up along the way:

-travel speakers. cost 5 pounds. ambiance in charmless hotel rooms… priceless.

-sarong. it’s a beach blanket/cover up/top sheet (i cannot sleep without a top sheet, and much like hot water showers, those are nowhere to be found in s.e.a.)

single most useful item: my messenger bag. all items of value (camera/ipod/wallet/passport/tickets) are on my body at all times. also permanently in the day bag are toilet paper, hand gel, lip balm, small notebook (for tracking expenses), pens, and guidebook. optional weather-dependent items are umbrella, bandana, suncream. for journeys also included are: paperback novel, book light, large notebook (for writing), fleece jumper, and assorted snacks/water. that bag is my life – much more important than my pack, and far more versatile.

ants in my pants

Monday, May 29th, 2006

we’re here in chiang mai after another long overnight bus ride (how they can turn a 450 km trip into a 12 hour journey is beyond me, but whatever…) and we’re here for 5 days while we get some errands sorted. i’ve come to the realisation that 4 days is pretty much my limit anywhere before i start to get antsy. so although it’s a nice enough city, chiang mai is frustrating me only halfway through day 2. part of it is due to malaria med complications – i bought some lariam in bangkok, but only a few because some people have bad side effects, so i didn’t want to sink a lot of money into them if i only ended up quitting them. fortunately, i have had no problems with them. unfortunately, i now cannot get any more here in chiang mai, as the official advice is *not* to take chemical prophylaxis (this from the malaria center) and instead get tested after being in a malarial area, and treated only if you’ve picked it up. so i can get lariam after i get sick, but not before. not what i wanted to hear. so i’ve been trying random pharmacies with no luck and kicking myself for not just buying them when i could. (part of me thinks that if i haven’t got malaria by now, i never will – my ankles are an unrecognisable pulpy mess, despite loads of deet.) part of it is jonno’s “wat fatigue” – he’s just not interested in seeing another buddha, no matter how old or historic. part of it is the heat and afternoon rains, which make aimlessly walking the city for hours on end (our favourite pasttime) a lot less fun. all in all, chiang mai is feeling a whole lot like kunming – someplace perfectly nice where i just don’t wanna be. sigh. there is the possible prospect of visiting an elephant sanctuary (after extensive research on my part, because if i see some mahout with a stick talking about “training”, i will *not* be a happy camper) but we may have left it too late to book. we have to idle here until friday (vietnam visas take their own sweet time to arrive) and i’m just a grumpy gus.

please be good to the ellies

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

the abuse and exploitation of the elephants i’ve seen thus far really just breaks my heart. i can’t take it. babies separated from their mommas in the jungle and paraded through the streets of bangkok, crying piteously. elephants chained by the leg in the hot sun, waiting for dumbass ignorant tourists to ride them like common pack mules, being beaten with sticks.

elephants are not domesticated, nor do they exist for our amusement. it kills me to see them treated that way. i really can’t take it.

for kerryn and tracey

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

j’s known you both forever, but i am still amazed at how quickly you’ve become so important in my life. it meant the world to me to have you at our wedding – because even if my immediate family couldn’t make it, my “other” family was there. and i would give anything to be able to be there to witness your happiness today.

it shouldn’t be such a big deal, because, as you’ll soon learn, in the grand scheme of a marriage, a wedding is really just another day – it’s just verbally cementing everything you already know in your heart to be true. everything you already knew the first time you realised you were in love, or that you didn’t want to live your lives without each other. those were far more important days than today. a wedding day can’t possibly reflect everything that makes a relationship real, and the million different ways you already reaffirm that, day in and day out. it can’t possibly demonstrate the same kind of commitment that happens every morning you wake up next to each other and decide to try to be good to one another, to work through the differences during each day, and to end every evening kissing goodnight – that’s far more important than any silly ceremony. it’s an inevitably ineffectual attempt to put to words all the small things that make a couple who they are together which makes them better people than they are individually, a feeble try at quantifying the certainty of a future, a paltry effort to describe the emotions which run deeper than any language. it’s a fancy way to try to announce to the world that all your love and dreams and hopes are wrapped up in the other person, and that you put your whole soul into that investment. and somehow expecting the words “i do” to encapsulate all that.

when you’re already sure of all of everything else, then a wedding is just another day. it shouldn’t matter because it really changes nothing… yet somehow it changes everything.

and it sure as hell is fun.

happy wedding day.

with all my loving wishes for a lifetime of happily ever after,


bridge over the river kwai

Friday, May 26th, 2006

we’re in kanchanaburi, at the famous bridge over the river kwai. and although there’s not much to actually see, somehow that’s even more moving. thirty eight POWs died for every kilometre of track that was laid – and in the end, the brits sold it back to the thais like so much scrap metal, for 50 million baht. less than a million pounds.

the things men do in the name of war do not speak to how highly we prize our life and liberties, but rather to how little we value the lives and freedoms of others.

war cheapens us all.

the clown’s a freak

Friday, May 26th, 2006

in spite of my personal disdain for the mcdonald’s chain of restaurants (and i use that terminology loosely), i have come to discover that it is sometimes a necessary evil for the world traveller. i have, in fact, been in more mcdonald’s in the past 6 weeks than i have in the previous six years (though i am quick to point out that we’ve only actually eaten there once). there are several reasons for this state of affairs. one: it is often the only thing open 24 hours a day. so when a bus dumps you off on khao san road at 5am, and there’s no place else to go, you can kill several hours in relative comfort for the price of a small beverage. two: it always has a bathroom – the importance of this factor cannot be overstated. you are assured access to a toilet (the cleanliness of which is highly varaible, and the western version is likely to have been abused by those in asia who don’t understand the seat is for *sitting* – still, a toilet nonetheless) for the same price of the aforementioned beverage. they *have* to let you use it. thirdly: it always serves coffee. something more difficult in countries where the bean makes a limited appearance, such as china. and finally: they always have a picture menu to point at. no matter how bad the communication difficulties, “point, pray and pay” is easier in mickey d’s than anywhere else.

i hate to admit it, but there’s a plus side to the globalisation phenomenon, and ronald mcdonald aptly illustrates just why he’s so successful world-wide.

i still think the clown’s a freak, though.

nemo finds saturday night fever

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

there are some experiences so surreal, that the full impact of the whole thing just quite defies description. for example, i cannot adequately convey to you what it is like to be on a jumbo sleeper bus which is completely decked out from stem to stern in neon purple and hot pink velour quilting and dust ruffles, in seats resembling plush dentist chairs, whilst being serenaded by horrifically schmaltzy thai pop at top volume. it’s like “finding nemo” meets a bad 70’s disco inside a giant lounge-mobile.

utterly bizarre.

the good, the bad, and the ugly

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

there are some surprises that happen on the journey which make a day or experience unexpectedly wonderful – something little, something unplanned, something you could never have written into the script. fr example, this great little secluded beachside cafe we ran across that had wonderful cocktails at sunset, the best papaya salad i’ve had so far in thailand, (and i’ve had a lot), and ambiance galore. it was cheap, delicious, and utterly charming, and i wished we’d run acoss it days ago. the whole evening just left me with the kind of warm glow that you can’t orchestrate.

and there are some surprises that just turn a whole day crappy – where things could’ve taken a right turn, but instead went haywire leaving you confused and anxious and distressed. like when the travel agent didn’t show up on time at the pier so you end up being shunted onto a floating barge instead of the express passenger ferry you paid for, and there’s no recourse, of course, but the whole ridiculous thing makes you want to scream in frustration because you’re already hot and tired and am already long journey just got that much longer.

and then there’s the kind of unpleasant surprise that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, and just riled up to the point of fury. like the unexpected encounter with the guy who took our 400 baht for a hotel booking which didn’t exist, and after swallowing that bitter pill, we were again confronted with him at the ferry – a shouting match ensued, several choice epithets were uttered… and then we still had to look at his mug all the way to the mainland.

sometimes you get the good, sometimes the bad, and sometimes the ugly. you just gotta learn to roll with the punches baby, because sometimes life gives you a bowl of cherries, and sometimes lemons – it’s all part of the territory. when you invite the unexpected, you open yourself up to the whole spectrum. i’ve never been great at it – but i’m getting better by the day.

sensual samui

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

we’ve spent the past two days on bophut beach, koh samui, trying to get in a little island relaxation before we head north. i was hoping for some quality beach time, as we’re in a little oceanfront bungalow, but the weather hasn’t been entirely co-operating and so far our stay has been somewhat damper than we would’ve liked. still, there is something undeniably magical about turquoise waters, sand between the toes and a salt tang in the air that does the trick every time. i’m fighting a losing battle witht he ants who want to take over the beach hut and the geckoes that follow, but it’s hard to complain when you’re lulled to sleep by the sound of lapping waves just a few metres from your pillow. and really, thee’s nothing in this world that sitting on a porch, drinking a cold beer and listening to some jack johnson can’t cure.

so even though the bikini hasn’t seen much daylight, we’re having fun exploring – renting a motorbike, touring the waterfalls, stopping off for afternoon pina coladas. i haven’t been on a bike in a few years, and while i know driving one is undeniably fun, i’d forgotten that there is something intensely sexy about being a passenger on the back of one. your thighs wrapped around a guy, your chest to his broad shoulders, arms encircling a lean waist, your lips at his neck. the adrenaline of possible danger combined with the excitement of holding tight to someone you love.

j used to own a fairly big bike back in south africa.

we may be looking to buy when we get back to london…

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