A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Paper Tiger

In Siem Reap, we stayed at Le Tigre de Papier Residence, the hotel of a popular restaurant in town. It was a little out of the main Pub street area, down a dirt road. Not too far from the action but far enough so that it was a nice, quiet respite. I’m finding it hard to review this hotel after the kerfuffle that happened at the end of our stay. Basically we got unceremoniously kicked out. But, let me start with the good stuff.

It had a garden setting and little swimming pool, in front of a well-maintained guest house. The staff was super-friendly, even if some couldn’t speak English very well, they tried to accommodate our needs. Including early morning breakfast sandwiches when we toured the temples, trustworthy tuk-tuk drivers, and free hot water and ice (for our cheapo drinks we would make in the room). The room was very clean and comfortable with all the amenities: air con, tv, mini-fridge, and free wifi. All this for $25/night (usual is $30) which I negotiated before we checked in based on our booking of two rooms for 5 nights.

When my parents eventually checked out, Ron and I decided to stay an additional week. We had a half used 7-day temple pass and really liked the pace and vibe of Siem Reap. Everything was going swimmingly, until one afternoon while I was out for a walk there was a knock at our door. Ron was told that we had to check out, our room was booked. Say what?! I came back to find all of our bags packed because apparently they were confused about how long we wanted to stay (even though I double checked with two separate people at the front desk) and then went into a song and dance about how they did know but accidentally double booked a group of 20 people that they couldn’t disappoint by splitting up. Meaning they felt absolutely no remorse in disappointing us. Then they went into a third story that the room was overbooked because one of the girls didn’t write it down, and was subsequently fired because they found her pocketing the money instead of recording it.

All of this was inconceivable. If they were even a little bit organized, someone should have said something, I don’t know, the night before? Or at breakfast? Or at some point in the 11 nights we stayed at the hotel that there was a conflict!!! But not at 2pm in the afternoon, with three British girls yelling at Ron to vacate the room so they can check in. Can you fathom, that they didn’t even tell the new guests what had happened, and left Ron to take the blame for the situation?

The only reconciliation they offered us at the time for our trouble was to find us another hotel at Encore Angkor down the street (albeit more expensive, since we couldn’t bargain on our long stay any longer) but it had spoiled the dream world we were in up until that point. The owner was out of town when this happened but got our review and promptly apologized and offered us a free week if we return to Siem Reap, which was quite kind. Other than the shenanigans going on with the staff, it really was a lovely stay and their free breakfast is possibly the best in SE Asia, offering up strong coffee, perfectly cooked eggs, and fresh-baked croissants. So all in all, I still recommend a stay Le Tigre. Besides it has a cool name.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Capital city of Phnom Penh

We had one day in Phnom Penh (pronounced Pa-nom Pen) which was plenty of time. All of us were far more interested in Khmer art and culture instead of it’s violent past of the Khmer Rouge. Many tourists visit S21 and the Killing Fields where a million and half Cambodians (mostly educated, professionals) were starved, tortured, murdered, or forced to work in labor camps. The infamously brutal leader Pol Pot inflicted mass genocide in the name of agrarian communism and actually restarted time by proclaiming it Year Zero.

Ron and I recently watched The Killing Fields, an Academy-award winning British film from 1984, that was enough history and sadness for us. It’s hard to believe what the Cambodian people endured just a short time ago. You do notice that you start to see a lot of younger people (under 30) as nearly 20% of the population during Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) were ruthlessly wiped out. The capital city has certainly bounced back and feels modern and organized. Especially on Sisowath Quay, the street running parallel to the Tonle Sap river.

We walked the short distance to the Royal Palace a little before 10am, in the already baking sun. Unfortunately, we had missed the spectacle of large-scale aerobics and tae chi taking place on the grounds at dawn.

The main attraction was the Silver Pagoda or Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Of course, you couldn’t take pictures inside the pagoda, but the centerpieces included an emerald Buddha made of glistening baccarat crystal and a life-size gold Buddha decorated with several thousand diamonds. Not exactly illustrating the non-materialistic nature of Buddhism. However, I do think diamonds are forever when encrusted over your third-eye.

Many tourists ride in what‘s called a “cyclo’, which is a bicycle rickshaw with a single seat in the front that looks awfully similar to a wheelchair. Apparently this was introduced back in 1937, and continues today, as does a lot of French influence from the time Cambodia was part of French Indochina (1887-1954).

In the hottest part of the day, we went to a popular café called Friends that helps local kids by providing careers in culinary arts and restaurant management. The lunch was full of fresh and healthy California cuisine, grilled chicken pitas and black bean burgers, that brought me back home. Their sister restaurant offered up adventurous and creepy jungle food, like crispy fried tarantula, which Ron and I vowed to try before we leave the country.

Next, we visited the National Museum which houses the best collection of Khmer art in the world. Again, a no photo zone, but Ron snapped this pic before he realized it.

While visiting a monastery, I saw a monk under a shady tree on his laptop and was struck by the sheer contrast of the old and new world. I wondered if the monk ever cursed at his computer, frustrated to his wits end with his windows operating system, smashing down on the ctrl+alt+delete keys in vain. Or had he reached pure, altruistic compassion for Bill Gates, an inner peace us mere mortal computer users will never know.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Overland to Cambodia

Our time had come to make our way east to Cambodia. A journey from the Thai island of Koh Mak to the Cambodian capitol of Phnom Penh. My parents were initially going to fly from Trat (on the Thai mainland) but decided to travel with us on the cheap. Even after reading about our frequent mis-adventures and torturous rides of overland travel, they dared to veer off the beaten track and hit the open (albeit bumpy) road that laid ahead.

It was to be a day chock full of five types of transport: boats, trucks, vans, taxis, and buses and through a notoriously bad border crossing. If all goes perfectly we estimated arrival in 10.5 hours. Famous last words.

The first leg was a speed boat ride from Koh Mak to Laem Ngop. When we first arrived at the pier we noticed many people waiting to board the small boat and stayed close to the front of the line to ensure we got a seat. We boarded and got 4 bench seats in one of maybe 8 rows of available seating in the main part of the boat. Although the boat seemed full, we ended up stopping at three more islands and packing in people and luggage into every square inch of free space on the boat, poor passengers standing in the aisles and squatting on the deck, but thankful to be aboard. Apparently, they don’t mess around with making the most of each trip to the mainland. The sun was shining and sparkling over the glassy water as we sped as fast as that little ship could, so laden down from the weight of the cargo.

Speed Boat: Koh Mak to Laem Ngop
Time: 1:15
Cost: 450 baht ($14)/each

At the pier we retrieved our luggage and found there was little space left in the Sawngthaew (share taxi) to Trat (except if we hung off the back, something I could not picture my mother doing, as brave as she is, in a million years). We found another one but it was empty and wouldn’t leave until it was filled up from the next boat. So we splurged and paid fare for the entire truck to the Trat bus station and arrived with time to spare for the 10am departure. The bus station was immaculate and well organized with many helpful workers and locals offering assistance to our next destination. Not a one was feigning friendliness so they could demand tip or scam us in some way. Could it be that we’ve finally found the elusive trifecta of travel destinations in Thailand: cheap, clean, and friendly.

Sawngthaew (private): Laem Ngop to Trat
Time: 0:20
Cost: 300 baht ($9) total

We purchased tickets for an air conditioned mini-van from Trat to Hat Lek, the town just before the Cambodian Border. The ride was pleasant and we met an interesting couple that were international school teachers and had a lot of helpful information about Cambodia and Vietnam that I scribbled in my journal. The ride was generally smooth until we pulled over with a tire issue and ended up changing vans for the remainder of the trip. Amazingly this only delayed us around 15 minutes.

Mini-van: Trat to Hat Lek
Time: 1:30
Cost: 120 baht ($4)/each

Next we came to the main event: the border crossing. I had read everything conceivable to prepare for the well-known visa and taxi scams we would encounter. I would not be able to adequately prepare for the fact that our onward transportation would be tied to us getting visas quickly and no one would care about paying five extra dollars for their visa stamp but me. We thought we had missed the last bus to Phnom Penh and we would pay the premium for a private car but there was a 12pm bus that would wait for us so we had to hurry since it was already 12pm! The visa officials first demanded 1000 baht ($30) from each of us, then pretended to be generous by reducing the fee to $25 although the real price according to Thai immigration is only $20. To me it was principle, to everyone else it was an unnecessary delay, so we payed and moved on although it killed me inside. For anyone else facing this border crossing, I’m positive it won’t require anything more than your perseverance and your time. Don’t be intimidated or bullied, eventually they will stamp you for $20, like the guys just behind us that were furious we had caved in. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.

Cambodian Border Crossing and Visa
Time: 2:00
Cost: $25 (ahhh!)

The guy that sold us the inflated bus tickets turned out not to be the taxi driver after-all, we learned in amazement as he squeezed in to the drivers-side seat with the driver to accompany us. We sped away and caught up with the bus that pulled over for us on the side of the road. It was now after 1pm and the bus (and all the passengers) had waited over an hour for us. We were not looking forward to having to board, and to be known as the cause of the delay.

Taxi: Cham Yeam to KOH KONG
Time: 0:15
Cost: 350 baht ($10) total

We boarded the bus 95% full of locals, and surprisingly to welcoming smiles. I was worried about Cambodians after the kerfuffle at the border, but I realized how unwarranted it was. If all of Southeast Asia is like this, we may never come home! Now, we were ecstatic to make the bus but there were a couple challenges to endure. Ron and I sat in front of a fellow with a broken leg so that although the girls in front of us reclined their seats into our foreheads, we were unable to recline ourselves. Not great, but not the end of the world. My parents on the other hand had the only seats on the bus without overhead air vents and it was stiflingly hot and stuffy for the first several hours of the ride. Not that our air vents were blowing out ice cold air or anything, but they did get a worse deal. We all suffered equally from hours of loud blaring Thai karaoke and from our grumbling stomachs. We did not have time to take lunch at the border and had to last the entire bus ride on snacks. Luckily the food bag was bulging with teriyaki crackers, fig cookies, jelly bellies, and nuts.

Bus: Koh Kong to Phnom Penh
Time: 6:30
Cost: $15/each

We arrived in Phnom Penh a little after 7pm and nearly 12 hours of travel (only about an hour longer than a perfectly executed trip,…wow!). After a quick check-in to Riverstar, a budget hotel overlooking the Tonle Sap river, we headed down for a long overdue dinner and congratulatory cocktails. Nothing tastes finer after a hot, humid day of travel than an icy cold G&T. Amen.

My parents made it through valiantly, I was so proud. With grace, they dealt with crooked immigration officials, stuffy buses, and mild starvation for a real independent travel adventure. And they saved a bundle of money, the overland trip was less than $38 vs. over $250 for a flight. You can’t beat that! But to this day I’m sure they missed that air con and complimentary in-flight meal…


Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Mom visits us in Koh Mak

We are back in Koh Mak for a visit from my parents. To be a little more accurate, it is my Mom and step-Dad Ron, her husband of 11 years. To make it easy reading, I will refer to them as my parents, although my actual father is alive and well and living in Oklahoma selflessly watching my two cats. Another Ron will make things confusing, so I will refer accordingly to “My Moms Ron” vs. “My Ron” to hopefully clarify. Got it? Good. The two Rons looking smashing in leaf and vine crowns...

My parents have come out for a two week trip and we are planning to spend 8 nights in the Thai islands followed by a side trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia to tour the famous temples of Angkor Wat. We searched for nicer digs from our usual accommodations for their visit, and found an atmospheric resort called Cococape on the northwest side of the island. Set amidst a lotus pond and coconut trees on the seaside were architecturally interesting beachy thatched roofs over modern rooms with the all essential 24-hour air con.

My parents dark wood room was built on stilts right over the ocean so they could hear the lapping waves and, at night, rainy slosh underneath making it feel like sleeping on a boat. This is not to be confused with Happy Boat, a room shaped like a boat, also available at the hotel. Hammocks abounded for lazy days reading and there was a pier on which to while away the warm afternoons.

It was a nice place to stay but pricey. Our rooms in the middle of their bracket, ranged from $60-$100. The pluses were the seclusion, peacefulness, well-maintained grounds and friendly staff (even with occasional struggles to communicate our dinner orders). Also, a welcome treat for Ron and I was the daily room cleaning with fresh towels shaped into amorous elephants.

On the downside our bed was a bit itchy and ant-infested, and the room surprisingly lacked a mini-fridge. I guess our expectations become exponential when the bill tops $20 these days. You can't really complain when you get a super-deal.

Later, we stumbled on the holy grail for mid-range budget traveling on Koh Mak in the Holiday Beach Resort on the southside of the island. The 1500 baht ($45) bungalows were situated only steps from a sandy beach, the restaurant served up tasty food (and plentiful french fries), and the masseuses offered the best massage around. More on (my Mom’s) Ron’s quest to find the best massage on Koh Mak later on. My parents are already considering another vacation to Koh Mak next year! I can’t blame them, both (my) Ron and I have really fallen in love with Thailand and the genuine sweet nature of the local people. Plus, from the west coast of America to SE Asia is only about $800 which rivals costs to Central America and Europe for an annual vacation. If you haven’t been, I would highly recommend it!

(My Mom’s) Ron is what she calls a “massage glutton”. He has had a massage everyday since he arrived, and one day he had two! Thailand may, in fact, be the promised land for massage lovers. No, not just that kind, get your mind outta the gutter! A one hour massage costs between $9-12 depending on where you go and whether it is a Thai massage, oil massage, or a reflexology foot massage. With those prices, how can you not indulge in a daily massage? You can have almost ten massages for the price of one spa massage back home.

I tried a Thai massage once, and let me tell you, once was enough. You are first knotted and wrapped up into some type of endless knot or yoga pretzel and then relentlessly tortured by an 80 lb Thai girl with an unwavering smile (but I’m certain evil, sadistic heart). At one point her foot was in my armpit as she pulled so hard on my outstretched arm that I had visions of what it would have been like being stretched on “the rack”. Then came the dreaded elbow. She would drive her pointy bird-like elbow in deep, muscle pulverizing motions into the most sensitive parts of my fleshy body. When she got to my upper thigh I was breathing out in short, jagged exhales like I was giving birth (and attempting not to lose consciousness). So, in short, don’t do the Thai massage unless your masseuse speaks English and can “be gentle”, or you like to be tenderized before cooking on the beach.

One of the highlighted activities on Koh Mak is an elephant trek through the jungle. (My Mom’s) Ron was skeptical at first, imagining it to be a tro-tro atop an elephant (surely with a dozen people packed like sardines), but soon was converted like the rest of us. Isn't it fantastic that we have a common language forming from our blog experiences?!

From a tall wooden structure that was like an elephant docking station, we climbed onto a little bench in pairs atop the gi-normous mammal. Held down by little more than a few rope tethers wrapped around his voluminous belly. The mahout (guide) sat bareback behind the elephants head and deftly guided it by soft nudges of their feet to the back of their flying, flapping ears. Left nudge to the left ear means go left, simple as that. There are also corresponding verbal commands to control their actions like backing up and getting a move on. If those fail, they use a prod or blunt metal hook, to ensure immediate obedience, but we rarely saw this as necessary. Elephants are pretty dang smart.

We were led out into the jungle in the relative coolness of the morning, rocking back and forth to the giants gait. They would stop every now and then to twist their trunks around a plant before violently uprooting it and shoveling it into their mouths. These elephants are the poster children for vegetarianism, eating several hundred kilos of vegetation daily. Their favorites include sugar cane, tamarind, and bananas.

The mahouts fashioned together crowns of leaves for us to wear and look hopelessly dorky. This little tourist souvenir we will later forget we have on and wear around the island to the amusement of the other locals. Passing through the jungle we came out to a beach with coconut trees jutting in wild angles fit for a postcard, and the mahouts urged the beasts in the cool water for a drink before we headed back.

The trek was forty five minutes in length for only 500 baht ($15) making this the most cost-efficient elephant ride in the world. After the ride, we bought some bananas for a well-deserved treat for our carriers. Our twenty year old elephant reached out its trunk, twisting it around my hand, reaching for the baby banana with a nub at the center of its trunk that looked like a finger. So delicately it would take one after another. So calm it would remain as I wriggled and giggled. Staring into the elephants eyes covered by course black lashes, I realized what a gentle, magnificent creature was staring back at me.

One day, my Mom and I went to a Thai cooking school on the opposite end of the island. It was set-up beautifully in an open-air kitchen and workspace overlooking a gorgeous aqua ocean. Leng, the charismatic chef-owner, led us through a whole menu of our favorite Thai dishes. First we learned to make the staple Pad Thai and I was amazed at how easy it was, cooking up in under five minutes. The secret here is to use extra firm tofu and dried shrimp for just some crunchiness. Next, we embarked on three types of soup: clear and creamy varieties of Tom Yum and my all-time favorite Tom Kha Gai. An ingenious trick we learned is to knot a whole stalk of lemongrass instead of cutting it. This eliminates the chance of getting chewy, inedible pieces of lemongrass littering your soup.

Then, we made curry paste from scratch, pulverizing a dozen exotic ingredients into a giant stone mortar bigger than our heads. The knocking of the pestles pounded on for over five minutes until it was just right.

Our pastes included between 2-6 chili peppers each but Leng noted that some Thai locals use up to 20! We used our paste to make three different curries: green curry (the mildest with anise), panang curry (a nutty red curry), and yellow curry (which is actually a red curry with tumeric). Last, but certainly not least, was mango and sticky rice. The best part of class was sitting down with a Chang beer and eating all of our dishes. It was pretty inspiring to cook after being on the road so long, I can’t wait to get home and heat up the wok!

My parents rented a speedboat one day to take us out on a snorkel trip. It had rained overnight and the weather had been a little overcast causing the seas to swell. About twenty minutes into the ride, I was going green in the face. I don’t usually get seasick but the ocean was rocking and rolling in a continuous motion that made me want to puke. When we finally got to an island I immediately had to lay down for half an hour and take a Dramamine. Soon I rebounded and joined the action out in the water, snorkeling out to another small island and swimming with the fishies. Ron and I were in hot pursuit of an octopus and in almost as speedy a retreat from a large, speckled jellyfish.

Snorkeling has been one of Ron’s new favorite activities, especially as it is low impact to his back as he is still recovering from the scooter accident. He feels almost as good as new, but is finishing out the course of medication and muscle relaxants and otherwise taking it easy, which really is the island’s mantra anyway.

What else did we do? Food. There was a lot of Pad Thai to be had. And whole grilled fish and giant prawns at the beach barbeque. And delectable pineapple fried rice served in a half pineapple at Fantasia, a restaurant near our hotel that had a real chef. After all the eating, we did get some activity. Swinging in swings. Kayaking over mine fields of enormous black sea urchins, their spindles stretching to needle points in every direction. Meandering down the beaches and watching as my mom crawled her way up a palm tree grown out over the ocean. She’s going to kill me for posting this, but I thought it was the cutest thing I ever saw, her inching along and giggling. We called it “the Inch worm”. At the end, she did a little titanic maneuver, balancing belly down on the palm tree. You can almost hear Celine Dion on the ocean breeze...

On our last night we discussed our itinerary and unanimously decided to stay one more day on our quant little Thai island. We had mentally prepared to leave so the last minute extension made it that much sweeter. It was like finding a day tucked into the crease of a calendar, much like you would feel finding a twenty dollar bill stuffed between the cushions of your couch. Pure glee. So it was with the four of us, each doing our own thing. My Ron went snorkeling, my Mom read on the pier, her Ron got a massage, and I lounged at the pool. One more found day in paradise.


Friday, January 15, 2010

The Island of Koh Chang

We took the slow boat (not dissimilar to the slow bus), a 3 hour ride on a wooden boat to the nearby island of Koh Chang (pronounced more like “chong” than “chang“). Landing at Bang Bao dock, a fishing village that smelled nauseatingly fishy from the first step to the last. Winding down a maze of docks past little shops selling all the crap the tourists can’t get enough of: seashell wind chimes, overpriced spf 30 suncreen, and horrendously ugly t-shirts of elephants. The latter, at least relevant, as Koh Chang means Elephant Island.

We climbed into a Sawngtheaw (no, I don't pretend to be able to pronounce this word) which is essentially a pickup truck with wooden benches along the bed to carry as many passengers as can squeeze in. It’s fun for a short, cheap ride and really the only transportation on the islands other than walking and the deadly scooters. They are not without action. Ron once had to stand on the back bumper and cling to an outside rail, white knuckling it up the hills, probably not the best for his ailing back. And I got in once and sat back into a blunt Allen wrench type doohickey that punctured a hole into my backside. I was literally bleeding profusely and had to sacrifice a handkerchief to stem the bleeding during the half hour ride. What we do for adventure.

We went to Siam Huts that proclaims itself as the cheapest huts on the island, but didn’t go for the rock bottom 290 baht ($8) huts instead opting for the”luxury” of what 560 baht ($17) would buy. It had AC which is quite unusual for a backpacker beach hut but was little better than camping out. The entire interior was sandy and you could see through the big gaps in-between the wooden floorboards to the beach below. The concrete bathroom, although attached was essentially outside and totally funked up so you didn’t dare enter without sandals. Why you ask would we stay? Well, there was one spectacular ocean view from our picture window and from the bamboo chairs with our feet up on the front porch. Exactly as you imagine a Thai beach hut to be.

After checking in and settling in, we got lunch and then swam at Lonely Beach, a lovely stretch of sand only a couple hundred feet away. Lonely Beach is a misnomer in every sense of the word. There is nothing lonely about it.

Our first night we decided to live it up. We had cocktails at the restaurant bar, which was a wooden deck strewn with triangular pillows (called Mon Khwan) and pads to lounge on. We struck up a conversation with a couple Brits, Nigel and Petra, and the night took on a whole new spin. We ate dinner down the beach and came back for several Samsong, a local spirit, served not in a glass but in a bucket. Yes, at some point we were drinking buckets of Thai whisky. We stumbled back to our hut and passed out around 2am with the party going full throttle (not that we would have noticed).

The next day I had a good level 8 hangover. Somewhere between the level 5 after New Years Eve and the 9.5 after our party in Paris. I was illin from the first moment I opened my eyes. It took all my strength to drink some water and venture out for some breakfast. Normally I relish breakfast but these runny eggs and stubby hotdog sausages were most putrid and nauseating. A nap and lunch and another nap later, I was feeling pretty good but we vowed to lay off the booze awhile and were in bed by 10:30pm like responsible adults.

At 10:31pm the techno kicked in at 115 decibels shaking our shack on its stilts. Oh shit, we thought. Last night we were at the party and tonight we get to see what its like to try and actually sleep here. We didn’t sleep more than 5 minutes for 5 hours. Not only was the noise from the bar unbearable but we were on the main walkway between two bars so we had frequent drunken revelers hanging out on our porch yelling retarded things into the night like “Australia!” over and over at 4am. For the record, the young travelers we have met from Australia are giving the whole country a bad rap. In my simpleton brain that longs to stereotype and generalize they are all loud, obnoxious idiots that I wish to bound and gag into submission.

We lasted exactly 3 nights before we were driven away. The view couldn’t make up for the lack of sleep so we took a share taxi to a quiet area known as Pearl Beach (really pearl is a nice way of saying rocky). We found a great little 7 room guesthouse called Saffron by the Sea. The rooms are usually 1200 baht but we got in for 900 baht (our absolute limit) for 5 more nights. It was really lovely amongst a well cared for garden on the ocean. The food was absolutely amazing. Not the speediest service but the portions were generous and oh-so-tasty. Our morning fave was muesli with fruit and yogurt.

Geckos, in these parts, are numerous. They are crawling all over every ceiling, light fixture, and hotel room you stay in. Like spiders, these are welcome little critters, who are likely eating all the nasty "skeeters" who antagonize you relentlessly. In an epiphany, we realized that the birdlike sound we kept hearing were actually geckos. It had sounded like a sort of large, nesting bird that made 6 to 7 consecutive eh-ow sounds. These little lizards can really project their sound! I got pretty good at mimicking it, and one came running towards me like I was making the call of the wild.

One night we had a traditional date night, a dinner and a movie, at Magic Garden. Not just any dinner and a movie but possibly the best cheeseburger on the trip with a bucket of whiskey to wash it down (okay, okay, we had some booze again, but only one and we shared it). We watched Into the Wild, an inspiring movie about traveling in the US, that ends tragically in the Alaskan wilderness. Alright, the end was a bit macabre, but the traveling portion was inspiring. There is so much to see and do right in our own backyards.

There is a lot of infrigement of the 7 eleven brand here with poser 7 day mini-marts full of half stocked shelves of nothing you want. But then we ran into a real bonafide 7 eleven and spent 45 minutes perusing the goods to shockingly loud Thai heavy metal that was surprisingly appropriate in the wee hours and certainly enticed us to buy more iced coffee and, of course, more chocolate covered pocky.

Another night, we walked down to southernmost point of White Sands Beach (the busiest and nicest beach on Koh Chang) which was beautifully sparse of tourists. The soft sand stretched into the water in such a subtle decline that you could walk straight out for 10 minutes and still be only waist high. Floating weightless enveloped in a perfect slate tinged baby blue from here to the heavens, the water only distinguishable from the sky by the faintest horizon line. A fat neon orange sunset stretched across the reflective canvas of the ocean for what seemed like hours before finally being swallowed up.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Evil Kneivel Kutulas

It was the day before New Years Eve and we decided to rent scooters to explore the island. We had avoided motorbikes successfully up until this point due to inexperience and the fear of being mangled, but the island seemed so quaint and slow and flat. Really the ideal place to learn your chops on the road. So we thought. Jay and Corina, were in a similar boat, a bit apprehensive, but we strapped into our helmets and threw caution to the wind. A mere 15 seconds later, our throttle got stuck and we were literally flying through said wind into a 12 foot ditch, narrowly missing the sharpest corner of a house but breaking its roof, water pipe and electrical line on the way down. Not to mention running over a baby banana tree who surely never saw us coming.

Amazingly, we didn’t flip end over end and we landed upright and were able to get up and walk away. It reconfirmed our belief in guardian angels. We had some minor bruises and scratches. One I like to call “house burn” where my arm just dragged down the side of the house. Even with the amount of adrenaline pumping through our veins, Ron’s back hurt almost immediately and he had to lie down the rest of the night. We paid the damage to the bike, which was about $60 for mostly cosmetic issues, including the seat, left side of the body, and mud flap. Ron carried on valiantly through New Years, fueled (and anesthetized) by whiskey no doubt but crashed hard afterwards.

He couldn’t sleep through the night due to the pain, found it extremely uncomfortable to sit in a chair, and winced at even the thought of a yawn or a cough. We went to the clinic on Koh Mak and were given some light medication, but it didn’t seem to help much. Over a few days he seemed to improve and we had also reached out to my brother who suggested he may have fractured a rib. Although, there is nothing much you can do medically to help that along, at least we would have a diagnosis, and perhaps better painkillers.

We came to Koh Chang, a nearby island that has a small hospital for an X-ray. Low and behold, he fractured his left paraspinal process of his L1 vertebrae. Which means, he has to rest rest rest for another couple weeks for it to heal. Good thing we are on a Thai island, with nothing much to do but bum around the beach. I’m playing nurse and taking good care of him. And don’t worry about us getting on bikes again, the whole ordeal has basically scared the living shit out of us for ever riding a scooter again. Life is unutterably fragile, something I didn’t even have time to think about as I was flying though the air on an out of control bike. Best to keep your head in the clouds, but your feet firmly planted on the ground.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year from Thailand!

Ron and I are ringing in 2010 on Koh Mak, a little-piece-of-heaven island in the gulf of Thailand, like a small quaint pebble (5km x 16km) dropped in the ocean full of rubber and coconut trees. It’s a tough life of swimming in the pool overlooking the ocean and relaxing in our beachside hut. We have to race between the fan, the shade, and the water because not only is Thailand as hot as you would imagine, it’s really humid so we are dripping sweat almost immediately (and constantly).
We are staying at Buri Hut Natural Resort on the far eastern side of the island. Opened in 2006 there are 35 units ranging from 300-1500B ($9-$46) for an A/C hut with sea view. Although remote from the main happenings of town (which consist of a few hotels, shops, and restaurants, shoes off please...), they have three wooden trucks to drive you around, a pier, and an infinity swimming pool. Best of all, Tan the owner is a real sweetheart, and will take great care of you!
We have been enjoying the last four days partying with our friends, Jay and Corina, who are also on a year-long world tour. We had a scrumptious dinner of enormous barbequed prawns smack dab on the beach with the silhouette of dancers penduluming orbs of fire around them.

Later the locals released lit lanterns, glowing for miles as they rose into the dark sky.

Nearing midnight, we sipped the remaining Johnnie Walker Black we purchased duty-free enroute from India (a little luxury from back home) and leapt into the pool, hearing nearby revelers countdown sip, gao, bpairt, jet, hok, hah, see, sahm, somg, neung...

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We miss you and wish you all the best this coming year….

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