Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bangkok, Marriott Resort and Spa, and Koh Phangan

Was going to put a bunch of pictures up but Blogger doesn't seem to be working so I had to e-mail this post in.
Been awhile since i posted, Maureen and Ali made it to Thailand and it's been difficult to get enough time at the internet cafe to write up something solid. 
On the 25th I took a train from Phitsanolok to Bangkok (6 hours), they only had 3rd class seats available but that's the best way to travel!  the car was packed with people and luggage in seats, standing, sitting on the floor.  I had a seat, but gave it up for a few hours for an old Thai woman carrying a baby.  I tried talking to people but no one spoke english so I just listened to my ipod and watched the country fly by.  I'm pretty used to long train / bus trips by now.
I got to the Bangkok train station and didn't want to take a cab to the marriott, wanted to use the sky train i've heard about which i saw from my map leaves right from the train station.  the Marriot was on the other side of the river and the train only went to one side, i didn't know how i would get across but i just jumped one.  made it to the end of the line and of course Marriot has it's own ferry from the riverside directly to their hotel.  I jumped on the ferry with my huge pack sweaty as hell and everyone else of course is a 5 star tourist.  I sit down and they hand everyone a water bottle and lemon scented cold towel for the 20minute ride...pure luxury.
I get to the hotel find my way to check in, they can't do it at the main desk b/c maureen is a Gold card VIP so they escort me to the concierge lounge fix me a free cocktail and tell me to enjoy the happy hour hord'oevres buffet until i'm ready to be shown my room.  amazing...they of course upgrade us VIPs to a deluxe suite with a riverside view and I immediately hit the hot tub / pool area.  I lounge there for awhile then head in for a hot bath in the room.
When I go to find dinner I can't eat at the hotel, the minimum price for a meal is half of what I plan on spending in a day.  So I walk out to try and find something but the hotel is far outside town.  Eventually I wander down some dark alley where I think I see a food stall at the end.  I get there and it's some kind of soup stand serving a little shantytown by the river.  I walk up and order, luckily one of the girls there speaks some english.  Sat down, ordered a beer, and everyone is looking at me.  I started eating and trying to talk to the girl who spoke english.  Ended up hanging out there for 3 hours and making 8 or 9 new friends.  At some point the restaurant closed and they started bringing out beers and snacks from their homes and serving me.  Was a lot of fun, they kept pointing to one guy and saying he was the mafia and he kept laughing, then after awhile he offered me a joint, but I wasn't down for that.  They kept getting calls on their cell phone and looking at some looked like they were taking bets or running numbers, so i asked to see the sheet and they were running a sportsbook, the sheet had all the game spreads for the next week.  Was hilarious.  They said the minimum bet was 100 baht, max 500 $3 - $15.  I asked if they played poker or cards at all, but couldn't find a gameAt some point they all started going home b/c they had to work the next day, they all invited me back for Thai New Year April 13-15...not sure if i'll take them up on it.
That night Maureen and Ali came in around midnight, the next morning we enjoy the free VIP breakfast buffet then hit some of the sights in Bangkok.  We get back to the hotel around 4 lounge in the pool, hit the VIP hor d'oevres buffet, then enjoy the swim up bar at the pool.  2 days ago pretty much the same deal but we learned our lesson and made it back by 2pm before the afternoon heat wave.  Yesterday we woke up, breakfast buffet then flew to the islands and have been here 1 day so far.  Still finding my way around, but i just rented a motorbike for myself so that should make it easier.
Long entry, but things are going well! Spent yesterday and this morning on the i'm trying to explore some.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sukhothai and Phrisanoluk

Spent a day in Sukhothai and now I'm here in Phritsanoluk on my way back to Bangkok. Isn't much to do in either city. Sukhothai has some ancient ruins and I spent about an hour and a half biking around them...but after seeing Angkor Wat 3 years ago asian ruins aren't particularly exciting. I think i took 5 pictures. It wasn't really worth going to for me.
Phritsanoluk only has one tourist attraction, a big buddist temple, went there today and it wasn't much more interesting than any of the other dozens of temples i've been to this trip and before. There is a cool night market along the river here with a lot of food stalls. At one of the stalls I had the best meal since i've been here, Fried Cashews with Chicken...had a delicious sweet and spicy red sauce. Haven't talked at all about the food here, but food is great I avoided the street vendors before but i've been getting a lot more adventurous with the food now...starting to learn some of the Thai names for my favorites. Also picking up a little Thai since these cities don't have many far I can count and say a few random phrases. Even though they don't speak english they wear a lot of clothes with english on it-- saw a large Thai woman who looked to be about 35 wearing a t-shirt working at the stalls that said "Talk dirty to me" in huge letters...another shirt to add to my collection from China.
The market here was like a mall, a lot of thai teenagers hanging out on a friday night. Most interesting thing about this city is that it's not a tourist attraction...have seen very few tourists and almost none of the signs are in english. There was also no selection of hotels and ended up having to stay in a place that's about 2x the price i've been paying everywhere else. Went out for a few beers last night, went to a bar that was advertised on the map I got at the bus station. The owner spent 6 years in England and spoke really good english so I talked to him for awhile and just enjoyed the best live music I've heard in Thailand.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Mae Aw, Pang Ung, Mae Sariang, & Mae Sot

Sunday I met a dutch guy at breakfast who was thinking of leaving Mae Hong Son for Pai, but I convinced him to rent a motorbike with me (his first time driving one) and head up to the KuoMinTang village of Mae Aw about 45km north of town. The ride up was just as beautiful as the day before. At points it was incredibly steep and I had to put the bike in 1st gear just to putter up the hills at 10km/hr. After about 1hr 45min of riding mostly uphill we finally reach Mae Aw, pretty little village nestled between several mountains.

You can see from the picture I look rediculous because they gave me a helmet too big for my head. I didn't realize this until I looked at this picture.

50 or 60yrs ago Chinese KMT fighters fled here and set up a village close to the Burma border. Now a couple hundred second & third generation chinese live here, but they still speak Mandarin. We ate lunch in a "chinese" restaurant and then one of the girls working there invited us to her place for dessert. I spent about 2hrs talking to her in Chinese. She told me she only finished school through 6th grade because her family didn't have enough money for high school. The village has a Thai school that is free through 6th grade and they set up an after hours chinese school where the kids learn chinese reading/writing. She had worked in Bangkok for 5 years only making about $40 a month and I got the impression her life was pretty difficult. Was really nice just to hang out and get to know a local in their language for the first time in a long time. When we got up to leave we tried to pay for dessert and she wouldn't let us. Made me really want to bum around china where I can speak to locals easily. It's fun travelling around here, but so few people speak english I feel like a voyeur most of the time and can't participate in their daily lives.

She told us we should check out Pang Ung before we head back to Mae Hong Son because it's really beautiful there...we somehow found our way there after biking through several kilometers of forrested country roads...the kind of roads that made me worried we'd accidentally bump into some Burmese heroin smugglers...but it was worth the trip. Can see in the pic above it's a beautiful lake right in the mountains.
Made it back ok and the next morning I woke up and took the bus to Mae Sariang, a small city about 4 hours due south. I didn't know much about the city other than that it's on the way back to Bangkok in the circle I'm making. I found a guesthouse there and met an Austrian guy who had a motorbike so I jumped on the back and we biked around to a couple nearby villages and a beautiful enormous golden Buddha statue on top of a nearby mountain. It was great up there, if this temple was in a big city it would be one of the big attractions in Thailand. I thought it was much better than the famous Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai. Also had a great view of the surrounding area.

The only way to head south down to Mae Sot is via is a pickup truck with a covered back and benches installed on the flatbed. Usually they're just for short distances because they're pretty cramped and uncomfortable but I had to take it for 6 hours. Needless to say my ass was raw by the end. The highway followed the Thai / Myanmar border and it was really beautiful...mountains almost the whole way down and for the first time in awhile clear blue skies, I could breath fresh air again...amazing the difference. It seemed like they burned a lot in these areas too but it must have rained recently and swept the smoke away. I read in the paper this morning that there are 565 identified fires in northern Thailand and around 1500 between Thai/Burma/Laos...they claim to be doing something to stop it but I don't see any evidence of that.

The best part about the trip though was that me and an old German guy were the only foreigners on board. It was cool to watch as a cross-section of thai people jumped on and off along the way, I don't know for sure but it looked like a family of ethnically burmese muslims were aboard, a few different hilltribe villagers carrying huge machetes jumped on and off, and some normal looking thai people. The truck stopped at almost every roadside stand and people got off and bought tons of food. The driver and one Thai guy bought about 1 kilo each of maggots, 1 kilo each of snails, and a few others fruits i didn't recognize. They basically bought out every roadside stand along the way.

Finally arrived in Mae Sot and found my way to a hostel after wandering around in the heat for a half hour. As far as I know there isn't much to do here, it is a border town with Myanmar. My plan was to cross over to Myanmar and extend my tourist visa, this will give me a little more flexibility what date I leave thailand. So I took another songthaew to the border, about 6km away. check out of Thailand and walked across the bridge to Burma. I was told it's 500 baht (about $16) or $10 USD to get into Burma, but when I tried to give the guy a $10 bill he refused and said I had to pay 500 baht...of course. I tried arguing but there wasn't really room to seeing that I was standing on the border and not being able to go back to thailand without his stamp.

So I paid the 500 baht and got an hour pass to go into Burma and walk around. I read that Myanmar beer is supposed to be the best in Asia and I haven't seen it in Thailand so I looked for the first bar and sat down to a cold $.70 beer (much cheaper than thailand). It was pretty good, definitely better than the Thai beers.

I went back across the border without a problem, added another 2 weeks to my Thai visa and jumped on a songthaew back to Mae Sot. I got out of the truck and started walking through a busy market, i reach down for my camera to take a picture and realize it's gone. I panicked for a second then ran back to where the truck dropped me off to find my driver...there are 15 other trucks there but my driver is gone. I don't care about the camera so much, but the 200 pictures I've I run to the nearest songthaew that is filling up to go to the burma border. They don't leave until the truck is still needs about 4 people, i try to pay the guy an extra couple dollars to leave right now pointing to my watch but he doesn't understand and thinks i'm trying to pay him to sit up front and motions for me to just go sit I wait for it to fill up, finally get to the border ready to run around offering a reward for my camera, but i see the original driver standing there and as soon as he sees me he laughs really hard and walks over and grabs my camera. I was so thankful...very close call.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Pai and Mae Hong Son

Avoided writing on here for a couple days because the internet cafes in Pai were twice as expensive as any place i've seen. Friday I left Chiang Mai and jumped on a bus to Pai with an Israeli girl I met in Chiang Mai. The road twisted through the mountains and I'm sure there were some incredible views but I couldn't see anything because the smoke from the forest fires is still everywhere. Pai itself was pretty clear though and we saw a blue sky for the first time in over a week in northern Thailand.

Pai is an idyllic small hippy town along a river that I don't think would exist if tourists didn't start showing up there at some point and hanging out for no particular reason. Got a little one room bungalow...was a pretty chill place, can see our bungalow complex from across the river in the pic below.

Since it's the end of dry season the river was really low and not too pretty, but the mountains were nice and overall it was a peaceful place to relax for a couple days, no traffic and relatively clean air. I finished the first book I started here and read one and a half more books just chilling on the porch of the bungalow. The town itself is all bars and western restaurants, got a pretty good falafel and a not so good cheeseburger. You can circle around the whole town on foot in about 20 minutes, so it was familiar very fast. After 2 days I was ready to go.

This morning I hopped on a bus to Mae Hong Son, it is about 120km northwest of Pai. Another steep windy road through the mountains, the guidebook actually called the highway from Pai to Mae Hong Son one of the fabulous sites to see in northern thailand, but I barely saw anything again due to the smoke. I'm sure this is killing my lungs.

The girl I was travelling with went on to Laos and today was the first day i've spent alone in Thailand. It was a little lonely, there are very few tourists in this town since it's the low season and it's pretty far off the beaten path. The few i've seen seem to be older or couples, haven't met anyone here yet.

I came here because I bumped into the guy I travelled with the first few days of the trip in Pai and he told me this town is great and the Long Neck hill tribe village is really cool. So I got here and got oriented (pretty small town also, already know my way around) then rented a motorbike and followed the signs to the village, about 15km.

Along the way the scenery was beautiful...all little farms along the mountains and people harvesting their crops. Most importantly they weren't burning the forests here and I could actually see the mountains. On a motorbike all the scenery just hits you, it was great, i stopped about 5 times just to take pictures and take it all in. Here are a few of the sights along the way.

It was a little adventurous overall since I'm riding around rural thailand by myself on a motorbike...luckily there were a lot of signs pointing the way to the village and the person who rented me the motorbike wrote the name of it in Thai so i showed thai person along the way and they reassured me i was going in the right direction.
Took about 45 minutes then I hit a dirt road. This bike wasn't designed for a dirt road and I took it really slow...too slow b/c i hit a steep hill and got stuck. A Thai guy was walking up the hill and he stopped and helped me push the bike along till I could ride it again...really nice of him. Then right before the village there's a steep downhill part and I lose control of the bike as it slips into gear for a second and stub my toe pretty hard on a rock...was really scary but walked away with only a small cut on my toe, very close to being much worse.
I paid 250 baht to get into the village, not sure if the money goes to the government or the people of the village, but that's a lot of money in thailand...about $8...considering i'm paying $4.50 to rent the bike for the day and $3 for my room for the night I expected it to be worthwhile. Instead I walk into the village and I'm the only tourist around. It's literally a tourist trap, every family has a little table set up with the same crafts. I couldn't find anyone who spoke english...I wanted to ask them questions about their life and their village, but I asked around and no one would talk to me more than to try to sell me crap. The Long Necks make their girls wear metal rings around their necks and keep adding rings as they get older...this pushes the womens' rib cage down and causes their necks to look really long. I felt pretty weird taking a picture of them so i didn't...just walked around for 30 minutes and left.
The ride back was great, did it a little faster b/c i knew the way. Took a nap in the evening, tried to walk around looking for some people to meet but this place is pretty empty. I might leave tomorrow...there is a chinese village 45km away i want to see, but 45km is pretty far to go on a little bike that I'm afraid to push above 45km/hr.
here's a random cute asian kid...she lived in one of the hill tribe villages we stayed in on the 3 day trek.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Northern Thailand

Been a long 4 days since i posted. I spent Sunday exploring some of the temples here around Chiang Mai. Went up to a temple on top of a mountain which is supposed to have a great view but because there are forest fires all around here I couldn't see anything but smoke.

There is the temple, it's pretty nice even without the view.

Sunday Night I went to the big weekly night market here and it was huge. It was maybe a mile long, they closed down one of the main streets and the market just stretched out forever. Didn't buy anything but was fun to browse around.

Then Monday I went on a 3 day jungle trek organized through the hostel I was staying at. About $30 a day, 12 of us took a pickup up to near the Burma Border then hiked to the hill tribe villages. The hikes were more intense than I expected, but was good to get me in shape. The biggest problem was the smoke, all the forest fires made visibility terrible. We were in what seemed to be really beautiful mountains, but couldn't see more than 100yds away most of the time. After a long hike we made it to a nice waterfall. Right after that picture i got stung by a bee on my back, but it wasn't too painful, got the stinger out really fast.

From there we went to a hill tribe village for the night. We slept in a hut there and played with all the little kids in the village. Next day we hiked for 4 hours then went bamboo rafting down the river. I started to get sick around lunch time, not sure if it was from the food or the smoke, but about 6 of the 12 people on our trip got sick. I couldn't eat lunch and threw up twice right before going on the raft. Sat on the raft and enjoyed the ride for the most part...threw up only once...but between fits of vomitous fury i felt ok.

Most of the areas we hiked through were recently burnt, but we only really saw a couple fires. I didn't eat dinner that night, just tried to keep down the water i drank. Woke up this morning feeling a lot better. We went to a cave then went on an elephant ride for an hour before returning to our hostel. I was told by the hostel manager that they burn the forests to try to get it to rain...there is a mushroom that grows after the rains that is valuable to pick. But this year it was especially dry, no rain and the fires are the worst they've been in over 9 years. Mostly small brush fires...but there are hundreds of them.

Overall the trek was good, even with the smoke. Met a lot of interesting people, the group was from all over the world, israel, canada, argentina, holland, US, and germany. By the end everyone was friends. I'm quickly collecting e-mail addresses to have places to crash at all over the world :)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Chiang Mai

Spent 2 days in bangkok walking around with a guy I met in the hostel on the first day. It was hot as hell but i finally started to find my way around the city and get a sense of direction. Once we figured out the Water Taxi system we realized that is by far the best way to get around, $.30 a trip and can get almost anywhere in the city. The first day we walked around the tourist areas (didn't go into the sites b/c we'd both been to them before) and went to Khao San Rd, which is the main backpacker street and seems twice as large as the last time I was there. I intentionally stayed away from hostels near Khao san this time b/c it is overrun with hippies, crazy israelis, and euro partiers. We just walked around checking out little shops. We were both here several years ago and both agree that since the last time we're here between inflation and the dollar's decline prices have just about doubled for everthing.

Yesterday we walked around a little market near our hostel and hung out with some butchers, watched a little puppy jump onto the table and start nibbling on a hunk of meat. They shooed the dog away and threw the meat back into the main pile...was classic. Then we headed to Chinatown b/c i figured it would be nice to get some good chinese food, but it was horrible. Really crowded and incredibly hot. The only chinese food we found was overpriced. The market there was way too crowded. I probably walked 5 miles yesterday just wandering around the city.

Me and the guy I met at the hostel were both planning on heading up north so we both booked a overnight train to Chiang Mai. About a 14hr train ride and a comfortable bed but most importantly an air conditioned cabin. So far it's much nicer up here than Bangkok, less noisy, less crowded, and the hostel we're staying seems very chill. Tomorrow they set up a big Sunday Market so I'll be checking that out, and there are some cool temples around that i'll be exploring. After that I'm not sure where i'm going yet, maybe farther north or west toward the Burmese border.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


After 22 hours in the air, about 5 hours of layovers, and a 30 minute cab ride where the driver got lost twice, finally got to my hotel and checked in. Both long flights were in older planes, pretty cramped and bad TVs. The flight from Chicago to Tokyo was 14hours and I was sitting next to a Taiwanese lady (half the flight was continuing onto Taiwan). Spoke to her for about 4 hours in Mandarin...was the first time i've used my chinese in about 6 months, good to know i can still keep up. all the old taiwanese ladies were very impressed :-) We flew over alaska and there were some amazing views going through the mountains. the flight from tokyo to bangkok was very cramped, but I slept through most of it.

Enjoying the familiar smells of thailand, looking forward to some good food tomorrow. it's 1am here but i'm wide awake...going to take a sleeping pill and try to get adjusted to local time.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Nifty Map

Just created this map of my planned trip

map from
create your own route map at

Things might (and probably will) change from my planned course but this is the general route i'm looking to take. I'm hoping to try and fit in at least Turkey & some of Eastern Europe into this, but I'm not sure yet. Because I was using miles and availability was limited I had to go to South Africa about 10 days earlier than I was planning. Not a big problem, will just give me a chance to explore South Africa a little more. (total cost: $65 in taxes/booking fees)

I had never really planned to go to africa at all when I thought of travelling, but now it's become about 1/4 of my trip. I'm not really sure what to expect there, or if I'll like it. A little worried about limiting myself planning out a lot of these dates in advance but I don't have any other options.

If only I would have jumped on the whole credit card mileage scheme earlier I could have built up 2x as many miles by now. The credit cards are all wise to the game now and it's pretty difficult to pull off cycling cards anymore. I always focused on 0% balance transfers to make money...but at the same time i could have been getting lots of miles if i searched around.

Leaving in 4 days! getting excited...