Monthly Archives: February 2009

Bangkok

We arrived at Bangkok at 4am to a chorus of touts calling “good morning sir, taxi? where you go, where you go?” I’m tempted to say this is all you really need to know about Bangkok- that even in the middle of the night it’s still busy enough that someone will try to sell you something.

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This  is  the world-famous  Kao  San  Road,  arguably the most famous backpacker street in the world. (Who am I kidding?  The most famous, as it’s not like I know of any others.)  This is the tourist center of South East Asia, filled with guesthouses, bars, stores, tailors (less than $100 for an Armani style suit here!), and anything else you could possibly want-

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A roadside bar that pulls up every night.  I love the endorsement.

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Another ubiquitous Kao San operation, which you will have to zoom in to see in greater detail because these vendors obviously don’t take kindly to photography.  I politely inquired, you can get set up with a student ID anywhere in the world for about three bucks, a driver’s license or press pass is about twice as much.  No word on the diplomas or certifications but it can’t be much more.

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Another shot of Kao San at night with some of its revelers- specifically from right to left, Adrian, Judit, and Sasha.  Remember Sasha?  He was my guide in Japan and was in Bangkok a few days, so he met up with us for some dinner and drinks.

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Elephant walking down the street in Bangkok.  Ho-hum.
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To continue on the shopping theme, we went to the weekend market in Bangkok, as Judit was leaving in a few days time and was in need of souveniers.  This is just outside the market of course- inside is best imagined as a warren of stalls and narrow alleys, selling everything from clothes to pets to food to pets that can someday become food, etc.

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One particularly interesting stall with fried bugs, which it turns out are 10 baht a scoop…

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Mmm, crunchy!

No really,  that’s the best way I can describe what eating a fried cricket is like. (Adrian had had them before, Judit didn’t dare try one.) They don’t taste like anything except perhaps the soy sauce dabbled on them, just a crunch and they’re gone.

It should be noted that despite all this potential purchasing I haven’t really done much of it- my most significant purchase was two t-shirts at the market for under US$5, aka the price I always thought a t-shirt was worth so it made me happy.  You just can’t buy too many things when you have five months of life on the road to go, but it’s nonetheless fun to look.

Ko Tao Continued

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Okay, we caved. Ideally traveler-folk would have moved on by this point (and if by myself I probably would be on the West Coast already) but life is different if you only have two weeks like my cousin does.  And once we sat down and considered things traveling that much doesn’t make sense and we like Ko Tao, so why not be beach bums a bit longer?

I must say though, we don’t hang out with the Lotus Eaters much- just hellos, inquiries about our respective days, and polite rejection of invitations to “Expand Your Mind” parties. (Beyond the obvious reasons, I just finished reading a book about a woman who got caught with drugs in Thailand.  In short, you never, ever, ever want to go to Thai prison.)

Instead, we just joined a motorcycle gang-

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Ok, in short you only use motorcycles to get around Ko Tao with the possible exception of some trucks for hauling larger numbers of people.  Judit and I weren’t totally keen on driving ourselves but met some other travelers more adept at this skill, so we hopped onto the cycles yesterday to visit different beaches.

I don’t have a group shot of the motorcycle gang yet, but we were a mix of Argentinians, Finns, a Canadian, and obviously a Hungarian and an American.  Because if you don’t represent three continents in any activity around here you’re doing it wrong.

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In hindsight, going with people who knew how to cycle was a very good thing- beyond the main road in Ko Tao the interior is all dirt roads, often so bad you need to get off the steeper hills if you’re the second passenger.  So a good amount of hiking was involved!  This was actually one of the better hills honestly, most didn’t have the cement pathway…

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A house up in the secluded jungle.  Might have been a rough ride but I’m so glad we went into the interior instead of forever hanging out on the edge of the island on the beach!

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And here is the fruits of our labor- it took an hour to go maybe 10km and 419 steps to go down the steep mountain to the water (yes, I counted, I had nothing better to do going back up) and we got to Mango Bay- one of the loveliest, most secluded beaches on the island.  Incidentally, also where Judit and I did our first confined water dive, I must say it’s a bit easier to reach by boat… The fish here are incredible though, just watching the top of the water yields schools of them from sardine-sized damselfish to baby barrracuda.

Mango Bay also has nothing but an isolated resort with bungalows, which can’t be cheap but is a place I fantasize about staying at if I ever make it back here.  Of course, by then I’m sure Mango Bay will be worse than Chaweng beach on Ko Samui, so I’m glad I got to see it now when it was ours alone!

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Sairee Beach at sunset.  Because no day exploring beaches is complete without a great sunset.

And while not a member of the motorcycle gang because he was busy with his diving course but certainly a great guy, meet Adrian from Switzerland-

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We met Adrian at the Buddha View bar a few nights ago, where he was staring longingly at my dinner leftovers because as a guy he is always hungry.*  The three of us have subsequently spent every night hanging out together talking about various things, though I give him a hard time occasionally-

“Adrian, is it true that the Swiss have no sense of humor?”

“No.” (Delivered in a flat voice without further elaboration.)

Adrian also is one of those people who seems to know how to use my camera better than me- a depressing thing considering I’ve owned it for two years- so he got me this great shot of the fire dancers on the beach last night:

img_3665Not to run too all over the page, but the few firedancers I’ve talked to have to be some of the most interesting.  It turns out Thailand is similar to the United States in that they have a large illegal immigrant population doing jobs the Thai don’t want, but here instead of Hispanics the immigrants are from Burma.  The firedancers are from there- they drive the boats by day, practicing while the divers are underwater, and by night do firedancing in hopes to get a few extra baht through tips.

And that is how things stand.  Tomorrow we are ending the Ko Tao beach bum life and heading up to Bangkok, as Judit has a plane to catch in a few days and we haven’t been there yet.  Cheers!

*Because people are going to wonder after the drug reference, that’s only hookah you see in the pipe.  I’m not a fan beyond a few puffs as I don’t smoke, but I am so in the minority on this around here you wouldn’t believe it if you are from the United States.

A Day at Buddha View

Every day we’ve woken up around 7 or 8 in the morning due to class, a dive, or a particularly important football game.  It is just any other day at Buddha View, and the first dive boat goes out at 730am so everyone is up early!

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In a place like this, of course, everything is defined by the dives- talk revolves around how many you’ve done or what you saw on the last one above anything else, second place being discussion of travel plans and swapping tips on this.  What else do you expect at a dive resort?

The first time Judit and I got onto the dive boat was yesterday, though it seems an age ago. (I’ve noticed that’s one interesting thing about travel- how if you have been even a day somewhere it feels like you’ve been there your entire life.) The first day is class and doing stuff in the pool, the second day is doing things in confined water (and more class- boo!), and the last two days are dives up to 18 meters.  After that, we’re certified divers free to dive anywhere in the world!

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A picture of us starting off the swimming test before our first dive in the ocean- two times around the dive boat and ten minutes treading water.  There was a strong current, so the swimming was a bit of a struggle towards the end…

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In dive gear!  The first time you put it on it’s surprisingly heavy (you don’t notice in the water of course) but you get pretty used to it.  Actually one of the most impressive things to me about diving is how quickly you get used to it in general- the first time you breathe underwater your throat is soon aching from the dry air (you don’t want any moisture in your tank of course), you can’t help but feel a little claustrophobic breathing underwater, and you go up and down by controlling your breath which is just hard until you get the hang of things.  But you do- I can even clean water out of my mask when it starts filling up, which will impress anyone who remembers how scared I was until much younger getting my eyes wet while swimming!

And diving itself, of course, is fun, but I don’t have pictures of the incredible fish down there as I’m not equiped.  But I’m working on it… There are two dives in the morning session as well as two in the evening (you only do one unless you’re a crazed divemaster or some such), after which one gets home at noon or 5pm respectively.  Just in time for a cold shower as there’s no hot water, another thing I’m impressed that I can handle though I won’t pretend there are no curse words uttered the first time you go under.  You know your life has taken an odd turn where things like a hot water shower or a flush toilet seem like luxury items (as we have the ‘fill the bucket with water and pour it in’ kind).

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Anyway, by evening when one comes back everyone is starved so it’s time for the barbecue- what you see here plus some normal dishes that change every night.  All very cheap and tasty…

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As this pup can attest, who has an uncanny habit of knowing who just filled their plate.  This one’s name is Molly, one of the dive dogs and undeniably the cutest.

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And once that’s done it’s time to head to the beach bar, where beer is 60 baht ($1.70), buckets of Thai rum+ mixer are 250 baht ($7.50) and where, obviously, everyone has a good time!  I also like this bar because they overwhelmingly play classics, singing about brown eyed girls and if money can buy you love and if music can save your mortal soul.  I might be a traitor to my generation but most of the typical bar music I hear is crap, so this is a nice change of pace!

As for the people in the bar, well, I confess I’ve started calling a lot of them Lotus Eaters in my mind. (No, I am not explaining that one as I feel you should get it.) Lots of people have come into this tropical paradise intending to stay a few days but never leaving for weeks or months, and the longer you stay often correlates with the interesting conversation level.  Ok, so I shouldn’t be surprised that there are beach bums in Thailand (shocker!) and I can understand why someone would choose Ko Tao to do this, but there we are.

img_3641And last but not least, I am cheating- this picture is not from very late last night but rather very, very early this morning!  I got up at 6am to watch the Steelers win the Super Bowl today, and must mention how odd this is to do internationally.  Most notably there are no commercials so you just stare at the empty field instead (I was so bored I had to get my book), and they keep telling you helpful websites where you can go and learn how to play American football.  Oh, and the halftime/ end of game commentators speak in Thai, leading to my wondering just how difficult it must be to become a Thai football commentator.  Can’t be much of a market don’t you think?

So there it is- a day at a Ko Tao dive resort.  I must say it’s very fun, and hard to believe tomorrow is our last day!  We are considering staying on a few days longer once our course is done, to which the Lotus Eaters have been shouting “aha, you too!!!” but I don’t think I could be one of them.  Amazing as Ko Tao is, I can’t help but wonder about what the rest of the world is like out there!