New as of October 31st, 2005 (Chiang Rai, Thailand)
October ?6?, 2005
Taipei International Airport, Taiwan
Well Im not sure of the date, and although the clock on the wall says 21:32 (9:32 pm) my body and watch still say 6:30 am, L.A. time. I figure I will fix the date and time on my watch when I get to Thailand. Im only here for a two hour layover.
The unfortunate part of this trip is my arrival in Bangkok is at 1:00am local time. Not the best time to arrive in a new country. I did pre-book a bed at a hostel that is open 24 hours a day so hopefully everything will be fine. I even intend to simply throw money at a problem and take a taxi from the airport. (Not to mention almost all the public transit appears to shut down a little after midnight.) Oh well, I dont book a lot of airline tickets.
I wont go on about not likeing US airports. Although for some reason I had hopped I would have liked LAX. At least there werent any threats about your shoes going thru security, and I even got a smile out of one of the TSA inspectors. (I still think Chicago OHare and Denver are prettier.)
The last few days in San Fran were nice. I went out with some people from the hostel, the staff actually, and saw a movie. I didnt end up doing any more dancing, but that was OK. I really enjoyed the people at the hostel, and one of the staff had recently been to SE Asia and now I have a page of notes on where to go, what to do and specific recommendations for travel agents and the like. Back into the backpacker grapevine.
The last night in San Fran I was on my way home. It had been a long day (Coit tower, lovely neighborhood) and I just wanted a nice simple meal. I ended up eating sushi. As I was enjoying something that the waitress recommended, (I still dont know how to order sushi) I realized that somewhere sushi has become a comfort food for me. I remember once being out in Minneapolis and going to a very crunchy organic caf頡nd not recognizing anything on the menu so I order the sushi figuring that was safe. When did sushi become a comfort food?
October 9, 2005
Well here I am in Thailand. I have to remind myself of this from time to time; it somehow doesnt seam real yet.
Lets see what I have been up to. Lots. The first day here was mostly about Jetlag. The stated goal was to stay awake until the sun went down. Not normally a problem, but after 16 hours in a plane, arriving at 1:00am, being awake for 25 hours with only six hours of rest to recover, I figured keeping the first day goals simple would be best. Of course plans do grow. As soon as I got the first street corner I added not getting run over to the list. Not necessarily a small feat, but if you wait long enough some local will also want to cross the street and you can stay in their shadow. (And if no locals ever come by, you didnt want to go there anyway.)
A few hours latter I added eating food to the list of priorities. And there the goals stopped. One night in Bangkok and three goals; stay awake, stay dimensional, eat. I even fit in a bonus of e-mailing my parents that I wasnt dead yet. All in all it was a good, if zombie like, day.
As this week has progressed my plans have been getting more complicated. I have taken a canal boat trip, used the water taxies, visited several Wats (temples), taken the Sky Train, visited the national library, ridden a local bus, shopped at a seven story electronics market, and probably a lot more.
One of the hardest things to get used to is being literate again. I cant read anything or speak the language. The average street sign is mostly a bunch of squiggles. In Central America I was able to read, more or less, most of what I wanted to. I might not have been the conversational life of the party, but I could say please and thank you, and ask how much something cost. I even could eavesdrop a bit. Here it is nothing. Its not really hard as lots of people speak English. I have been having a hard time trying to eat at restaurants that dont have an English menu. A couple days ago I had wondered down a back street with out a Farang (gringo, I mean foreigner) in sight but when I sat down for lunch a bilingual menu appeared. I suspect once I leave Bangkok it will change, but until then English is quite present.
The other half of the language problem is that the guide book and my phrase book are all in a normal Romanized alphabet where as most signage is in Thai scrip. So learning from one of the books or maps does not get you only closer to reading a street sign. It also means that there arent any cognates of any kind. On a Spanish ingredient label things like citric acid were acido citrio. How does one spell DEET in squiggles? Also the lack of spaces separating words adds to the challenge of decoding anything.
One day as I wandered thru town I visited something along the line of five Wats. I fear they will all blend together as time goes on. Sorta like one great Mayan temple after another. I wonder if Wat Fatigue is like Museum Fatigue?
The Wats are amazing. The mirror mosaic tile manufactures have done well in Bangkok; as have the gold leaf and mother of pearl inlay people. I have had a feeling at a couple of the Wats that I am walking thru the worlds most elaborate birthday cake. It is probably also the contrast with the rest of the buildings which are rather drab, dull and boxy.
The canal boat trip was not something I had planned to do, but I ran into a guy who wanted to do it, but was looking for someone to share to cost. It was a little pricy, but worth it. It got back into some of the older neighborhood canals and at the far end we stopped at an orchid farm that when you looked down the gravel road all you saw were plants; quite a change from urban Bangkok. Not a motor scooter as far as you could hear.
The people here seam to do well. They feed the pigeons in the parks and bread to the fish. There are lots of cats around that I have seen being fed. The dogs are mostly of definite breads rather than just the 20 lb. yellow mutt. Ornamental fish are not uncommon nor are ornamental plants. They may not be a rich people but they seam not to be lacking basic needs. There are a few beggars but I worry more for the ones in Central America than I do these here. If an entire class of people, monks, can live off a single morning alms collection, street beggars take on a different place.
I ended up in one of the big fancy department stores that put Daytons to shame. It always seams to be a bit odd for a backpacker to end up wandering around, but I love to see what the hot items in appliances are in each country. I figure I can learn something. Is it all about hot water? Or is a refrigerator what everybody dreams of. Are normal refrigerators pass頡nd now everybody wants ice in the door. At least at this store, the Thai people have moved beyond simply wanting a refrigerator to wanting bells and whistles. The same is true for washing machines. You also have choices like, do you just want a rice cooker or do you want a ricer cooker that can also bake a cake? Oh and all the cook tops have a special burner for a wok, big surprise.
October 14, 2005
I have been trying to figure out what I have been waiting for here in Bangkok. When other travelers ask I have been saying something about getting my feet under me. Mostly I was really thinking about overcoming the jetlag, but I tonight I see I really was waiting to get my feet under me.
I have been here in Bangkok a week and am finally ready to move on. A bunch of today was spent reading my guide book about other parts of Thailand and getting excited to go see them. After a failed attempt to buy some new shower shoes / hiking sandals I ended up waiting out a cloudburst in a lovely little caf頷ith a friendly staff. After an hour or so of sitting in a comfy chair with a nice cup of hot tea (to ward off the air-conditioning) and good jazz on the sound system just watching people go by one the street I was ready to really conquer Bangkok.
Todays paper had the arts listing for the weekend and I had noticed that two plays were opening. One was a traditional Chinese story about lovers that I am guessing get turned into butterflies and the other a comedy about a philandering husband his wife, girlfriend and mother-in-law. Mostly because I got a late start and the comedy started at 8:00pm rather than 7:00pm I chose the comedy. (Oddly enough the basic plot description was quit similar to one of the plays I saw in Costa Rica.)
I got directions from one of the volunteers at the hostel and hopped a bus across town to where the theater was. I made good time I find the Metrocenter shopping center and start looking for the theatre. The mall is a big ultra modern complex more like I expect in Japan or Hong Kong. I would have asked at the information counter but as the name of the play is in Thai scrip I didnt know what to ask for. Up on the seventh floor I found the box office, glad that I didnt have to brave the busy move theatre box-office below. I approached the counter and put on my big Im a stupid gringo that doesnt speak a word of your language please help meEsmile. It worked as all the staff gestured to the person with the best English who just happened to be the sister of the Director/Producer/Playwright. She asked if I would like to buy a ticket. I said yes and she said, But its in Thai, do you speak Thai?E (Which I obviously didnt or I would have been able to buy a ticket like any other person.) To which I replied, I wont understand a word, but I work in theater.E She understood this idea. And helped me get a ticket, a much better ticket than I would have had without the silly gringo who wont understand a word, but wants to come anywayEdiscount of half off. She then gave me a big smile as she handed me the program, entirely in Thai script, and asked if she could show me around.
She showed me their current home. Its one of the movie multiplexs theatres with stadium seating. She apologized they had just lost the lease on their old theatre last year and this is their temporary home. They had built a stage extension, hung some trusses for lighting, but were still limited by the movie theaters architecture. We talked a little about lighting and the local theatre scene. (Apparently this is the only theatre company in Bangkok that does what I would call normal plays.) She had to run off and tend to things as this was opening night and they were many things to do. True to much of my experience even the crew were still putting the finishing touches on the set.
After a sorry dinner of past in white sauce in the food court downstairs, I returned and saw the show. Just as expect I didnt understand a word except sawadeeE(hello/goodbye), the polite interrogatives krupEkupE and the about five words in English. On the other hand I did follow the play quite easily, laughed several times, and in general had a good time. I thanked my host of sorts and hopped a bus home with a big grin on my face.
I bussed off to a show for which I was the only farang there, and probably the only one for the entire run, met people and talked a bit of theatre. I think this is the definition of getting my feet under me. Largely it is getting off the normal tourist track of seeing all the same Wats and other stuff in the postcards and doing something that is specifically me. Now if only they had a Morris sideE.
October 17, 2005
Well I finally made it out of town. Well most of me. Figuring that after going out and seeing a play the next day in Bangkok was sure to be a letdown I hopped a bus to a close, common tourist town. Since I planEto be back in Bangkok after a few days I just packed one change of cloths and my tooth brush in my daypack and left the rest at the hostel in Bangkok. Traveling light is nice. It half makes me want to buy a smaller pack and dump a lot of stuff. The current scenario does force me to return to Bangkok, but it appears that much of Thai trains and busses do that anyway. Not to mention paying 12 cents a day for luggage storage isnt bad.
At times I wonder if my brother Jake should be taking parts of this trip rather than me. He has always been interested in history, in fact he now teaches it. But here I am blindly wandering off to places of historic note and will probably only really know what I have been looking at when I get home and read about it, or only from the abbreviated description in the guide book. (My brother is making news of his own, at least in Papua New Guinea see here .)
Here in Kanchanaburi one of the highlights on the tourist track is the bridge over the river Kwai. I really should get around to actually watching that movie. Maybe when I get back. Now I have walked across the bridge, seen the museum, walked thru one of the grave yards, and successfully avoided all the souvenir gak sellers. I bumble along hopping that when I read about it back home, I dont realize that the most exciting and weird part about it all was just around the corner.
Getting out of Bangkok has been nice. The air is cleaner; I can sit in the guesthouses yard and just watch the river flow quietly by. The weather reminds me a bit of Sishan Banna (SP?) back in China. I think it is mostly the tropical climate. Unfortunately Kanchanaburi is pretty touristy. It reminds me a bit of Costa Rica. Lots of tourists so you are both isolated from the locals as well as too many to develop a sense of community among the travelers. Part of the isolation is probably because of where I am staying. I picked it from the Lonely Planet because it sounded like it was a backpacker hangout spot where you get to know everybody, but in the end it is a bit too big and too well organized to really have to interact with fellow travelers. Oh well, Ive been in places like this before, I will again.
This afternoon, having seen the bridge, museum, and graveyard yesterday, I am taking an organized tour to see the Tiger Temple. Its a temple where the monks have set up a rescue center for wild animals that have been taken as pets and then gotten rid of when it doesnt work out, or have been injured by poachers. I think I have heard about it before and should be a nice trip. If Im lucky I get to pet a tiger. (And get to keep my hand.)
This has almost nothing to do with anything but...
One of the fun things about running a web site is I can look at the site stats. See where my readers are in the world (.net, .org, .gt, .mx ect), when most people read the site (after lunch is popular) and what web sign refered them if they didn't come directly here (currently a friend's journal is the big hitter bumping Mel's Livejournal of the top of the list)
Also of interest is what search strings people used and ended up with me. I have included the top twenty list below.
|Top 20 of 39 Total Search Strings|
|1||4||8.00%||ke es el lago atitlan|
|6||2||4.00%||presidental palace panama city panama|
|7||2||4.00%||tiajauna border crossing|
|8||1||2.00%||all saints day oaxcac|
|9||1||2.00%||antigua guatemala drum lessons|
|11||1||2.00%||circus du solie|
|12||1||2.00%||costa rica liveing cost|
|14||1||2.00%||farell's home hostel|
|16||1||2.00%||free english - spanish guatamalan translator|
|17||1||2.00%||hankie dakota minnesota northern|
|18||1||2.00%||how can i send a automobile to guatemala by sheep|
|19||1||2.00%||information on costa rica about there foodimportant buildingscl|
|20||1||2.00%||la paz mexico strip clubs|
|View All Search Strings|
Where did number 18 come from? Admiditly it was only searched once, but that is more than I expect shipping cars by sheep would have come up.
Back to more travels next time....
October 24th, 2005
Well I survived all the tigers fully intact. On the way to see them, the group was talking about why we were doing this. If we were back home and someone suggested that we all go pet tigers you would stop and think about it. Here you just go along and say 'Why not?' Especially considering there probably are some good reasons why we should be more careful over here. On the other hand, if you got hurt it is way cooler to tell people that you got mulled by a tiger in Thailand then to say you slipped running to catch your train because you were late to work. Later joked when we went up and saw the rest of the animals that on the way in we were worrying about the tigers but with bad luck we would end up with Bird Flu. (Kanchanaburi I learned from the front page headlines upon my return to Bangkok just had one death and one hospitalization from Bird Flu.)
What else did I do in Kanchanaburi? (A town name which has the same number of syllables and general rhythm as 'Guantanamera'; hence getting the Spanish song stuck in my head on a regular basis. I guess it's better than "One Night in Bangkok.") I took a day trip off to Nam Tok Erawan, a seven tiered waterfall. It was a nice hike in the hills and because I ended up taking a tour that got me going early in the morning we were there before most of the crowds. I got a little swimming in which was nice to wash in a pool for a change. (When I started this trip I couldn't figure out why the guide book was always talking about chances to go swimming. Now I know that it is really a chance for backpackers who are weary of poor showers to get a chance to soak.) I am glad to say that the Thai's don't litter like the Central American's do. Just after tier 3 you had to register your water bottle and pay a deposit to make sure you didn't leave it on the trail. Cumbersome but effective. In the end I like the tiered falls at SemacChampe in Guatemala better, but Erawan is nice as well. After lunch and picking up the two English guys who had gone on an elephant ride we stuck our head in a cave that had a couple Buddha images in it and then took the train that still runs on the old Death Railway line. Before the train came we walked along the train tresel. They still have the old 1-meter gauge rails the POW's laid down with the modern standard gauge rails on either side. A bit haunting to know how many people died to lay that inner set of rails.
I spent another day in Kanchanauri just hanging out and researching visas for Laos and Vietnam. That evening I went out with the Englishmen who did the Elephant rides and ended up at a half Farang half local bar. They had a live band that mostly did American pop music covers but the locals would filter in and take the mic for their favorite song. (Still American pop covers.) All of this in English. I figured a lot of the guys who were singing probably didn't speak much English, but they could sing it. (I guess the same way I have sung in German, Italian, French, Mongolian, Mohawken, Japanese, Swahili, Portuguese, Hebrew, Gaelic, and who knows what other languages over the past few years with One Voice Mixed Chorus.)
One of the other farang that joined our group was a math teacher back in Bangkok having a bit of a holiday. He ran into so Thai that he sorta knew and by the end of the evening was set up to be one of the kid's math tutor. Actually three generations of the family were there at the bar so it was the whole gang we ended up meeting. We rounded the group with an Irishman (I have met tons of Irish here; don't know why) and a girl from Germany. By the end of the evening I ended up hanging out in the guesthouse's courtyard in a hammock with one of the Brits and the Irishman listening to a Frenchman have a break up with his girlfriend that was worthy of an opera or two. Much wailing and pounding of chest. A very passionate, and drunk, man.
The next day I had breakfast with another German girl I had been running into on a regular basis and compared notes as to what to do next. She was heading up to the Burmese border at the Three Pagodas Pass and I was back to Bangkok to get visas and then north to Chiang Mai. Different plans but I have the feeling we may run into each other again.
Bus back to Bangkok was uneventful and I found the travel agent that Aileen from the hostel in San Francisco recommended. When I asked the guy if he was Mr. Answar he gave me a funny look trying to figure out why I knew his name. I told him I had met Aileen and showed him her picture that was still in my camera and he remembered her. Funny the connections that can be made over 150 degrees of Longitude.
The last few days I have been hiding out up here in the former capital city of Ayutthaya. A name that is so similar to a town I visited in El Salvador I kept getting it mixed up.
Atytthaya was the capital of Thailand until 1767 when it fell to the Burmese, who looted the place. Part of what was striking about the ruins of the old city is how much work the Burmese put into ransacking the city. As far as I can tell hundreds of stone Buddha images were decapitated. It looks like a lot of work to me. Of course they did get some reward like melting down one standing Buddha that had been covered in 250kg of gold.
The other thing that stuck me was a bit of how similar the ruins were to the ruins of the original Panama City. Looking out over the fallen walls it was almost the same until you saw some Praang sticking up in the background.
Today I mostly was lazy and read a lot. I did take a walk for lunch and ended up at the local shopping mall and made of few observations. In most cases the fluorescent and compact-fluorescent lamps rule in SE Asia. The American standard Edison bi-pin plug and Edison medium screw base are startlingly familiar although the voltage is 220. Fried chicken and pound cake are the same the world over. The Dairy Queen employees manual must also require the inverting of a Blizzard when presenting it to the customer. And even though the computer help books are written in Thai, they are for the English version of the software.
Tomorrow it is off to Bangkok to reclaim my passport and then maybe the overnight train to Chaing Mai.
October 25, 2005
On a train to Chiang Mai, Thailand
Well today turned out to be a bit more than I expected. I am mostly not complaining but there are times to leave an interesting life.
As I said before today was back to Bangkok to pickup my passport with the Laos and Vietnam visas in it and then a night train to Chiang Mai. I awoke in Ayutthaya and after an easy morning headed over to the train station, I got there about noon to find the next train was about 1:30p but delayed until 2:00p. A little latter than I hoped as I thought there was at 12:30p, but oh well. After picking up my ticket I headed to wander around and maybe pick up a bit more for lunch. (I had had lunch but even though my main request when I set out for lunch was not to have soup, I had soup. I hate having to pick my own food.)
My second lunch was not a culinary success. Having to deal with the language barrier I had asked via pointing and the like that I wanted rice with chicken on top expecting the cook's pride to turn the chicken into something interesting with a few vegetables and spices. This cook lacked pride. I had rice with plain chicken, cooked in nothing but oil, on top. I did my best making it brave with the table condiments, which fortunately are of some value here.
After lunch I still had an hour and a half to kill so I headed down the road parallel to the railroad tracks. Yesterday I had walked the southern half of this road so today I headed north. Working my way past two groups of motorcycle taxies I confused most of them by responding to their insistent "Where you go?" with, "For a walk." Although one driver responded with, "There is nothing that way." Although I think he was genuinely trying to be helpful, I know people do not build roads to nothing, nor do roads to nothing get the traffic I had seen on this one. Now as I knew from my maps and what not, he was correct in that all the temples, the bridge to town and what not were all to the south, but there must be something. (If I was lucky maybe it would be the garbage dump so I could get pictures of it. I have been disappointed as so far I have only seen one garbage truck, and I have truly been wondering about the solid waste disposal situation here in Thailand. OK, I'm weird, but you knew that.) Anyway at least I saw one of the three tiered roofs that are over temples in the distance so if nothing else I could see another Wat.
Well I got to the Wat, which was closed, and saw what I think functions like and important person's graveyard with praang around back that probably hold people's ashes, but what really took my interest was the music coming from the building across the parking lot. I listened for a bit and took a couple of audio pictures and then headed over to the building to see if I could figure out what was going on.
The music was a lot like the Gamelan music I knew from going to concerts and working them back at Ted Mann. I knew that music was from Java and if I make it down there, I hope to seek some out, but I didn't know what to expect here. Well I put on my innocent, harmless, friendly, curious foreigner look and wandered over to the building. Sure enough I was noticed and waved into the building after a couple polite rounds of, "Who? Me? Really?"'s.
The building was really just a large roof with several low platforms with mats on them. I took off my shoes, I'm doing a lot of that these days, and sat down in front of the musicians. I couldn't tell if this was a rehearsal, jam session, or part of some event. Half the group were wearing mostly black maybe printed tee shirts, but not anything very dressy and the other half were in pretty much normal street clothes.
The instruments were sorta like the ones in the Schubert Club's Gamelan. Not as many, and certainly of a different design, but still a lot of little mettle gong things, although lacking the really big ones. There were drums including a couple double ended ones, some kind of double reeded oboe like thing, and free strung marimba things. Being a smaller group I could follow who was leading the changes and who was more the 'harmony' part. They probably only had five to six musicians playing at one time.
At a break between 'songs' they chatted at me a bit and one guy offered a some strong amber liquid and a glass of ice cubes. From what I saw of the activities in the back, there was a whole bucket of ice and much consumption of strong amber liquids. The way people traded off playing, relaxing, and wandering off had much the feeling of pick-up dancing at a Morris ale.
I did explain that I did have a train to catch, but thanked them. As far as the building was concerned, it had a shrine at one end and lots of room so I expect it is where one would hold a wedding if the Wat next door was your Wat.
Also behind the shrine area was what at first I thought of as a big old furnace. It had a big metal door and the surrounding concrete showed signs of heat damage. I finally decided it was a crematorium. So as far as I can gather I walked into equivalent of a combined Lutheran church's sanctuary and basement, with a little funeral parlor mixed in.
The other people in the audience were very casual and seemed to be just hanging around. Some times chatting some times listening to the music, maybe a little flirting with a player. Either I ended up at 'choir' rehearsal, or it was some epic ceremony lasting hours or days that you came and went from as needed.
My train ride back to Bangkok was uneventful. I hopped the VERY modern subway, transferred to the equally modern Sky Train to Siam Square to pick up my anti-malaria medication and have dinner. (I am still not sure if I will be taking the anti-malarial but as I have also learned that the same drug on basically the same dosage is also a treatment for acne; so the idea of killing two birds with one stone doesn't sound bad.
After dinner it was about 5:00pm and I hopped on a bus that I figured would take me to the hostel to collect my bag. This is where the fun began. Bangkok traffic makes L.A. look like nothing. I hopped on my bus for seven BHT and went a total of one block in the next forty-five minuets. I am not kidding. I would have made better ground on my hands and knees. When the bus did finally start moving it terminated about half way to the hostel. Now normally I wouldn't care too much but as I had bought a ticket on the 7:40pm train and it was now 6:00pm and I had neither my bag or passport I decided it was time to start throwing money at the problem. It is silly to save money on cab fair only to miss my overnight sleeper train. I started by negating a price with a motorcycle taxi to get me from the Democracy Monument, where I was, to Si Sou Thewt where the hostel was for 70 BHT (about 1.75 USD.) You know I'm throwing money around when I convert things back to US dollars. The advantage of motorcycle is that they weave in and out of the stand still traffic so they can make headway when a real taxi can't. If nothing else it is a really cheep roller coaster ride. Twenty minuets I was at the hostel collecting my bag. It was about 6:25pm and the earliest I could collect my passport had been 6:00pm so I was only half a hour behind schedule, but I had also wanted to take the 9:30pm train so I wouldn't be rushed.
Now with my bag, and in the money spending mood I hopped a Tuk-tuk to Kho San Road to get my passport, 40 BHT, about 1 USD. Being reunited with my travel documents I was looking for the fastest way to the Train station. Checking my map I figured one of the river boats from the Banglumpoo Pier to the Harbor Department Pier was the best bet, also avoiding traffic.
Traipsing over to the pier I made it just in time to hop on a boat as it was litterly pulling out of the dock. It was now 6:50pm. (12 BHT, about 30 cents)
Relaxing a bit on the boat ride I figured I should take a taxi from the dock to the train terminal just to complete a tour of Bangkok using every form of available transit. In the end I took another tuk-tuk for 40 BHT (1 USD) because it was the first thing that came by. (A taxi on it's meter would probably only cost 35 BHT.)
I arrived at the terminal at 7:30pm with ten minuets to spare. The train hadn't pulled up to the track yet so all was well. In the end the train didn't pull out of the station until 8:35pm or so. So there was no rush to begin with. On the other hand it is nice to know that Thailand is a cheap enough country so that you can do a "throw money to the wind" "Around the World in Eighty Days" sorta traverse of Bangkok and it only cost you 4.23 USD.
October 30th, 2005
Well I liked the night train to Chiang Mai. I had an upper berth in a second class carriage and got some nice sleep. Why can't they have sleeper busses like that? It wasn't like I had a private compartment that took up lots of space. It was really like staying in a hostel dormitory. Except in this case I had a couple business men and a monk in my room. I didn't mind the top bunk much expect that you get more light coming over the curtain and the Air Conditioning tends to blow on you.
When I got to Chiang Mai I headed over to one of the places listed in the Lonely Planet. You can tell I must be here in low season as everything is a bit dead. There is nothing quite as depressing as a backpacker hangout without backpackers. This place was pretty much empty. Up in the dormitory there was only one other person, a guy from Canada. The restaurants and other Guesthouses seamed to be empty was well. The only people in the restaurants tended to be the staff, grouped around one table looking bored.
For all the lack of Farang in this part of Chiang Mai there were a lot of services. It seamed like every block there were a couple bars, a place offending laundry service, a guest house, motorbike rental shop, and at least two places offering to book trekking trips; all of them empty. It was too touristy with out any of the energy tourists bring to a place. After three nights I decided it was time to move on.
I did have fun talking to the guy from Canada. He has just spent a year in China teaching English just outside of Kunming where I live for one semester back in 1992. We compared China stories. Unfortunately he reported that they have quit charging for plastic bags and they now litter the country side. He was intregged by the idea of China pre plastic bottle, plastic bag, cell phone, private automobile. Sadly it sounds like China is making all the mistakes I had hoped they wouldn't.
As I am running a bit short on time I decided I wouldn't make it up to Pai (pronounced like 'bye') which is know for it's hippy-hangout and lovely mountain scenery. I'm not really in to mood for scenery and hippy-hangout generally mostly means readily available drugs.
Here in Chiang Rai, a smaller town described in the book as more livable than visitable, I am getting along better. The first night, yesterday, wasn't too good of a start though.
I arrived in town about 6:30pm, so just after nightfall, in the rain. I went over to a restaurant that had the English language newspapers out and had dinner and read the papers hopping the rain would let up. While eating the rain got worse. Fortunately while reading my second newspaper and carefully dragging out my last cup of hot tea the rain slowed and I figured this was as good as it was going to get. I tried to go to the hotel listed in the guide book as big modern and always has rooms. I missed it and ended up on the far side of town. I was fortunately near one of the places I had originally planed to try so I went there and tried to see what their dorms were like. It was one of the grubbiest places I have been. The bathroom looked as maybe the toilet may have exploded and judging by the cobwebs and number of dead insects caught there the sink and neither been cleaned or used in quite sometime. But it was raining, the beds were OK, and the toilet hadn't really exploded it was just the ceiling caving in over it, so I took it. (Not to mention it was only 60 BHT US$1.50.) When I went back to the registration desk to take it the woman told me that she also had private rooms with hot and cold showers for 200 BHT, possibly a bit of a bait and switch. Being cheep, I stayed with the dorm.
After coating myself in bug repellent, I fell asleep to the sound of the rain coming down harder, both on the tin roof and in the bathroom.
Today I switched to a place on the other side of town with a very friendly host and a lovely clean private room with bath. Now I do expect to still have it raining in the bathroom as this one is open air with a high wall and the roof only goes as far as the toilet. There are plants draped all over and it is like a little private patio except that it is also your bathroom. If it is raining when you shower you don't have to worry so much about the water pressure going out while you are all soaped up.
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