I think we overdosed on the Internet access in Japan, as we always had a connection in our room. I could revert to my habitual surfing. Once we landed in Thailand, I had an Internet hangover and I haven't shared pictures in a while, so this is a chance to catch up a bit.
It's rather strange to return to a place like Thailand or Phuket. My camera doesn't seem to be drawn to the same things. The world is not uniquely new to me, like it is for the first visit. Nevertheless, it is still a wonderful place to be.
We spent a few days in Bangkok, at our old home at the Asia Hotel. If anyone wants to see some Thai quirk, go there any night for dinner (MRT Stop: Ratchatewi). The Elvis impersonator is there nightly and is fun to watch.
You can see from the sweat the he's working hard. Speaking of sweat, the traffic police must have the hottest job in Bangkok, complete with face mask:
Even the dogs can hardly stay awake.
Next was Phuket, where we met Kris and Robert (and tried to get certified for diving). We went to a Thai boxing match with them and here is Robert with "the champ", who is actually only there for pictures.
Since Phuket doesn't really do it for us, we decided to replace the days that I would have been learning to dive with a few days on Phi Phi Island (Known for beautiful scenery, the movie "The Beach" and tsunami devastation). Kris and Robert are hopefully going to come meet us here after Kris is certified. We really hope they do, as Phi Phi is another world compared to Phuket.
Being a secluded island, we thought Phi Phi might be too expensive, too crowded and not what we want, but we've found it to be very cool and a good value. It has the laid-back island vibe and it is an amazingly beautiful place.
I plan to write more about the tsunami's effect on Phi Phi soon. It really seems that the island has fully recovered. In fact, this little guy makes me wonder if tiny aliens have not invaded recently.
There is a famous street in Bangkok called Khao San Road which is known as the "backpacker ghetto". It has cheap rooms, cheap food, lots of bars and hence, lots of backpackers.
Before we arrived in Bangkok for the first time, people said "Go see Khao San, but don't stay there". Being you can't get there by train and Bangkok traffic is a joke, we didn't make it to Khao San Rd. until today (our 3rd visit to Bangkok).
I'm really glad we're not staying there. Something that I've learned about my travel style is that I don't want to be surrounded by other travelers. Seeing other westerners in a secluded temple in Kyoto takes something away from the experience for me. I'd prefer to feel like the only foreigner in a place that no one can find. When I look at Khao San road, I see the opposite of that. It's wall-to-wall backpackers, strutting around with their day-old dreadlocks, sunburned cheeks and too-cool-for-school attitudes. Though we carry a backpack, it is abundantly clear to us that we don't identify with the average 20 year old unkept-and-proud backpacker. It seems that the badge of honor among backpackers is to appear that your lodging does not have a shower. It also seems that Khao San road is as much about travel fashion and looking cool for other backpackers than anything else, and I'm over it. And yes, I am perhaps jealous that I'm not that young anymore and realize that I sound even older.
If I were 20, though, I'd love Khao San Rd. and would be right there with them. But as a 32 year old traveler with a backpack, I can't help but wonder if the Bangkok they experience happens without the company of 15 other people wearing a "Same Same But Different" t-shirt.
Well, the Japanese adventure is over and our budget is happy to be back in SE Asia. Japan- what a highlight.
It is nice to be back in Thailand- the land of succulent pineapples, cheap lodging and constant summertime.
Unfortunately, I was quickly reminded of a part of Bangkok I could do without. Twice tonight I saw people parading around the city streets with elephants (above) offering rides and pictures. It's a spectacle the first time, but thereafter the sight grows more and more sad. I've ridden an elephant before in Sri Lanka- in the jungle and through a reservoir, so I can only be so critical, but I HATE to see them in the traffic of a busy downtown street. You can just see the weariness in their eyes.
This has been a pretty high pressure morning, thanks to our ignorance of business closings on May Day yesterday.
You see, we really needed to get a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) for economical bullet train travel around Japan. It is only possible to purchase a JR Pass *outside* of Japan and we planned to buy them in Bangkok. We carefully planned our time in Bangkok to have a weekday for acquiring said pass. As noted previously, the May Day holiday through a monkey wrench into the plan- all travel agencies were closed.
So, this morning the goal was to take the SkyTrain at rush hour (with our backpacks), find the travel agency somewhere on the busy Silom Rd. that opened at 8:30, get the pass and make our 11am flight to Tokyo, JR Pass in hand. Delays in getting the pass or traffic could have caused us to miss the flight and not getting the JR would have cost us hundreds of dollars extra in travel. Stakes were high.
Things this morning went hurriedly, sweatily and luckily quite smoothly and here we are with our boarding pass and JR Pass safely in hand, ready for Tokyo.
One quick note: We were amazed and a bit worried when we tried to board the first train this morning. The doors opened to reveal people packed in like sardines- you could see that the opening of the doors gave them a little relief. We looked in there, then at our backpacks, and let that train go. When the next one came, I remembered watching the men board the train in Mumbai, India and as soon as the doors opened, we pushed in and made room for ourselves, much to the dismay of the man behind Sachi, who pushed her for the rest of the eerily silent ride. If nothing else, we're becoming more aware of what it means to give up person space to things done.
This was one of the errands we were supposed to be doing in Bangkok. Unlike many of the others on the list, the haircut was successful, as you can see. The problem is that the two days we reserved for getting things done were on a Sunday and Monday- and Monday turned out to be May Day- a public holiday- much to our surprise. I guess that means we have to schlep a bunch of stuff we were sending home to Japan tomorrow and pay out the yen to send it.
We're falling in love with Thailand, and India is partially to blame. Like Newley said, it may be that our trip will end up being defined as pre-India and post-India. Arriving in Bangkok post-India made a place that people like to degrade seem like an wonderland to us. Bangkok is not polluted. Compared to Delhi or Mumbai, Bangkok is an operating room with smiling people and mmmmmm foooood.
I had some problems logging into the site for a while, so there are a number of photos to share, so here goes...
We stayed in the Asia Hotel, which was really nice and about $40US, which was OK in Bangkok. This is the view from the rooftop pool:
We ventured out and found that we were much more interested in the daily reality of Bangkok than the temples and palaces. Of course, this means food to some extent. Here are some of the things we saw and ate:
Many things come on sticks.
Some look inedible, but I almost ate one of these, just because I could. But I didn't, yet.
All this stuff is good, I would guarantee.
As TwinF member Gregg, recommended, we took a longtail boat ride through the canals of "Venice of the East". This was a great thing to do and we also recommend it. Every single person we passed had a
The Bed Supperclub reminds me of the Korova Milk Bar in the movie A Clockwork Orange, complete with a sterile white atmosphere, impractical "modern" decor with pretention bleeding from between the sheets.
Essentially, it is a restaurant and dance club where you eat lounged on a bed with friends a la the Bed Bar in the HBO tv show Sex and the City. The whole place is housed in what amounts to a giant tube- like an airplane fuselage with two floors of bed-based seating.
We (Sachi, Newley and me) were constanly amused by the scene in general which felt like another world of high fashion, performance art and people who appear to take themselves far too seriously. We were outsiders.
As an example, the server gave is a comment card that had ratings 1-5 with 1 being "meow" and 5 being "ROOAR!" When we arrived there was a brightly lit women standing in the middle of the room, looking a bit like a Cirque Du Soleil clown with vines wrapped around her. Upon asking, we found that she was a performer in an interactive/performance art display, called "Cut Piece". We were supposed to cut away the vines to "free" her and then "contemplate and discuss the meaning amongst friends." We insisted on discussing what it takes to find meaning in such things. We received "instructions" for Cut Piece and the first line read, and I couldn't make this up...
"Walk to the beautiful worm"
"Keep piece of brach as souvenir"
Oh, and Karl Bartos of the legendary electronic band Kraftwerk performed as DJ, which was really cool to see. He seemed to fit perfectly as he posed for muliple photographers as text scrolled across the screen above the dancefloor saying "before MTV there was Bartos. This is Karl Bartos."
The Bed Supperclub was a priceless experience for us as backpackers, perhaps in the same way a heavy metal rocker might experience an opera- it's not really our thing, but it's really interesting to watch and seems strangely familiar.
When I told people about being able to update the TwinF site using the Treo Smartphone, I always said the same thing...
"If I'm looking at the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok and want people to see what I see in real time, I can take a picture and post it directly to the site."
Well, here we are, and here it is- the giant Reclining Buddha in Bangkok. What you can't see is the sweat dripping out of my every pore, which as u know, Sachi loves.
Thai Boxing (Muay thai) in Bangkok Originally uploaded by sachilefever_twinf.
I remembered why I don't like to watch boxing matches: The sweat streaming down the boxers' bodies while they fight, trainers rubbing sweat into their boxer's muscles during every break, sweat flying into the crowd as one boxer gets in a big punch. I don't even mind people hitting each other, just don't show me all the sweat! It's gross!
Lee wanted to be sure to see Thai boxing, so here we are. We just had some yummy street food outside the arena, and now we're sitting in the foreigners section ringside. There are other travellers to meet here as we listen to the drums and crowds cheer during each round. We all seem to be guessing at the rules and scoring, and cringing at the blood spurting from the head of the boxer in the red corner. It's a cool scene to see the crowd so excited and the drink and numbers runners scurrying through the rows. It's really loud. I'll be surveying the crowd more as the rounds go on...avoiding the visions of sweat splashing on the ropes.
Newley Purnell and I have been online friends for a while, connecting on Flickr and through our blogs but had never really met until last night.
By pure chance, we happened to be arriving in Bangkok on the same day and last night the three of went out.
Newley is a Bangkok veteran compared to us and took us to a very cool bar called Saxaphone near Victory Monument. Live jazz, hip people, good drinks.
Newley seems like the kind of guy we'll be friends with for a long time and meeting him here is perfect timing. It was like meeting up with an old friend after weeks of feeling like strangers in the world. Good guy that Newley.
Newley's blog is at http://www.newley.com.