Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Jeep Vs. Morobike

So, what started out as a lazy sunbathing day yesterday, turned into a full blown tour of a large portion of the island of Phuket. After sunning ourselves for about 30 minutes and aquiring the worst sunburns ever, we were bored and needed a bit more to do. We ended up renting a "jeep", which was a Suzuki Carribean, 4x4 type vehicle. For $20.00 US each, we got the thing for two FULL days. It came complete with A/C, tinted windows, no gas, and absolutely no horsepower.

We set out heading in some direction down the coast of Patong Beach which is where our hotel is located. Basically we just aimed to follow the coastline for a while and see where it took us. We found some amazing beaches including Karon Beach and Rawai Beach, and each was as beautiful as the one before it. We stopped at quite a few overlook-type spots for some photos, and basically let the sun drain every ounce of energy out of us. We stopped at "Phuket's famous sunset view" as it's marked on the map, and got there just prior to sunset which was perfect timing. Not quite so perfect was John's need to go back to the car to get his wallet, which resulted in the sun dropping behind some clouds and expediting the very thing we were there to witness. I managed to get a couple shots before the sun was completely gone, but by the time John was coming back up the stairs, 75% of the people there were heading back down, and the location quickly became just a hill in the dark. At any rate, it was a good laugh.
Being in a jeep felt a tad bit safer than our previous means of transportation, but was still beyond sketchy. Add in the fact that the sun went down while we were still on the opposite side of the island and you've got yourself an adventure. A basic rundown of the situation looks like this:

-John driving a manual vehicle, shifting with his left hand since everythings on the opposite side here.

-Eric trying to read maps in the dark because there is no interior light

-Road signs that point kind of in the direction your destination is, but not really

-Street signs that are too small to read until you've gone past them

-Traffic coming head on from both sides of the jeep, in the dark, in the rain

-Rotary type roadways that circle the opposite way than what we're accustomed to

So, the whole time, I'm hanging out the window screaming "Hello" in Thai (Sawat-Di-Khrap) at every person we pass. Not just screaming, but screaming in a high pitched, super asian voice that could wake the dead. Picture the little weird lady from Poltergeist on speed, with a phony asian feel to it.
We managed to get back to Patong Beach only by asking various people on motorcycles at red lights which direction we should be heading. As usual, they were more than willing to help out, and we found our hotel in a relatively fast manner.
It was an exciting day of sightseeing and sunburning, and I was definately exhausted upon arrival back at the hotel. Exhaustion continues to be a big theme by the time most of the days here come to their end, and it will be nice to get some good rest by the end of the week. Today is our last full day in Thailand and tomorrow we leave Phuket around 5:00 to fly to Bangkok to get our midnight flight to NYC. We'll have a half day to do whatever, and then spend a total of 20 hours on planes. This trip has been amazing, and I feel like I've seen way more than should have been possible in the amount of time I've been here which leaves me feeling very satisfied. If you haven't been doing so all along, be sure to check out John's site for his accounts of the trip and some finely-tuned diagrams of Thai traffic patterns.
I think we might go see Star Wars at the local movie theatre right now, since it still seems to be raining like crazy. Nothing like some good ole' American movies to round out a trip to a foreign country. We'll probably stop off at McDonald's like the good fat Americans we are.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

ole' Pukie Pukerton

Damn motion sickness, damn it to hell.

I beat the odds and managed to not get sick on the way out to the island called Phi-Phi this morning, but the return trip was not nearly as favorable. I did manage to keep my insides where they belonged for the boat ride, but after leaving the boat and boarding a death-mini-bus, the winding hills of Phuket were more than I could handle, and probably more than the motorbiker who is covered in my vomit could handle as well. The Australian couple I met on my one day trek to the smaller island cheered me on as I finally eased my sickened stomach and managed to horrify a local motorist from the passenger side window of our bus. I still feel a little bit sick as I'm writing this, but I think some food and sleep will get it out of my system. Just another sea-sick story for me to tell and get laughed at about! I'm sure Adam and Dad will love this post, as they always seem to get a kick out of me getting sick on boats and I'm sure you can relate Mom as you tend to get sea-sick as well. While I'm talking about you all, let me say that I miss everyone, and I hope things are good, especially with your move Adam.

Today I went snorkeling off the coast of Phi-Phi island, and it nearly made my head explode. Diving down amidst the coral reef and thousands of tropical fish was so peaceful. At numerous points I was swimming in one direction with thousands of fish swimming directly at me in the opposite direction, as if I had gone down a one way road. After snorkeling we had lunch on the island and then had a chunk of time to explore at our own pace. This was a beautiful island, with huge rock formations shooting up from the ocean and reaching high up into the blue, cloud filled sky. On the far side of the island, the evidence of Tsunami destruction was very aparent, as many buildings were half-standing, and volunteers replanted coconut trees across the barren landscape. It was a strange mix of beauty and horror, as thoughts of what it must have been like for the people of the island to have their homes destroyed mingled with those of awe and disbelief at the fact that a place this gorgeous is in fact someone's home.

I took a bunch of pictures, which hopefully will do Phi-Phi some justice, although it doesn't seem possible. On the boat ride over, my camera battery died, and after a half-hour of pouting and being just plain angry, we got off the boat and I found a small vendor who was selling exactly the type of batteries I needed. It was a pleasant surprise, and saved the day for me as I would have been mad pretty much all day if I hadn't been able to take a single picture.

The tops of my feet got burned beyond belief today, complete with a really cool flip-flop tan line that makes me look even more like a jackass tourist. I've still got the whole "arms only" tan going, or "farmer tan" if you will, but it's starting to even out. One solid day of lounging will take care of that problem though, and I'll be burned all over!

As of right now, we don't have too much planned for the next couple days, besides going to the pool, sleeping, and going to the beach. I'm sure we'll find something crazy to do though, perhaps motorcycles again. We got our first traditional Thai massages last night, which was both relaxing and painful! At one point the woman was literally punching me in the temples and John got twisted to the point where his torso almost separated from his legs. I think one of my internal organs was crushed as well, but it's not feeling like it was a vital one, so I'll stop complaining. I felt good today though, so they must have done something right. A one hour massage set me back $7.00 US, definately a worthwhile investment.

I think it's time for some food. This will be my first meal since tossing my cookies, and I'm hoping it will stay down. Definately won't be going for any spicy Thai masterpiece tonight, probably more along the lines of a salad or a fried cockroach or something. You know, the usual. Wish me luck!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Phuket, Phuket all....

Pardon the above title, I couldn't resist. I am still able to amuse myself by making simple Thai phrases or locations into jokes. It's just too easy, I can't resist.

I arrived on this island this afternoon and was immediately scammed into stopping at a tourist center where the 400 employees working at a 12 x 12 office each tried to sell me some type of tour of something I "had to see". Everything in Thailand is a scam, and this is not an exaggeration, not even slightly stretched. If you are white skinned, or a "Phalang" as the locals call us, you have sucker written all over you, and there is no limit to what they will do to sell you something without you even knowing it. It sometimes seems like the entire country is all working together to set you up 24 hours a day.

Right now I'm using a free internet connection from a restaurant down the street from our newest temporary home. The Mermaid Resort is pretty nice, by far the most modern and ritzy place we've stayed so far. Hell, the shower is even separate from the shitter. Phuket is a very touristy area, so I'll consider the next few days the luxury portion of the trip.

We spent a few hours at the beach today after our arrival on the island, and it was pretty insane. The water is beyond warm. Like, as soon as I stepped in, I had to pee. If you looked around, there were mountains in two directions, and open ocean in another. We also got to see the remnants of the destruction caused by the Tsunami just a few months ago. It's pretty surreal being here after having heard about on TV and read about it in the paper. All in all, the place seems to be back to normal, or at lest what I would assume normal would be.

Tomorrow we take a tour of another island called Phi Phi Island. My free internet time is up, so I'm out.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Sleeping alone

I love you Joan. This is hard. My beds are made of bamboo, but not uncomfortable enough to distract me from the fact that they feel empty. Thank you for letting me have my adventure, I can't wait to see your face.

The Honda Dream

Before today, I had never done any of the following:

-Driven a motorcycle
-Driven a motorcycle on a busy city street in Thailand
-Driven a motorcycle on the left side of the road
-Driven a motorcycle up a winding mountain road to a temple at the top of 600 stairs that overlooks an entire city
-Driven a motorcycle down a mountain while a massive thunder storm approaches
-Driven a motorcycle on a highway...with the kickstand down and scraping the pavement

Now that I've got all those things under my belt, along with a handful of near death experiences (very literally), there's not much else that scares me. Not even the cockroaches that shared my bed with me last night, or the fact that I will die if I drink tap water right now. The sights from the top of the mountain today were unbelievable. There was a storm approaching, as I mentioned, which created a sky that was half sunshine and clouds and half the most ominous black sky I've ever seen. The sky was split in half, with the beautiful city of Chiang Mai beneath it. As we were hopping on our motorcycles to beat the storm down the mountain, John literally watched a thick black storm cloud come right over the trees just a few thousand feet up the road. He appeared to be either amazed or completely terrified at the sight of this.

The motorcycle adventure today was an interesting contrast to the three days I spent in the jungle/woods prior to today. I will mention, although I am ashamed, that I was the only one from our trekking group to slip off a log bridge and into a small river. However, the bridge was aproximately .5 inches wide and I was still getting used to my new hiking boots. On top of all that, I made the mistake of stepping near the edge, which ended up being rotted, which ended up breaking away under my foot, which caused me to fall knee deep into a nasty looking river. I jumped out about a second later, but was soaked for the next day or so! I secretly waited for the next person to have a fall worse than mine, but the rest of the hiking was catastrophe free, aside from the fact that the Israeli guy we were with kept wanting to take naked pictures of all the males in the group, and sang Israeli military songs the ENTIRE time we hiked. Well, not the entire time....he actually did a cover of "Roxeanne" by the Police that lasted three minutes too long considering he knew one verse.

Last night we spent the evening with our new friends from England, Tristan and Ben. Basically the night consisted of John checking out "lady boys", as they're called here, which for those who don't know, are men who turn themselves into women and attempt to trick men into all sorts of crazy shit. It's a very big thing over here, and John is apparently pretty into it. He is the only one of the group who, for some reason, can't seem to tell a "lady boy" from a real girl. Towards the end of the night, after we thought he had finally figured it out, he came within seconds from getting on the back of a motorcycle with what he thought was the hottest girl ever. If Tristan hadn't shouted to him that it was a man, John would have vanished into the night and never been the same again. Needless to say, we spent a good deal of the night busting his balls, all in good fun of course. In his defense, he has managed to win the hearts of some lovely Thai girls since we've been here, and rumor has it that it's gone a bit further than just dancing and ironic random phrases in Thai(wink wink).

Tomorrow morning we fly to Phuket, an island off the Southwest coast of Thailand. Apparently you haven't seen beaches until you've seen these beaches, so I'm pretty excited. We'll be staying at a place that is suppposed to be two minutes from the beach, so I plan on spending at least one day lounging on the beach and catching up on some much needed rest. Last night I finally managed to get a decent night's sleep, but our days have been non-stop and I feel like it's almost caught up with me. So, now I've seen the big city, the tiny village, the small city, and tomorrow the beach. I'm completely psyched (minus a couple let-downs) with how things are panning out for us since we've been here, I feel like we're getting a good taste of many of the things this beautiful country has to offer, which are numerous and varied. For those of you who I haven't had a chance to call, my apologies, but I am alive and malaria free, although I have bites and cuts everwhere! More to come.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Three days of bugs and heat

Here's the equation:
2 Americans + 2 Brits + 2 Israelis + 1 Canadian x 3 days of hiking x sleeping in bamboo huts x swimming in waterfalls = completely insane adventure

I rode an elephant. I rode an elephant with John. Our elephant was the only one that had only tourists on it and no guide. For some reason everyone else had a guide. In place of a guide, we had a piece of string that looped over a pole on the ass of the elephant in front of us. We knew from the start that it was a sketchy set-up, but we said who cares. 20 minutes later we're heading up the side of this mountain type thing, twisting our way up the hill behind another elephant, and enjoying the sites. Until the string breaks. Which, as you can deduce, left the two of us sitting atop an elephant on an incredibly steep embankment, with my view consisting of the shrubs on the ground 30 feet below the edge of the ridge we're on. I'm literally on an elephant, with no guide, on a cliff, and the elephant is making a strange squealing noise. Needless to say, I was a bit scared for a few seconds, but the guide jumped off the elephant in front of us, blasted our elephant in the face with some sort of spiked club, and retied the string, exactly how it had been tied before. The rest of the ride was uneventful, and even slightly disapointing, but at least I rode an elephant with no guide!
The rest of our trek including some brutal hiking. It's a little bit dicouraging when your exhausted, but still plugging along, thinking you're doing alright, and the middle-aged man from the tribe you're staying with is running up the mountain with his 5 year old daughter on his shoulders basically telling you you're pathetic. This is after he had hand-plowed 400 acres of rice fields and built a house for his neighboring villager.
We hiked pretty deep into the woods/jungle, and very far up the mountain. We spent one night with a larger group of hill tribe people and another night at a village where there were only two families, and one didn't seem to be around. I played with a young boy named Lua-ai who sported a bright pink Umbro hat and an array of other day-glo colored attire. We dug a hole with his gardening tool, burried some leaves and sticks in it, and covered it all up. Then we played guns and he killed me approximately 500 times. My dying routine got better and better each time. At this village, you had to walk about ten minutes to take a shower, in a bucket, which wasn't really a shower, but moreso just dumping disease infested water on yourself and trying to pretend you were clean. Then you had to walk 10 minutes back up the mountain so you were ready for another shower.
All joking aside, the scenery was amazing. We walked along a river and wound our way up the mountain. We stopped at various water-falls and tried to cut vines to swing off the tops of them. Our guide was a guy named "Eddie", who seemed a tad bit crazy for most of the three days, but was friendly enough so that it didn't matter. He was always laughing at weird shit, and singing weird songs. He also picked wild mushrooms every step of the way, which we decided he ate for three days straight and could possibly have explained his strange behavior. He was obviously high as high can be.
I need to eat right now, as I'm starving, but I'll post again soon. The treking was a blast, despite a couple disapointing moments, and I met some really great people, two of which I'm having dinner with right now. More to come! I'm alive, I'm having fun, I miss Joan the most, it's not easy being away from her. (cue romantic music,
eric is a sap)

Sunday, May 29, 2005

First Blood

Apparently I look like Sylvester Stallone....
I've heard people yell either Sylvester Stallone or Rambo a few times now, and I'm beginning to feel like a real celebrity. I've managed to convince half the population of Bangkok that I am famous and they're in the process of putting up some giant neon billboards with my likeness on them.
All joking aside, I'm the tallest person in this whole goddam country.
No, but seriously, Wat's the matter with a little humor? (for those of you not in the know, a "Wat" is what they call temples here and I am a funny bastard)

I'm no longer in Bangkok, but the capital of Thailand has provided me with an enormous supply of stories and laughs in the past few days. John and I have spent our down time coming up with all sorts of ridiculous Thai humor including:
-using the "baht-room" (baht is the currency here, and some bathrooms you have to pay to use, hence our creation)
-"cut the crap" = khawp kuhn khrap is the phrase to say thank you, we've made it easy to remember, and just say cut the crap when we're feeling lazy, they don't know the difference, they just think we suck at speaking their language
-our current phrases learned include: hello, where is the bathroom, thank you, check please, you are a beautiful girl (John's personal favorite), no thank you, can i take a photograph, and my personal favorite: take it easy tiger

Last night I rode a sleeper train to a city in the north called Chieng Mai. The train was the best part of my trip so far, and I'm not kidding. Our actual seats were in an air conditioned cabin, with upper bunks that swung down when you were ready to get some shut eye. The highlight however, was the food car, which was the part of the train where all the staff hung out for the whole ride and where food and beer were served until the wee hours of the morning. This particular car had no windows and was basically an open air restaraunt on wheels, in Thailand, rural Thailand, home to tons of small villages that flank both sides of the tracks and provide endless amounts of photo opportunities. Basically, I spent 6 hours of the 11 hour train ride hanging my head out the food car while dodging sign posts, tree branches, and the occasional dirty dish water from the kitchen at the opposite end. It was definately a nice introduction to the more rural sections of the country. We met a Thai girl on the train who works for Habitat for Hummanity and she gave us a contact person for when we head south to Phuket in about a week. She said they are looking for walk-on volunteers, so we plan on spending some time building a house and such.

Today I spent the day in Chieng Mai, a city surrounded by a moat. There was street after street of outdoor markets selling everything from wooden Buddhas to insects on a stick that double as a mid-day snack. (Oh my Buddha!) Rented a Tuk-Tuk for about five hours for approximately $4.00, this included the driver waiting for us at every place we had him stop and bringing us back to where we started. He shared some type of fruit he bought with us, that tasted better than any fruit I've ever tasted, but I can't remember what it's called.

Right now I'm at a huge night market, which is the main attraction of this city so I've been told. There's about 9,000,000 shops here which means 9,000,000 people say "Hello Mista, you buy now?" Sometimes I respond politely, other times, it's a comedy routine, and John and I are constantly trying to outdo each other. Example:
Man on street: "Hello, what are you shopping for today my friends?"

John: "Actually, we're looking for some high fashion suits and some fancy gems" (two of the big scams that people are constantly trying to get you into)

Man on street: (very surprised) "Oh, my tailor shop is right this way, follow me." (turns to lead the way)

Eric/John: Immediatey book it in the other direction, and by the time he looks back for the first time, we have vanished, leaving him wondering if he had ever really had the conversation. This is just the tip of the iceberg!

So, tomorrow, morning I leave for a four day trek into the wilderness, which i'm predicting already will be the highlight of the entire trip. I'm super excited about it, and will post the details when I return.

Short story: So, from day one, we kept seeing these t-shirts that read "Same Same" on the front, and "but different" on the back. We thought it was stupid shirt, and probably just a Thai attempt at being funny in some type of American way and not pulling it off very well. Three days later we were trying to get to a train station called Seim Sein, and we were pointing at a map saying "Seim Sein", and the driver was saying "No, not the same, different station". We got out of the cab and walked a ways and then decided we'd go somewhere else. Two hours later we are standing outside the Sky Train station, looking at the names of the stops, and John says "Hey, this one would be a good name to put on a shirt". A split second later, we realized that the t-shirt we had been seing for days was in fact the funniest t-shirt ever as it basically describes the exact interaction we had with the cab driver just hours earlier, which must be a very common interaction between tourists and locals. Same Same. But Different.

Don't forget to check out John's weblog, there's a link to it on the side of my page. You can get any parts of the trip that I may have forgotten from there!

I'll post again in a few days. Wish me luck with the bareback elephant riding, my goal is to do a no-handed standing ride down the side of a mountain.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

First thoughts from Thailand

Hello everyone! I should have set this up before I left, but I didn't even think of it! This will be the place to be if you want to keep up on what I'm doing in Thailand for the next couple weeks. If you didn't know already, I'm here with my friend John and we arrived four days ago. I'll be posting as often as possible with some daily highlights and such. I hope you'll keep checking back and leaving me some commentary, it will be a nice reminder of home. So far this country has been absolutely amazing and continues to be better each day.

For the past four days I've been travelling the streets of Bangkok via Tuk-Tuk (crazy 3 wheeled motorcyle w/two person cart attatched)at high speeds, weaving in and out of incredibly dense traffic. The roadways are chaotic from where I'm sitting, yet driving head-on into oncoming traffic and coming within inches of other vehicles doesn't some to phase the local drivers. Motorcyclists make their own mini-lanes which are barely wide enough for them to escape a nasty crash. It took a little getting used to, but I'm feeling pretty comfortable with it at this point. I also rode on the back of one of the above mentioned motorcycles yesterday which made the Tuk-Tuk ride pale in comparison.

Bangkok is a massive city with equal parts history and industry. The contrast between the areas is amazing. I visited historic temples one day and stood in a times square-esque intersection with MTV on jumbo TV's the next. I've met some incredible people who are more than willing to show me around and point me in the direction of their favorite restaurant.

I've enjoyed my time in the big city, but am looking forward to the more rural areas soon to come. I'll be heading north via sleeper-train this evening in preparation for a 3-4 day trek to some small villages. I'll be staying with the villagers and getting there via foot, elephant, and bamboo raft.

As I said before, I'll try to update this as often as possible, but given my plans for the next few days, I'm not sure how much access I will have to any type of technology.