Where will you find a fan of the great State of Texas? Everywhere in the world!
Greetings all! We have taken a couple of weeks off from the blog entries just to keep you waiting in suspense and see if anyone could invent any new names for our trip if it was going to be a movie. Since no more witty possibilities came in, thus, when our trip becomes a made for t.v. movie, it will be named Peeing on Myself in 15 Different Countries."
Currently Nadine and I are in Surin, Thailand, which is not in Southern Thailand, but eastern Thailand. We are here for the elephant festival that is taking place this weekend. We will save all the details for the next blog entry, since we do have memories like an elephant too. I hope that Slappy the Elephant doesn't remember me stepping on his big toe. This entry is a tag team effort, half Nadine, and then I come in with a headlock to keep you reading. "Pity the fool who doesn't read John and Nadine's blog." That was a direct quote from Mr. T. Now you have to read the blog. Enjoy.
Here is our teepee
When we last left y'all, we had just left Koh Phi Phi. But I forgot one great detail about that part of our trip. After leaving the beach from The Beach, we headed back to the pier on the inhabited island. As we left, there were menacing clouds quickly making their way towards us. I guessed that in 6 minutes they would arrive and shower our little long boat, and 5 minutes 59 seconds later, they hit the bow of our boat and splashed rain water upside our heads. For 10 minutes we were partially protected by the large island we were leaving, but that protection was lifted when we hit open water between the two islands. Suddenly, our boat began rocking up and down like it was listening to a messed up Britney Spears song. Each large wave was greeted with rain that switched from vertical falling to horizontal slap you in the face rain. My only concern at the time was our camera and I guess, and in some sense, our safety, but more importantly, our camera. In the open water, I grabbed life jackets so Nadine could cover herself and our bag, limiting the amount of rain inching towards our camera. I took my life jacket and placed it at an angle to cover Nadine's side more while I took the rain like a man directly in my face. It didn't matter that I couldn't see, because without the horizontal rain smacking you in the face, the visibility was 10 feet. Yes, the flood gates had been opened. When you thought we were on the home stretch to dryness and calm seas, our boat and driver turned it around. What?!?! Was that not enough fun our driver to see female tourists yelling with every wave? I guess it could be fun. But apparently one of the other boats had stalled, and ignoring complaints from two Canadian nurses, we went and rescued them and dragged them to safety. We lived to see another day, and yes, our camera was dry.
Nice and dry in our hut, yes, the camera is safe as well.
After our time in Koh Phi Phi, we decided to head to a less touristy destination and do something a little different. We went to a town called Phang-Nga. It had only one guesthouse, and was easy to get around by motorbike. Our primary reason for wanting to go there was to do some hiking in a little known Forest Park there. It was pretty deserted when we arrived and definitely off the beaten tourist track. We enjoyed some hot, humid, and buggy hiking, and afterwards were able to cool off in the little pools created by multiple waterfalls near the entrance of the park. It was a nice break from the tourist itinerary.
She makes her own style
Whenever Nadine and I sit down for 3 hours to knock out a blog entry, we usually talk about what we did, what happened, but I will present you some of the interesting things of Thai and South East Asian culture. This week, Thailand is hosting the World Toilet Expo and Forum. This makes me think of all the types of toilets we've encountered on our trip. And there has been many. This is the point where I will describe to y'all all of the types we have seen and, thanks to the fact that I am a guy, I haven't had to use them, while Nadine has.
The first type of toilet is what we call the Western flush t.p. toilet. You can sit down, take care of business, throw your toilet paper in the toilet when done, and flush. These are found anywhere in the first world as well as nice hotels and hostels in SEA.
The second type of toilet is what we call a Western toilet, t.p. in the trash toilet. You have a nice porcelaine seat, but when it's time to dispose of your t.p., you place it in the trash. You can still flush.
The third type of toilet is what we call a Western toilet, bucket flush toilet. Porcelaine greets you with this toilet, but when you turn to flush, there is not a flusher present. That is when you notice the big pink bucket with a faucet dripping over it. You pick this up, fill it up with 2 gallons of H20 (those of you not familiar with chemistry, that's water), and pour into the toilet. Note of caution, you must place yourself at an angle so as not to splash water from your pour onto your feet or legs. Terrible sensation. Unless, of course, you're hot.
The fourth type of toilet is what we call a Squat toilet flusher. With this one, you place your feet on foot pads so as not to slip, then squat, aim, take care of business, and clean yourself. For anyone from the U.S., this proves to be difficult the first time around. After you are done, simply pull the lever and you are done.
The fifth type of toilet is what we deem the Squat toilet, bucket flush. Same as the fourth type of toilet, but grab that pink bucket with the New Mexian State slogan, Lizards Make Great Pets, and pour. Once again, careful with that splash from the bucket.
The sixth type of toilet is the Squat, but no visible toilet seat or toilet paper. This can be anywhere and this is true adventure. You walk into a room, turn around and ask if this is really the toilet, and stand, squat, tip toe in odd positions trying not to touch a single item in the room since it has never seen a cleaner since its construction. It's really important to wash your hands, maybe take a shower to be certain of your health.
The seventh and final type of toilet facility (we may have new ones in a month or so) is what we affectionately call tree. This is the easiest, stroll up to the tree in the middle of nowhere and depending on your gender, stand or squat, and shake. Back on the bus and off you go.
Obviously, the level of cleanliness steadily decreases as you move from the first type to the sixth type of toilet. The final type should be organically clean enough for you. Don't grab poison ivy.
Ready for a waterfall hike homeboy?
After our secluded hiking and waterfalls of Phang Nga, we returned to Hat Rai Leh. Our raison d'etre in Rai Leh was to take on a climb and hike that we lead us over the lip of limestone walls down into a secluded lagoon. The beginning proved to be challenging, having to use a frayed rope to climb up and over red mud, roots, and sharp rocks. At the top of this climb, we were greeted with an absolute amazing view of the Rai Leh beach and hills surrouding the area. Now, on to the lagoon. From here, footing became slippier, wetter, and more uneasy. We had been told that there would be a spot requiring us to go down a 15 foot free fall by rope. When we arrived to this prewarned point, the following question crossed my mind, do I want to risk serious injury, concluding our trip, to see this lagoon? When decision time came, we both checked our egos at the door and turned around, much to the relief of our mothers as they read this now. Descending the mount proved to be more difficult than the ascension.
That is real sweat and the actual view
We returned to Rai Leh to celebrate the Full Moon with a full moon party. Each time the moon is full, the island of Koh Pha-Ngan, other side of Thailand, has a world famous Full Moon Party. Due to our location on the other coast of the penisula, we were regulated to the original spot to party. Good enough for me. We spent the evening between a few clubs and live music. Good fun. But it was also this evening that Thais all over, ok, those with access to a river or ocean, celebrate Loi Krathong. This is a time when Thais make a wreath made with banana leaves and then place a candle in the middle of this wreath and at night of the November Full Moon, send it out to sea or down the river. It represents their sins from the past year and their making amends of these transgressions. People also make a float constructed out of light paper and a candle in the middle, release it up into the sky.
By the time Thais were sending out their wreathes, Nadine and I were returning home and watching it all. We thought this would be the most exciting part of the evening. We were wrong. That night while sleeping at 4 a.m., we were awakened by the scurrying of claws around our room and our heads. What the heck was that? Back into bed. What was that darting under Nadine's bag? And now running on my shoes? What we had a case of, was similar to the rat 100 meter dash. We had at least 5, not mice size, but healthy, Olympic sized, full of steroid rats using our room as their training facility. For the next hour and a half, and mind you we were fatigued from our evening celebrating, we left the lights on, burned a mosquito coil, and put our heads on the other end of the bed, no rat poop landing on my head! Rats, after all of this, we enjoyed another good squinty-eyed 3 hours of sleep.
After our 2nd visit to Railey, we wanted to make our way to the east coast of Thailand to an island called Koh Tao. We took a ferry from Surat Thani at 8 am in the morning that made a couple of stops before we arrived in Koh Tao at 2:30ish. First we stopped in Koh Samui briefly, then Koh Pha Ngan (home of the famous full moon parties), where we boarded another boat. This next boat we got on was the most packed boat we had ever seen. Every seat was taken, as was most standing room. The backpacks were honestly piled 6 feet high. I was feeling a little nervous as I took note that there was not any life jackets on board and the fact that the boat was practically spilling over with passengers. Alas, we made it safely to Koh Tao, and what a wonderful place it was to be.
Our time in Koh Tao was a very relaxing 4 days. It was an easy place to just let the days pass by. We met 2 other couples, 1 American and 1 Finnish, that we spent a lot of time with. The Finnish couple was actually spending two months there in order to get scuba diving certification, as Koh Tao is known as a cheap diving mecca. We were able to do a few things that reminded us of home, such as yoga (for me), go to a gym (John), and buy some DVD's (Scrubs). We also took a longtail boat over to some smaller islands which they themselves were connected by sandbars. It was very picturesque.
One memory that was different from home was a place called Lotus Bar. First of all, this was a bar on the beach with little mats to sit on and lights in the sand around you...great atmosphere. At this bar, we were introduced to "buckets" by our Finnish friends. Basically, it is a mixed drink in a small, tin bucket that is meant to be shared among a small group of people. It was great fun to have some drinks on the beach and do a bit of dancing.
As I have mentioned numerous times, we had been doing circles around the southern part of Thailand and as a result, our visas were about to expire. After leaving the seclusion of Koh Tao, we jumped on a ferry, not brimming over with people this time, and made our way to Chumphon (emphasize the chump in pronunciation, makes people giggle). As luck would have it, a local bus was heading immediately to Ranong, the town where we could jump over into Burma for a daytime visa run. Since it was evening when we arrived, the borders were closed, and our stomachs were growling in protest. We walked around until we were forcifully encourage to partake in a Thai buffet. Walking down the buffet line, raw chicken, meat, fish, octopus, squid lay next to salads, rice dishes, and many fried dishes. I could see eating the non-raw items, but raw chicken? I didn't want salmonellae poisoning until Vietnam, not here in Thailand. Ahh, then it all made sense at our table. In the middle of our table was a dome shaped frier where we could cook our own meat. Being the rookie dome shaped friers we are, we placed the meat on top, correctly done, but we placed the uncooked noodles on there as well. From the stares of the locals, that was incorrect. We were politely told 10 minutes later in broken English, better than our enfant Thai, that the noodles go in the water surrounding the grill. "Oh, is that why all this billowing smoke is filling up the restaurant?" By the end of the evening, we had an average meal, no thanks to those sorry cooks, they should be fired really, but it was a very memorable dining experience.
Next morning, Nadine and I jumped on a local truck and hightailed it to a spot where we thought we could catch Mass. Just as we strode up, the service was starting. Mass was completely in Thai, understandably, but I didn't quite catch everything being said. After Mass though, we met and shared brunch with Fr. John. Father John was born in New Zealand, but has been a missionary priest for the last 25 years. After the Philippines, he went to Burma. Being that we were going to get a small taste of Burma that afternoon, it was only fitting to pick his mind and get a little more insight on this troubling country that we had read so much about.
The country of Burma is formally called the Union of Myanmar. It is ruled by a military junta and has been in power since 1962. There were democratic elections back in 1990, but when the military rule lost to Aung San Suu Kyi, they invalidated the elections and retained power. The winner of that election, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest on and off since this time. The country is a police state where the government doesn't truly respect the people and instead, breeds fear. It is well documented that there are prisons holding prisoners as being "harmful" to the union. You can find more info about Burmaon the web. With all of the current activity surrounding Asia, there has been mounting pressure put on the government to reform. There is always hope.
After we parted ways with Father John, it was encouraging to personally to meet someone working to bring about change in Burma. His reentry to Burma has been stalled, because he has not been given another visa. He also impressed us with his generosity and pointed us in the right direction towards Burma. "Yeah, keep going until you hit the water, then start swimming west." Ok, he was a little more detailed than that. Good thing or I would have had to make a few sheep jokes.
Alfie, you have something on your face.
Jumping on a long boat with our Burmese boat driver and his son Alfie, we began making our way across the massive Pak Chan River. The entire time, little Alfie, possibly 8 years old, was scooping out water from our boat. After a few minutes, I began taking pictures of him and showing him the pictures. This beget huge smiles and laughter. After two photos of him, he wanted me to take more pictures of the sky, water, islands, him sleeping, anything. And he always followed it up with a big smile and laugh on his face covered in white chalk. I'm not sure why they does this, but you find people walking around with their face covered in a white chalk.
Buddhist temple looming over Kawthough
Arriving to the pier at Kawthough, Burma, we were greeted with a completely different world from Thailand. You could immediately see the change from prosperous Thailand to the shy and poor Burma. Begrudgingly, we paid for our visa to this corrupt government, and afterwards, we explored the city. I think to keep everyone in line, the government turns up the heat and humidity. Not sure if that's possible, but we were sweating bullets for the next hour and a half. As a wave of people followed us through the dirty streets, we made our way to a Buddhist temple that in constrast was very clean. We were able to spy on the city below and all of its characteristics.
We found people to be more reserved than the Thai people, and some would avert their eyes when you would look at them, possible result of the current regime and conditions. When we would smile at them, they wouldn't always return it. The children were different though. They would smile, act silly, yell "heee lo." We bought candy from a local lady as a means to interact with locals, and handed it out to all of the kids we came across. They were happy and appreciative for the sugary goods. It was a great experience and a stark contrast of what we have experienced on this trip so far. As I am constantly doing, I compared it to my time living in Peru and Bolivia. I would compare Burma to Bolivia in its poverty, but Bolivians are free to speak their minds, while the Burmese are fearful to speak and brainwashed not to. Riding back to Thailand, Alfie was going to town with all the candy we gave him while Nadine and I pondered the possibilities of returning to Burma for an extended visit.
On our bus from Ranong to Bangkok, we had decided to take an overnight bus, VIP style. The seats were very spacious and we were told that a dinner meal was included with our ticket. Right after we left the terminal, nuts, juice, water and little pastries were distributed to us, and we were assuming this was our dinner. Not so! Two hours later, around 1130pm, we pulled up to another bus terminal where everyone got off the bus to eat. With our VIP meal tickets we went into a VIP room where there were plates of food on a couple of almost full round tables. We joined all the Thais and sat down together, ate a full meal in relative silence, at nearly midnight. Then we all got back on the bus 15 minutes later and continued on our merry way. Travelling VIP is AWESOME!
Like any big city, Bangkok afforded us the opportunity to watch movies, take care of some visa errands, and go to the driving range? Yeppers, after dropping off our visa applications for Laos, our next stop, we came across a driving range. It was great, especially for me, to enjoy a little sporty activity, even if it was golf. 100 balls later, I was consistently placing my golfballs into the middle of the range 200 yards away, watch out Tiger.
We also took the chance to watch Step Up, a predictable chick flick, as Nadine was in the mood for that type of movie. I wanted to rename it Throw Up. Next day, we watched The Inconvenient Truth. This documentary by Al Gore really gets you to consider our actions of today and yesterday on the environment and their repercussions on the world in the near future. It's a nonpolitical documentary that would be good to see.
Gleaming stupas around the Grand Palace
In addition to playing golf and watching movies, we also made visits to the grandiose sites of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. This site houses the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a large Buddha actually made of jade, but still is a pilgrimmage site.
Where am I? This doesn't look like Texas. Way too green and gold.
Buddha chilling, watching all the tourists pass by
Today, we decided to go to another temple in Bangkok called Wat Pho, where there was a huge gold plated 134 foot long reclining Buddha. Bigger than Shaq. The Buddha has actually a brick core, then shaped with plaster and finally painted with a gold finish. Now this was an amazing sight. The image is overwhelming, and one can only see the whole Buddha when looking at it lengthwise from toe to head. The first time we went in to look at the Buddha, there were a zillion other tourists along with us, but on the second round there was a lot more space to take in this awesome statue. In addition to the enormous Buddha, there were also almost 400 other Buddha images at this temple. We thoroughly enjoyed this Wat.
This was also the site where the Amazing Race raced to a couple years back. Nadine and I imagined that we were on the show running past all of the Spanish tourists yelling, "Hurry, we have to beat the Spainards." Everyone was a little confused.
One of our objectives while we were in Bangkok was to buy John some shorts, as we had heard that you could get them inexpensively here. He was getting tired of wearing the same old "travel pants" that he came on this trip with. This objective, which appears to be a relatively easy task, was completly the opposite. First of all, many of the shops have the same shorts, so finding a different style to try on was difficult. Also John is quite a bit larger than the typical Thai man; he is also built differently, a.k.a. big butt. John must've tried on 20 pairs of shorts, and we finally found one that fit. Unfortunately, it wasn't the best deal, but at least now he can fit in with the locals in his new camo shorts.
Once again, life is good. We are in good health and loving life, but not loving rats and bedbugs. Thanksgiving will be spent in northern Thailand, which will soon be followed by our 3rd anniversary. Standard joke: It has felt like 6 though. We are going to spend another couple of weeks in Thailand before heading over to Laos. We are already working on the next blog entry, so y'all won't have to wait 2 weeks between entries.
Last entry's question was a creative question and since there wasn't many reponses, we will make this question an easy, look it up in the wikipedia question. First correct response will receive a postcard from us here in Thailand, mailed immediately. (20 Baht value)
What year is it in Thailand? Why?
Have a great and warm Thanksgiving and give thanks for all that is good.
JW and NW