Friday, December 31, 2004

Happy New Year's

Friday December 31st, 2004 2:31PM - Chicago, IL

With only a few hours left in 2004, every news organization has ben relfecting on the past year. I'll choose not to do the same.

I'll be posting photos of my trip as soon as I get my computer out of the shop. I had an unfortunate deletion error and decided to upgrade my machine to a larger case and have my DVD ROM player re-installed, so that will start to occur during the upcoming week.

What's on tap travelwise for 2005? February, I will go back to Thailand and find out how difficult it will be to get a tourist visa for my girlfriend (wish me luck, since that's all you have against bueracracy)

If I can get Tan to the states, that will probably sometime in May for a month or so.

I'll probably have a return trip to Southeast Asia sometime in the fall, with a trip to Vietnam, Laos, and hopefully the north of Thailand (Chaing Mai and Chaing Rai).

This is of course dependent on the employment prospect in Bangkok. If the job front changes, then I'll be able to make these trips on my leisure. Anyway, I'm off to get my computer and start cocktailing.

Happy New Years, have a great 2005...

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Wednesday December 29th, 2004 - Chicago, IL

With the death toll at 80,000 plus lives and climbing, the affected areas of Southeast and Central Asia are in a real crisis. The major issue at hand now is the eventual and impending epidemics of disease that are due to follow in the wake of such a disaster.

I've been asked by several people if I had been to this area. I hadn't, but if I had stayed in Thailand after my return date, I probably would have traveled to Koh Phi Phi (the island on which the movie the "Beach" was filmed). Koh Phi Phi from reports was completely destroyed with a lot of those on the island being washed out to sea. Scary.

My condolences go out to those who have lost family members or that have missing family members. I hope those that are missing turn up alright.

This is the kind of natural disaster that will affect the Thai tourist industry for several years to come, not only from lost rooms, but from incomes lost from cancelled reservations and destroyed properties. For those thinking about cancelling your trips to Thailand, don't. Go and help out the economy with your tourist dollars.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Epilogue part 2

Tuesday December 14th, 2004 8:11AM Chicago, IL

The icy wind hit me square in the face as I walked off the porch of my house and up the sidewalk. It was still dark out and wisps of lake effect snow were in the air. Why was I up walking to the train this early? Jet lag. My body thinks its 6PM in the evening and I can’t sleep anymore.

Walking on the sidewalk all I hear are my footfalls. I’m alone with my thoughts and they run wild at this early hour. I’m not exactly sure what the exact thoughts were, but they revolved around the same thought. I need to get out of here; it’s too damn cold here; and why didn’t I put a little more effort into my job search.

So what did I learn on this trip? Anything? I guess a couple things.

Once immersed in a culture you have really two choices – adapt or die. I did a fairly decent job of adapting to eating solely Thai food with only a couple days of eating falang (foreign) food. Honestly after now being back, I'd rather just eat all Thai food. Fresher. Better tasting. No preservatives.

My language skills need to improve rapidly. I need to start getting more Thai language study into my day, at least an hour or two a day before I go back. In seven weeks. I could pick up about every 20th or so word when I would hang out with Tan and her friends. I need to improve this quickly.

I guess the final thing that I learned is that there are a lot of Western influences that I could live without. Would I miss watching sports at a normal time? Of course, but there is such a thing as DVR and VCRs. I figure that if I do pack it up and go to Thailand permanently, the Cubs will wind up winning the world series (this might be a good thing considering how the neighborhood degenerated during the 2003 playoffs. I really don't want to have to face that anytime soon). I'd miss the variety of food also. Getting a good burger or steak would be tough, but I think that the positives by living in another culture like Thailand far outweigh a few minor inconvienences that I'm sure I could overcome.

The return trip to Thailand is now officially scheduled for February 16th, 2005 to the 27th. I'll have updates as they warrant.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Epilogue - What's next for our foolish traveler?

Monday, December 13th, 2004 2:45PM - Chicago

So what's next? Where do I go from here? Jet lag gave me the wonderful opportunity to wake up at 2:30AM. I hate this part of travel. All I wanted to do was sleep and go into work for as long as I can, but waking up that early makes it difficult. It feels like its 3:45PM in BKK on Tuesday.

I decided that making a few phone calls would be a good way to kill some time. I called Kan to say hello since the last night I saw her, I was carrying her to a cab hoping she wouldn't get sick. We talked for a couple minutes and I tried Tananchanok. She called back and we talked for a few minutes. I'll call her later in the week. We have to figure out some kind of reasonable schedule where we can talk during the week. Looks like a lot of early morning calls will take place in the future.

With nothing else to do, I decided to go to the gym and work out. It would kill some time and I wouldn't miss my 9AM meeting. I hate being late for those and 9 out of 10 times, I'm late because of some CTA snafu.

Walking out into the cold and freezing my ass off within minutes, I quickly realized what's going to transpire. I am going back in February. Not just to escape the cold, but to look for a job in Thailand. I needed this trip to see if I was love with a country and a city and not a woman. I found out that I was in love with all three.

I've got a lot of challenges coming in the job search and with this newfound relationship. I'd say I'm more worried about the job search. I sent out my resume to a couple people I met in the bar after I had explained my lack of any response to job ads online in the months prior to my trip and have had it forwarded. I suspect that I will have to make a career change in order to find a job. Is it worth it? Will I be able to make the same amount or a comfortable amount of money and be able to stay in Bangkok?

I'm a bit tired right now, so I'll have to put more in part two of the Epilogue - What have I learned, if anything?.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

My shortest entry ever - flight home

Sunday December 12th, 2004 Bangkok; Tokyo; Chicago

I'd like to give info on the flight but can't. I woke up with 15 minutes before I landed in Tokyo; dragged through a 2 hour layover; and slept the majority of the flight back to Chicago (waking up about an hour before touchdown).

My only regret was not being able to get a hold of Tan before I left. It's going to be a very diffucult struggle for us (distance, culture, and language barriers), but I'm looking forward to getting to know this beautiful and amazing woman and as we had said "give it a chance".

Next up: Epilogue - What's next for our foolish traveler?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Last Day: Where the hell did the time go?

Saturday, December 11th, 2004 Bangkok

Last day. How can it be the last day? It feels like I just landed. I'm kind of sad today, I don't want to leave, but I have no choice (no job, can't come back).

I started out the day with breakfast in the hotel. Its included in the price of the room and most mornings I make it prior to the 10AM deadline and today is no exception. I order an omlette with ham, red pepper, and green pepper; grab a couple slices of white toast; pineapple; and a little bacom (mmmmm bacon).

Worst thing about eating food with a cold? Nothing tastes right. Two days ago, the eggs would have teasted great, the pineapple flavorful, and the toast..(ok, its toast, nothing to get excited about here) I eat as much as I can stomach and go back up to the room. I need to finish packing my stuff.

Oy calls me a little after 10 and is waiting in the lobby. I run down to see her and wait for Mam and Kan. Mam arives around 10:30 (right on time), but no Kan. We give her about ten minutes to arrive and then go to the weekend market. I picked up a couple things (nothing too exciting and since most of them are gifts, won't list them here). The advantage of going shopping with two Thai girls - they tell you if something looks good, and they are able to negotiate prices for you with both parties coming out with no hard feelings.

After an hour and a half, its starting to get a bit crowded. Time for me to pay for the personal shoppers. The price - Japanese food.

We hop in a taxi and go to MBK (Mah Boon Krong) the same place where we went bowling earlier in the week. This is my first experience with an actual Japanese restaurant outside of the states, so the biggest eye opener is taking off my shoes before sitting down (well, not that eye opening, just never done at the sushi place here in Chicago).

I'm in the mood for sushi, Oy and Mam want fish. We proceed to order about 15 dishes of sushi rolls, whole fish, partial fish, miso soup, water, sake (hot), and chicken. The bill was only about 1,600 baht (about $40). This is what I will miss. The same meal in the U.S. for people would have easily been over $100 without tip. Why am I going back?

Stuffed on enough food for a small army, we head back to the hotel to drop off my shopping bags with the plan to play some pool. Didn't work out so well as we sat around and watched a movie and let the food digest. We did make it for a few games of pool and then it was off to the bars to say goodbye and go out for the evening.

The bars on Soi 13 are a victim of progress. The entire complex is a Quonset hut with bars right next to each other, a internet provider, tailor, and a kitchen and hong naam (bathroom) in the back. The bars will be closed down in February, torn down and built over by condominiums. The women that run the bar have already purchased a permanent replacement on the other side of the street in the Times Square building. The new bar is much larger than the other bar and features comfortable seating and two pool tables. You could have placed this bar in any city in the world and not have felt out of place.

With a 7AM flight, I wasn't in the mood to sleep. I stayed out the entire night, put Kan, Mam, and Oy in a cab fairly late and went to the hotel to check out. This time, no rip offs with the staff.

The cab to the airport is always a bit of a pain in the ass for me. As a traveler, you have two options, take one at the hotel which is pre-negotiated (i.e. you're going to get bent over) but you are loaded down with heavy bags; or drag your bags to the street and flag down a cab at 4:45AM and hope that you can get there in time. I took option 1 (400 baht), but just wanted to get there and get on the plane. Next up: My shortest entry ever - flight home

Friday, December 10, 2004

How does one get a cold in 80 degree temps?

Well, I stayed out entirely too late and this cold has not gotten any better. I hate being sick. I wanted to go to Wat Po and Wat Arun today and get a few photos. Not going to happen this time.

After a quick trip to the convenience store to get some green tea (the stuff rocks) and a newspaper it was time to go back to bed. I later went to Subway (just a break from the Thai food) and then to the bar to see who was there. Oy and Fern were working and I stayed just long enough to have my sandwich and nam plao (bottled water, non-carbonated). Told Oy that I'd stop back later and see if she, Kan and their third friend Mam would want to just hang out at the hotel and play cards. We had said we were going to do that and save a bit of money for a night. I hope that they don't know how to play poker.

I met up with the girls around 8:30PM and we went to the hotel after a convenience store run. Since I invited, I'm the one who's paying. I don't mind though, I feel like garbage, don't want to drink and would really like the company for a couple hours.

We played blackjack (not for money, I tough them the game a week ago, but neglected to add the betting aspect). Everyone had a good time with that, with the occasional break to watch whatever movie was playing and me using all of the toilet paper to blow my nose. Kan had ordered Som Tam which is a papaya salad. Here's the recipe:

1 medium dark green papaya/pawpaw
4 garlic cloves (kratiem)
6 green Thai chilies (prik khee noo)
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/2 cup chopped green beans, in 1-in (2.5-cm) pieces
2 tablespoons anchovy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sauce
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) lime juice or tamarind juice (ma-kaam piag)

I tried it a couple times, its hot as hell and the version Kan had contained some type of crab. Dead, very dead crab, but I don't think it was cooked. Kan offered me some, but I declined. I lucked out because an hour later, she got sick from it.

With Kan out of commission, the three of us played rummy (not sure of the Thai name, but once the rules were explained, I knew exactly how to play and actually held my own going on a streak of four or five wins - Whoo Hoo for me).

Around midnight, it was time to call it an evening. We made plans to hit the weekend market in the morning (early) and to meet up at 10:30AM. I knew everyone but Kan should be there (she tends to sleep in a lot), and I needed to finish packing. Till tomorrow - Last Day: Where the hell did the time go?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Getting a cold

Thursday, December 9th, 2004 Bangkok

I'm starting to get a cold. I need to get to the pharmacy, get some water, and try not to get too sick.

The pharmacy wasn't too big a deal. At least I knew what to get in a decongestant (something with pseudo-ephridine) at least it does pay to read the labels. I think I was given Clarinase which will dry me up without the drowsiness. I'm meeting everyone out tonight for frinks, but I'm not too sure how late I'll stay out.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Bowling - Thai Style

Tuesday December 7th, 2004 Bangkok, Thailand

I'm writing about this much after I returned from Thailand, but still needed to get it down...

We were sitting around the bar deciding on what to do. I don't think that any of us wanted to sit around the bar all evening, so we kicked around a few ideas. I thought that bowling would be pretty fun. MBK (Mah Boon Krong) one of the shopping centers which is fairly close to the hotel has both a movie theater and a bowling alley in the upper floors ( the mall has at least 7 floors). We went off in a taxi to MBK. It didn't really matter whether we took a taxi or the sky train as the cost was about the same. One of the girls covered the taxi and I decided to cover the cost of bowling.

Now when I think of bowling alleys, I think of decrepit, run down bowling alleys with chain smoking men and women and a dingy bar and a seldom used jukebox in the vicinity. The bowling alley at MBK was clean, airy, and played club music and Thai pop. We had several options on whether we wanted to pay by the game or rent an alley for a set period of time. Doing a quick bit of math, renting by the hour was much more economical. (It actually worked out to about $50 for the four of us for two hours with drinks)

After getting our shoes, we were directed to a private area where our alley was located. It was very posh, to say the least. We had drinks brought to us and a private jukebox with karoke. The bowling was fun, I sucked, only breaking 100 one time. Maybe next time. After the bowling, we hopped a taxi back to the bar and hung out for the rest of the evening. Fun night.

Coming up, dating Thai style.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Shave and a Haircut...350 baht

Monday December 5th, 2004 Bangkok, Thailand

I usually cut my hair myself every three weeks or so. I had cut it about two weeks prior to leaving, so my hair was getting all shaggy and needed to cut it. I spoke to a woman that ran the hair salon next to the bar whether she had clippers to cut my hair; she did, so I finally stopped by in the afternoon.

I guess there isn't anything too special about getting your hair cut and in Bangkok it was really no different. I did make the slight mistake in having my hair cut with the wrong guard which made my hair much shorter than I'm used to. One interesting thing from the cut was the use of a straight razor to shape the back and the sides. Scary.

Next, I got a shave which wasn't anything out of the ordinary. I kept my eyes closed because I thought the straight razor was coming out. I do believe that a new disposable razor was used (whew, no Hep B scare). I'd say that the shave was as close as I could get by myself.

Total cost for both 350 Baht.

I also decided to get a full body massage since I had never had one. I decided to get a traditional Thai massage which lasted for 2 hours. I had a 50 kilo girl just beat me up, but felt as relaxed as I could when she was finished. The massage was 500 baht and since I didn't know if I would get back for another beating later, I tipped her 300 baht. I hope this place lasts until I get back in February, because I'd really like to get one the day after I return to Bangkok. Guess I have to keep my fingers crossed.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday

Sunday December 5th, 2004 1:40PM Bangkok

I don't really have much to report; well, a couple things, but I'll get to them later.

Yesterday, I slept in and went to the Chatuchak Market in the northern part of Bangkok. The market is right off the Mo Chit terminus of the skytrain, so it only takes about 15 minutes to get there. I got a late start and got there because I was waiting on my friend Kan to get ready, so I finally got there around 2. Not a problem, except that it was completely PACKED! I hate crowds, always have, so going to places like Taste of Chicago, Summerfest, and the like are not my cup of tea.

The market itself has thousands of stalls selling everything imaginable from food, to housewares, antiques, plants, jewelry, animals (there are stories of illegal trade in animals, but I haven't even seen this part of the market), and clothing. The market encompases an area of at least 5 football fields and is just alive with activity. (Just got bit by another damn mosquito, god I hate those damn things) We only stayed for a couple hours as some of the aisles are only about three to four feet wide, so the crowd was really getting to us. I'll go back next Saturday morning and try to beat the rush.

Also, from what Kan was saying its better to go early to secure better prices. Negotiating is key to any transaction there, but you have to make sure that both parties make out. Offering a ridiculously low sum for an item is a bit insulting to the stall keepeer, so you have to keep a little tact, smile and try to get something that you and the stall keeper are good with. I'm not so good with it and usually will accept their second price unless I feel really strong about it. Plus, you always have the option of walking away which I have done from time to time.

Last night, I went out to the Hollywood disco with Kan and a couple of her friends. The place was packed to the gills, but the music (a combination of tech house and hip hop) was good. Toward the end of the evening, the recorded music ended and there were Thai musical acts performing live. It was pretty cool to see, but its still difficult to understand the lyrics (I'd say right now, I'm picking up about every tenth word). The club also offered bottle service (most of you are familiar with this, but for those who are not... You buy a bottle of your choice; ours was whiskey, for a set price with mixers and you keep the bottle. In some cases, they will store the bottle on premisis for you if you don't finish, you can pick it up and use it at a later date.) On the way back, Kan and her friends invited me to go to Pattaya for the day. I had to take a pass because I'm meeting Tananchanok this evening for dinner when she gets back to Bangkok and didn't want to miss her.

Today is the King's birthday, so there aren't a lot of places open. I ran and bought a couple more Thai language books to continue my studies and will probably just lounge therest of the afternoon until my phone rings.

Coming up: Time for a haircut and a straight razor shave...wish me luck

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Floating Village

Wednesday, December 1st, 2004 8:30PM Siem Reap, Cambodia

After seeing all of the major temples of Angkor, I decided to take a day to see a little more of Cambodia. Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in all of Southeast Asia. During the dry (cool season, but it has been in the 90's all week), season the lake will reduce down to a depth of 1 to 1.5 meters (yes, Cambodia is on the metric system, but I think it translates to about 3 to 4 feet) and during the rainy season will get to around 5 to 6 meters (if you want to know how many feet that is calculate it in your spare time).

The trip out of Siem Reap gave me the opportunity to see a little of the countryside. Rice paddies with storks stalking their prey; water buffalo grazing in other fields; as we approached the village, fishermen out with nets, and children playing and bathing.

As I've said before, this is a real poor country and some of the homes; set on bamboo stilts with palm leaf thatching are the barest of accommodation.

We traveled along the paved road for about 15 or so minutes before I had to stop and get a boat ticket (the driver told me to get one at this stand. This was going to be a big issue later, so stay tuned). The ticket was $20, a bit pricey by Cambodian standards for a 1 to 1.5 hour round trip. We then proceeded from paved road to a dirt road.

The road, or dirt track as I would call it was pockmarked with huge potholes (honestly, it would have made any road contractor in the city of Chicago salivate) and every kind of obstacle imaginable: dogs, cats, chickens, children, bicyclists, moped riders, busses, and other cars all at various points are encountered. After bouncing up and down for about 1/4 of a mile (usually not a problem, but something I ate either yesterday or the day before was not agreeing with me, so I really was just trying to hold my shit together).

We arrived a minute or two later and the boat driver took my ticket and led me to a large longtail boat powered by a auto engine. The floating village itself is a combination of homes in the water (i.e. "Floating"), large fish traps, and boats of various sizes and power (man powered or engine powered). Now one thing that I found interesting about the inhabitants of this area was that several are ethnic Vietnamese and not Cambodian. They relied on fishing, although there were many fish farms set up. The area is slowly being fished out, so the people here have to rely in raising fish in captivity for their food. At one stop we made, there were three examples of preserved fish that had only been caught years ago which were at least 2.5 feet long (big, big fish). Most of what I saw being caught looked like slightly better fed bait.

So after a couple hours out, I went back to the Red Piano bar and restaurant (its a short walk away, but the driver dropped me off there). The castoff the driver for the afternoon was $25 as listed in the price structure, I handed the money off and reconfirmed the pick up time for Thursday as I go back to Bangkok. At breakfast in the Red Piano, I struck up a conversation with the owner of the place as the restaurant used to be the guesthouse and they were putting the finishing touches on making it exclusively a bar and restaurant.

I had told him of my plans for the day, so as we talked about my trip out there he asked me how much I paid. I told him $20 for the boat (he told me I should have paid no more than $10) and $@5 for the cab at which point he lost it. The main reason is that this kind of activity drives up prices for all and he was especially unhappy that it was one of his drivers that was part of the conspiracy. Now as I had told him, I had no issues with paying a bit more, my driver had done a great job and was patient enough to wait for me all day as I trekked around the temples for the past two days.

So the owner calls the driver and proceeds to read him the riot act on what prices to charge (keep in mind that for all day at the temples the cost was $20, and I dropped $25 for about 3 hours); he then told the driver to get back and drop off my $25 dollars to me. Harsh. Real harsh. The driver did drop off my money at the guest house, which I happily averted a bit of unpleasantness and a loss of face on his part, but I now have an appointment for 5:30PM for my ride to the port. Should be a real fun ride.

That's all for today. I'm wiped out and my stomach is really bothering me. Time for a Pepto Bismol smoothie and bed. I'll start work on the Angkor part of the trip on Friday. Till Friday...

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Old Market - Siem Reap and the Cambodian People

Tuesday November 30th, 2004 6:30PM: Siem Reap, Cambodia

I made a little trip to the Old Market area of Siem Reap after seeing all but one of the major temples of Angkor (At this time, I'd like to thank my parents for dragging me to museums and art gallaries when I was younger. You'll never fully understand the influence that has had on me to this day. Thanks.)

Old Market is a collection of stalls selling everything from tools to antique Budda images ( I bought a seated Buddah image in bronze that I now have to get blessed at Wat Po in Bangkok. Yes folks, I am going to become a Buddist), and a live market. The live market is the most interesting. You want fresh fish? Can't get any fresher than out of the water. A couple wacks to the head and a bit of scaling, there's your dinner. For all of you PETA people out there, people have been doing this for centuries, get over it. You don't want fish, eat a cabbage. (Enough of my political commentary, just a reaction to a PETA jackass on FOX news? channel. I'm Shepard Smith, On this day, I will now be dragged to death by a horse.)

Although it is hotter than a well digger's ass, I'm loving Siem Reap. You're looking at a people that controlled a fair majority of Southeast Asia a thousand years ago and have captivated tourists to a point where they are spending thousands of dollars just to travel here. By the way, is there any group of tourists more creepy than the Germans? I'm not trying to offend, but I half expect them to start singing "Deutschland Uber Alles" at the drop of a hat. (sorry, I know there is an umlaut missing on "Uber", limitations of the keyboard.)

There has been talk of Cambodia being heavily mined due to U.S. incursions during Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge, and the invasion of the Vietnamese army which ended Pol Pot's insane ideas of a new agrarian society. Well, as my driver and I were going to a temple I spied an object on the side of the road. I'm no military guy, but I know an unspent mortar shell when I see one. Sorry folks, I'm not taking photos of unexploded ordinance, my mother would have put a foot in my backside, followed by my father.

I'll give a full description of my temple journy tomorrow. I only have two more temples to go, so I'll check them out and then the floating village at Tonle Sap lake. Time for a shower, a foot masage ( I had a 100 lb Khmer woman almost bring me to tears with the massage I received. I was half scared that she was going to dislocate my left shoulder.), dinner, and a couple Angkor beers (tastes similar to Lite beer from Miller).

Till tomorrow...

Angkor Temples - Day 2

Ok, time to finally fill out day 2

The alarm on my cell phone went off at 4:40AM. Wha.., what the hell? Oh yeah, sunrise at Angkor. I was meeting the driver downstairs at 5:00AM for the sunrise. I made it and got down the stairs (very painfully however - to many stairs too many stairs) in time and we drove out to Angkor.

It was still pitch black and I was told the sun would be up by 5:30, so I had plenty of time as it only took ten minutes in the early morning. We arrived and I set up to the right of the causway next to a couple other tourists. I wanted to catch the reflection of the early morning sun over the pools and with the three spires of Angkor in the background. The one thing I didn't realize was that because of the lack of light, the exposure time before the shutter finally closes takes a good 40 or so seconds, so you have to keep perfectly still, otherwise, the picture comes out blurry. I'd say to get the photo I wanted, it took about ten or so tries, but it was worth it.

After the sun had finally come up, I walked the causeway and went to see if I could get a good photo of the Angkor spires. What I saw as I climbed gingerly through the gatehouse stairs (my legs were absolutely killing me) was about 400 of my closest travelers checking out the sunrise.

I'm glad I went to Cambodia when I did. The Angkor Wat minigolf and water slide is not far behind.

I went back to the Red Piano restaurant for breakfast which started at 7 AM; problem is, it was still 6:30. I stood outside and made a couple phone calls to get a football score or two and then met one of the tuk tuk drivers. The gentleman's name was Sak; a very nice man who two days later would give me a ride to the airport as I decided to get out on an earlier flight. We talked about a relative of his that lived in the states and I really wanted to ask him about the progress in Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge had been defeated in 1979. (Sak looked to be in his 40's so he would have probably been in his teens when year 1 started. I decided to just talk about how I liked Siem Reap instead).

After breakfast of a very large omlette and bread and juice, I went back to get ready for the afternoon. I started at 11:30 with the bas reliefs of Angkor Wat. There are 8 sections of reliefs which stretch about 100 yards each. The detail is very stunning considering that each of these are around 1,000 years old. I'll attach the photos later when I have a chance, but here are the bas reliefs that I saw in order.

Battle of Lanka (shows a battle from the Ramayana where Rama battles Ravana the seducer of Rama's wife, Sita)

Battle of God's and Demons (depicts a battle between 21 Gods of the Brahmanic pantheon with various demons)

Krishna & the Demon King (shows Vishnu incarnated as Krishna riding a garuda)

Vishnu Conquers the Demons (shows a battle between Vishnu and various demons)

Elephant Gate (this wasn't one of the bas reliefs, but was used by the Khmer kings and others for mounting and dismounting elephants)

Churning of the Ocean of Milk (this is the most famous of the bas reliefs, this shows 88 devils on the left and 92 gods on the right. They are churning up the sea to extract the elixir of immortality. The gods hold the tail of a serpent and the demons hold the tail. The one thing about any of these bas reliefs is that they are all over 15 feet high and are carved into the individual stone blocks that make up the wall. I can only imagine if you made a mistake while carving)

Heaven and Hell (this section depicts the 37 heavens and 32 hells and their various punishments.)

Army of Surayvaman II (this shows the march of an army of the Khmers who are going to battle against the Chams. This section was pretty worn and I really didn't get many pictures grom here. I found out later that part was destroyed by an artillery shell in 1971.)

Battle of Krukshetra (this depicts an epic battle from the Hindu Mahabarata. The most striking thing about this bas relief is that the stone in some sections is poliched black from all the hands that have touched it. You are requested not to do this and they now have the area roped off. I'd rather have the photos of it myself.

Here are the remaining temples that I visited on my last day:

Preah Khan - Built in 1191 on a spot where King Javayarman VII fought and
won a crucial battle against the Chams, Preah Khan was a royal
city on its own. There were a couple spots where the trees had taken over walls just like Ta Prohm.

Neak Pean - This temple consists of a large pool surrounded by four smaller pools.

Ta Som - This temple has a tree that surrounds the eastern gate. The remainder of the temple was being renovated and afterward, I was completely mobbed by the kids that were selling everything from cold drinks to guide books. I bought some bracelets (10 for a $1) and a couple of silk pieces that were very nice. I just barely got out. I was running to the car saying that I bought all that I could.

East Mebon - This temple had very nice carved elephants and a lot of kids running around posing for pictures. I was told by my driver that these kids pull in a pretty significant amount of money for their families, so when one kid of about 8-10 years old said 'hi', where you from?, etc. I asked if I cold take her photo and gave her a couple dollars for her family. I hope that she does use the money to go to school like she said, but if it was to help her family, I couldn't blame her either.

Pre Rup - This temple was sort of like East Mebon with large towers. I decided to climb up to the top of the center temple and get a few photos of the surrounding countryside. The steps, as usual, were only about as wide as my hand, so going down the steps, I had to be extra careful as to not break my neck.

This was the last day I would spend on the temples. My feet were killing me, my legs would no longer respond to walking up any more steps. The onle temple I did not visit was Ta Keo. I decided to leave this one unexplored, although I did see it from the car as we went to another temple. I guess this will give me a reason to revisit Angkor again.

The evening was spent running around the old market, getting a foot masage that almost mad me cry ( the girl could have been beating my feet with a bat they were so sore), and going out to a disco to see what young Cambodians did for fun. I think I was one of the only westerners in the place so it was fun to see. After a few club tracks, the dj would put on Khmer music and the people would dance with traditional Khmer dance. Very interesting. The next day, I would try to go to the floating village.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Angkor Temples - Day 1

Tuesday November 30th, 2004 7:20 AM Siem Reap, Cambodia

I was going to post last night, but was having problems with staying connected. I woke up at 4:40 AM to be picked up by my driver to go to Angkor Wat to catch the sun rise. I was fortunate enough to catch it with upwards of 700 of my fellow travelers.

The old images from the mid to late 70's of the Khmer Rouge are dead. Cambodia is a thriving and active country that will see more and more tourism as their infrastructure improves. I'm staying at a clean, airconditioned guesthouse called the Red Piano for about $18 a night. Since I'm only going to be staying for 3 1/2 days, I decided to make the most of day 1.

My flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap was on one of my favorite types of planes, the old prop driven puddle jumper. Thankfully, the plane didn't land in any puddles as there is one of the largest lakes in Southeast Asia next to Siem Reap, the Tonle Sap. The rainy season for the mostpart is over although there was a slight cloudburst for 20 or so minutes. Coming in on final approach, my first impressions of Cambodia is that it is really, really green. There were rice fields everywhere with sparse clumps of coconut palms interspersed.

I landed and went through customs paying my visa fee of $20 US. The Cambodian economy uses a combination of the U.S. dollar and the Cambodian Riel (pronounced real). Really the one thing that I found is how poor the people are and the undervalued prices that are offered for goods. I bought a pair of light cotton pants and two t-shirts for $6-$7 dollars.

Siem Reap is a small dusty town with a few paved roads and an economy that is heavily reliant on the tourists that flock to Angkor. You can see some very abject poverty, but the Cambodian people are very warm and friendly; persistent in the case of touts, but still friendly.

I think I took about 150 photos yesterday (I can pat myself on the back for buying 2, 1G memory cards which will hold about 700 some photos and I'll use every one).

I started my day by visiting the city of Angkor Thom and the Bayon (I'll add more of a description of the two later, I have to meet my driver in an hour and need to eat breakfast and take this anti-malarial medication, the mosquitoes are everywhere).

After lunch, I went to Ta Prohm which has been left to the jungle.

This was followed by Banteay Kdei and Sras Srang. I'll remember Banteay Kdei soley for the police officer that tried to sell me his badge. I'm not sure what use I would have for a Cambodian police badge (whether real or not), so I took a pass. Like I said the people here are very poor and try very hard to sell to tourists. Entering and exiting every temple there are carts with vendors selling cold drinks, food, postcards, film, batteries, t-shirts, pants, souvenirs, guide books (I had one kid try to sell me a guidebook for Vietnam??). You get the picture. Its a lose, lose for the tourists since you tell the vendors (mostly kids) maybe later and they remember that is what you said and try to hold you to it. I'm sure that I haven't made a lot of friends by politely, but firmly saying that I was all set with the exception of two girls (probably no more that about 8 years of age) that I bought a couple scarves from.

The last temple of the day for me was Angkor Wat itself for the sunset. I went into the temple with the sole purpose of seeing the sunset. Two problems: One, after walking up and down countless steps, my body just ached. Two, in order to get the best view, you have to climb a series of steps that are at a 70 degree angle (this is to make worshipers bow as they climb, or fall, I'm still not sure). No problem on number two? Yes, big problem, I'm not so fond of heights. After 20 minutes of getting my hackles up to do this and walking around the numerous stair cases, I made my move and climbed up as fast as I could without looking down. Got to the top and wondered what I was going to do to get down.

I saw a set of stairs that had a metal railing installed and a line of about 40 people waiting once I go my photos from the top, so the choice was obvious to me. Funny thing that you wouldn't even be allowed to climb something like this in the states. I was joking with a couple other Americans that were in front of me in line about that; as well as the sphincter tightening that occurred just when you realized that you had to still get down the stairs. I made it down no worse for wear, but won't be going up that today as I explore the Angkor bas reliefs.

Last thought as I run for the day. I think I'm getting here at the right time. Siem Reap right now has two 5* hotels, but they are building two to three more. Package tourists are everywhere here and it gets a bit tough to take in the temples in a serene and relaxing manner. At the temples, you have to stay on the paths. I do for fear that they missed a landmine or there is a cobra lying in wait so I do, but when I encounter tourists going the same way as me, I try to find another direction.

Coming up: The Angkor bas reliefs and bargaining for stuff I don't really need.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Angkor: The Preview

Sunday November 28th, 2004 - 5:00 PM Bangkok

Nothing really to report from Bangkok. I went out with my friend Kan and we hit some of the bars in Soi Cowboy. It's one of the infamous nightlife areas in Bangkok made most famous during the Vietnam war by American servicemen. I found it pretty seedy, disgusting and highly overpriced. I think I was paying twice the cost of a beer there than I was at the bar I frequent. I think I was paying something close to $7 versus $2 or less.

I'm feeling a bit under the weather (yes, self induced) today and spent most of it reading and hoping not to feel like garbage. I figured I'd get out for a bit and then get ready to leave for Siem Reap, Cambodia. My flight leaves at 7:30 in the morning, so I'm keeping this evening very, very light.

My plan for tomorrow is to get up at 5:30, check out of the hotel, store my suitcase, and get to the airport and get ready for a full day of sightseeing and photo taking. Once I check into the guesthouse (The Red Piano), I'm heading directly for Angkor Wat. I figure I'll be able to see all of Angkor and then head to Angkor Thom and the Bayon Tuesday, with some of the smaller temples on Wednesday.

One of the key features of Angkor are bas reliefs. Here's an example of one called the Churning of the Sea of Milk:

It symbolizes the Hindu version of the creation of the world (or something like that; I'm no archeologist, but I've been accused of impersonating one)

That's all I have for today. I think I need to get some spicy Thai food and jumpstart my system. If I find web access in Cambodia I'll post, otherwise I'll update on Thursday night.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The weatherman's revenge

Friday November 26th, 1:15 PM Bangkok

Ok, the saga of planes, trains, automobiles, and ferrys has finally ended, but not without a we bit of drama. As I reported yesterday, the boat trip I had planned on taking was scuttled due to rain. Well, I sat at a bar and watched a torrential down pour for the next 3 hours. What was this little downpour? Typhoon Muifa.

After posting yesterday, I went to get a little lunch and one of the Thai news channels was on with the weather report. Well, on the screen, I see this huge storm that was moving east in the Gulf of Thailand and headed in guess what direction? You guessed it, right at Koh Samui. In the previous three days, I had never thought to pick up a newspaper because I just assumed that the weather would be nice. I sat down at a bar and played about 5 or 6 games of Jenga and tried to wait for a break in the rain - which came after about three hours. When I finally made my way to the hotel, the streets were flooded and some businesses had hastily put up sandbags to keep the water out.

My flight back this morning was at 7:30 AM, so I wanted to get to the airport at 6:30. I set a wake up call (well, not a call actually, there are no phones in the room so the security guard comes to the bungalo and makes sure that you get up. Phenomenal job.) The taxi arrived about 5-10 minutes early and off I went to the airport. My biggest concern about the whole flight issue would be that the storm would hit and ground flights for a couple days. I had enough of Samui and wanted to get back to Bangkok and most important, my flight to Cambodia is on Monday. Just didn't need to get my plans screwed up.

As I was checking in for the 7:30 flight, a woman at Bangkok Air asked me if I'd like to take the early flight at 6:30 AM, well, I wasn't going to wait around so caught the 6:30 flight, hit Bangkok at 7:30 or so and went straight tothe Westin to check in for the day.

The Westin ($160 per night on Expedia)

Seeing what a $27 a night hotel, a $22 a night bungalo and a $160 a night hotel are in terms of service and amenities are shocking.

The bungalo had a bed as hard as concrete, kick ass A/C and a dingy disgusting bathroom with ants that gave me the willies everytime I steped one foot in the shower. There was also a lizard in the room that darted behind a painting as I went to bed last night. I wasn't going to mess with it since one of its bretheren was sumarily eaten by a cat in front of me as I was about to unlock the door. The lizard dropped his tail, the cat ate the lizard, then the tail. Good hunter huh???

The Manhattan hotel where I will stay the majority of my time in Bangkok is nice, clean and centrally located, but the staff seems to tire from having to deal with Western tourists all day. Other than that, it is my first choice for a hotel. All I need is a bed and a clean bathroom anyway.

The Westin is one of the nicest hotel rooms I have ever been in. They have the padded slippers, a robe, a bathtub and separate shower. The staff is overly friendly almost to the point of creepy (I had a bell hop that wanted to take my backpack for me. I looked like a filthy hippie backpacker and if I saw me would have called the cops and beat me back with a broom). Nice clean room. Everything you would want in a hotel with all Western amenities (including a 7% value added tax (VAT) I paid 107 Baht for 10 minutes on the web, I'll barely pay that where I am for 45 minutes to an hour.

Tonight I'm going to the Loy Krathong celebration. Here's a description of it from the Nation a newspaper in Bangkok:

Today is Loi Krathong, which falls on the full moon of the 12th month. A krathong is designed to look like a lotus, the flower that we use to pay respect to the Lord Buddha. During the 12th month’s full moon, the tide is high. Hence, it is appropriate, ritualistically, to float one’s krathong down a river, loy meaning “to float”. Loy Krathong, therefore, is a festival for floating lotus-shaped vessels to pay respect to the Goddess of the River. Another purpose for floating a krathong is to dispel bad luck and ill omens from the past year.

Right now, off to meet a friend for lunch and get a foot massage. More tomorrow...

Thursday, November 25, 2004

If the weatherman were here, I'd kick him square in the ass

Thursday, November 25th 2:27 PM

Happy Thanksgiving

Well, the plan today was to take a cruise at 4:00 PM and check out the sunset which happens on the exact opposite side of the island from where I'm staying. Problem is it started raining about two hours ago, so I went to get a refund and put down a post. The travel agent was more than helpful and gave me my money no questions asked.

You hear horror stories of unscrupulous travel agents when traveling abroad. So far, I've been really, really lucky (chok dee). Must be the band that I got when I went to see Buddah the other day. Too bad it hasn't helped with my pool skills. I think for the week I'm 4-20. Not a good record at all.

Tomorrow, the flight back to Bangkok.

For the rest of you guys, have a great Thanksgiving Day, enjoy the turkey and the football. I'll be having bananna fritters.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Koh Samui - too many Falang

Wed November 24th 3:30 PM - Koh Samui

Too many falang (foreigners) that's my war cry right now. I was looking for paradise and found a bunch of pampered Westerners that have traveled 8,000 miles to go to Starbucks and McDonalds. After a week in Thailand, I myself am now guilty of the offense of going to Burger King. Hey, it was a really good double cheeseburger and french fried (Excuse me while I have a Homer Simpson moment).

Ok, finished. Koh Samui is an island packed with too much Western influence. I found a bit of native culture yesterday when looking around. Found a string of food carts and decided to eat there. I'm hanging out with a friend of my friend that I met on my last trip. She agreed to come and hang out while my friend is back home visiting family and wasn't able to make it. We're having a good time, but can't wait to see her when I get back to Bangkok.

Aside from my little lapse, I've eaten only Thai food and pretty much something everyday. Some things I've taken only one bite of and others, you can hardly pull it away from me for fear that I might take a bite out of you. I really haven't hit many restaurants, save maybe two prefering to eat on the street. Hey, if the food wasn't safe, there wouldn't be a crowd around the vendor.

I'll have part two of the remaining trip here. The remaining trip was just a two hour ferry ride to the island followed by a white knucle minivan ride to the hotel. After the entire 17 hour trek, I decided to book a flight back to Bangkok which takes one hour. The only problem, not having a prebooked hotel. I think I finally found a room at the Westin, but it's $160+ a night. One night and I'm back at the Manhattan hotel. Thanks to Expedia (fingers crossed) for finding an open room.

Coming up- The Big Buddah, chok dee (luck) and why I am now miserable at pool.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (Well, Sort of...) part two

November 24th, 2004 Koh Samui

Here's a little recap of the trip.

Train - absolutely sucked. The bed was not comfortable and my lack of speaking Thai keeps me from entirely sleeping as I need to be able to get off the train at Surat Thani. I think I slept four or five hours

Ferry - no problems. I guess I was a little misinformaed as to how far away the islands were from the coast. Once I heard two hours I was kind of shocked, but relieved when someone put on a movie in the VCD player. Made the time go by, and the scenery was pretty spectacular with the clear blue waters and interspersed islands as we made our way to Samui. Only complaint and its my fault completely (I put my bag in the pile as I got into the ferry). You have the option to sit inside in "air conditioning" for 30 baht or outside for free. With all my documentation in the bag, I should have thought it out a little better. Thankfully nothing happened, but never, never again will I be separated from my bag.

Minivan ride to the hotel - I love the "white knuckle" ride to the resort. Hey, I've ridden in Chicago taxis so nothing really scares me. I loved the overtaking on the blind curve, just fun.

I'm looking forward to the week. Sun, sand, and doing nothing. That's all I want.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (Well, Sort of...)

Sunday November 21st, 12:20 PM Bangkok

Today I get out of Bangkok. I have an overnight train
leaving at 7:15 PM which will get me to the train
station outside of Surat Thani sometime Monday
morning. I can't wait to take the train down there. I
just picked up a book and will probably wind up
killing it before I even get to Koh Samui. The book is
from author Jake Needham and is called The Big Mango
(sorry to you English majors out there, I'm not able
to underline the title, sue me)

Making the trek to Hua Lamphong station couldn't have
been easier. The Bangkok Metro station (Sukhumvit) is
only a couple blocks away from the hotel I was staying
at and the trip to the main train station only took
about ten minutes. Even though it takes ten minutes,
I'll be leaving at 5:00 PM. I enjoy hanging out in
Bangkok, but I want to see the beach and get out of
the congestion and pollution for a couple days. I
think it will also give me the opportunity to get
refreshed on my Angkor Wat itinerary. I'm only there
for 3 days, I plan on spending the 4th picking up a
few souvenirs in Siem Reap's Old Market.

After the train to Surat, I take a bus from the train
station to the ferry for Koh Samui. I suspect that
I'll be using my phrasebook and Thai-English
dictionary exclusively. Although, I suspect that Samui
is more paradise found than paradise lost. Part of the
"progress" brought on through Western influence I

An interesting observation from Breakfast this
morning. I had a group of tourists sit next to me and
was surprised, no shocked would be a better word at
one of the women commenting on the English skills of
the waiter. I decided to hold me tongue, but really
was tempted to point out that the waiter's English was
probably much better than her Thai. I try out my Thai
with the manager of the bar I frequent, and several
times, I get a blank look or laughter when I try to
speak it. Damn tonal languages.

Separating Me From My Money - A First On the Streets
of Bangkok:

A good and last tale for the day. Before coming into
the internet "cafe" (ok, no coffee is served, but its
air conditioned - sort of, and 1.5 Baht a minute there
are roughly 40 Baht to the dollar) I ran to get a
little more emergency Baht in case there aren't any
ATMs and ran into a gentleman that just wanted to ask
me about America. Pretty harmless huh?

Typically, the exchange goes like this:

Stranger: Hello, where you from?
Me: Amerigaa
Stranger: How long you stay in Thailand?
Me: Couple weeks
Stranger: (and this varies) I sell you; you want to
buy; I take you on tour; i.e. hello stupid Westerner,
let me separate you from your cash.

Actually, the guy wanted to know what the chances of
one of his relatives coming to America to work. And
then commented that the "threat" of terrorism makes it
unlikely. Truly sad.

I'm not the political one, you'll have to go to the
for that, but why under the threat of terrorism do we
disallow people the opportunity to come to the U.S.
and earn a better standard of living that what they
have in America? Just a thought.

Coming up - The Thai foot masage (I'll write part one
on the train) or How does a 100 pound woman kick a 260
pound man's ass?

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Jet lag - The Vacation Killer or Friend of the Lazy?

Saturday 10:15 AM Bangkok, Thailand:

Well, yesterday was a complete bust. Woke up late,
missed free breakfast (amazingly, free breakfast is
pretty good if you remember to eat fruit and
cereal.)and decided to make it a blow off day.

After posting yesterday, I decided to hang out at a
bar and grab a couple beverages. Good old 6% alcohol
Singha. I think it happened like this yesterday:

(Door bell ringing): Ding, Dong

Me: Who's there? (opening the door) Mother Alcohol,
come on in...

Thannkfully today all I plan on doing is going to Hua
Lamphong Station

I made reservations for a night train to Surat Thani
to leave tomorrow night and need to pick them up
before 4:00 PM tomorrow. Since I plan on doing nothing
today, why not get it done in advance. Also, this
gives me the opportunity to check out the new Bangkok
subway system that opened this summer. For all of you
reading from Chicago, Bangkok's mass transit system
puts Chicago to shame. I'll try and get a few photos,
but won't be able to post until after I get back

That's all for today. I'm still planning on checking
out Muay Thai this evening. I think matches start at

Coming up - The Night Train or Why Didn't I Just Pay
the $150 Dollars and Fly to Koh Samui?

Go Badgers beat those damn corn eating Hawkeyes...

Friday, November 19, 2004

Are we there yet???

Ok, not terribly serious about that but you’ll understand after this posting.

Wed, November 17th 10:40 AM CST (11:40 PM Bangkok time)

260 some days have passed since the last trip to Thailand. I'm sitting at the bar next to the gate at the United terminal at O'Hare airport in Chicago and I'm starting on Miller Lite #2. (I know its not noon yet, but its noon somewhere in the world; in fac, its almost midnight in Bangkok). The first leg of my trip takes us to Tokyo, a 13 hour flight, followed by a two hour layover and then a 7 hour short trip to Bangkok.

Here's a log of the significant events of the flights.

10:55 AM - Crap. Just remembered that I need to get some bottled water for the flight. I'm constantly drinking water and won't want to wait on the flight attendent; plus, I'm sitting on the window and don't want to bother the aisle person. Time to finish my beer.

10:58 AM - Still working on it.

11:00 AM - Finished. Time for H2O.

11:10 AM - It's official. First rip-off of the trip and I haven't even gotten on the plane. I just paid $6.00 for two 33oz bottles of water. Are you kidding me? The same amount would later cost me half that amount for twice as much. I'd love to get the airport concession for the new airport when they break ground. (Mental note: start working on getting politically connected.)

11:45 AM - Just got on the plane. Middle seat is open. Please, oh please let it stay that way.

12:05 PM - Plane just pushed back. Whoo hoo !!! Even though I'm in steerage, I've got a little space. Hope I have everything I need otherwise I go without, or try and find it here.

12:37 PM - Alright, where the hell is the runway? I think we just taxied to Iowa.

12:45 PM - Take off. Finally.

1:35 PM - I love the map of the route on the video screen. We just passed over Superior, WI.

6:15 PM - Passing Anchorage, Alaska. Took a look out the window and say the snow on the mountains. I won't have to worry about seeing that for a while yet.

Note for future reference: When given the choice between chicken curry and meatloaf. Take the curry. 'Nuff said.

8:35 PM - Starting to get stir crazy. One of the movies that was going to be played was "I, Robot". That was a bust. Sound kept cutting out to further drive me nuts.

8:36 PM - I think we just crossed the international dateline. 4 hours and 20 minutes until touchdown in Tokyo. Feel my pain people. I've just spent a workday so far on an airlplane.

12:20 AM - Got to sleep finally. Never thought that I was going to get any significant sleep. Its now 1:20 PM in BKK. I should be settled in another *sigh* 12 feckin hours.

At this time I'd like to present the award for the Most Annoying Passenger

The nominees are:

1: The screaming kid that seems to be able to scream at a decibel level equivalent to an icepick in the temple.

2: The five foot five inch guy in the exit row in front of me that decided to put his seat back into my lap. Jackass. (If you're under six foot, it should be a fineable offense to put your seat back more that two inches, sorry to the short readers out there, but my knees still hurt)

1:30 AM - Just landed. Off the plane and direct to the restroom. Saw my first of what will be several encounters with the squat toilet. Not this time pal.

2:35 AM - Tokyo to BKK is boarding. No more airline food on this flight. I'll eat in BKK.

2:55 AM - Wonderful. Flight with 200+ people and they put me in a row with two other guys with the same build. At least I got the window. I really feel for the poor guy riding bitch (i.e. the middle row)

I didn't have the room to write anything on the 7 hour flight to Bangkok. I suspect it would have gone something like this:

3:00 AM Please kill me.

3:02 AM When is this damn thing going to land?

3:04 AM Are we there yet?

3:06 AM Why did the short woman in front of me decide to put her seat back into my knees?

3:10 AM Are we there yet? Seriously, are we???

The plane did land at 10:25 AM Chicago time (11:35 PM Bangkok time). All I wanted to do is get off that plane, and get some food.

Customs was a piece of cake and for the most part so was the luggage claim. Although, I'd love to invent some kind of permanent sticker that you could affix to your luggage for easy identification. Perhaps, that could be my ticket out.

November is just the start of the tourist season, so the taxi cue was packed to the gills. I took a private car for ฿600 ~ $15 US. A ripoff since I should have waited and took a metered taxi for a little more than $10 US. I just wanted to check in to the hotel.

This was day one. A very long day to say the least. I got to sleep roughly at 2:30 AM with a couple cold Singha’s and a plate of chicken fried rice in my belly from one of the street vendors by the hotel (actually the best food. You can tell if its good if there is a crowd of people there eating and this place was packed.)

It’s now Friday afternoon. I ran and got a SIM card for my overseas cell phone a must for travel and bought a couple nick nacks. Today I’ll decompress, tomorrow, I think I’ll take in the weekend market and hopefully a Thai boxing match. More to follow.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

I'm F*$%ing cold

6 Days to go...

Current Chicago temperature: 44 degrees fahrenheit

Current Bangkok temperature: 88 degrees fahrenheit

Conclusion: Get me the hell out of here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


7 days to go...

Have you ever had the following dream?

You wake up in a dream and realize that you're one hour late for a final exam. Remember the feeling of dread and horror that you had until you realized that it was just a dream? This is the feeling I have with a week to go.

I just want to get on the plane and get the hell out of here.

I'm doing the usual running around for last minute items, washing clothing, checking and rechecking reservations to the point where someone should take the mouse out of my hand (please do if you see me). The combination of stress, anxiousness, and nervousness at sometimes can be too much. My Thai is absolutely atrocious, I'm fairly convinced that I will get lost at some point and the funny thing is that I can't wait for the challenge.

What I'm most looking forward to:

1. Eating on the street with the locals - I'll probably still be amazed by the Thais that will ask if I like Thai food because for what I witnessed, Thais aren't too fond of Western food. After one trip to a fast food restaurant that features a clown as a pitchman, I don't actually blame them.

2. Visiting more temples and learning more about Buddhism - I've had a profoud interest in Buddhist teachings since I was in my teens and being able to see the religion practiced was a very humbling and eye opening experience.

3. Cambodia - Another opportunity to experience one of the other cultures and people of Southeast Asia. My only regret is I won't have the time to go into Laos or Vietnam.

Well, a week to go. Time to pack and get ready.

Next episode - November 17th the vacation begins.

Friday, October 29, 2004

This place is driving me crazy

19 days to go, 19 days to go.

It has become my mantra. The countdown to the trip and never before have I wanted to get the hell out of the country.

I'm not going to go on a political rant here because the purpose of this blog is to document my travels, but this election is driving everyone insane, especially me. I don't care who you vote for, personally I think we all loose with either choice. Is this the best that our country can come up with for each party? Truly, truly sad.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Why Thailand and Cambodia?

27 days to go...

I've been asked this question more and more as I tell people about my upcoming trip. I was picking up a couple prescriptions to prevent me from catching malaria and in case I encounter food or water that doesn't agree with me when I saw a coworker at the pharmacy. The conversation eventually got around to why I was at the pharmacy and then the eventual question:

"Why Thailand and Cambodia?"

Because it's there was my response, but I probably should elaborate a little but more. My only barrier to travel has been finances. Its difficult to travel anywhere when your bank account is hemorrhaging and in my early and younger twenties, my bank account was on permanent flat line. I've started to make a little more money, and have also become a little more fiscally able to save money, so before I become too old or too tied down, I'm really going to take advantage and travel all I can.

My first few trips were to Europe (Ibiza, Dublin, Galway, Amsterdam, Paris, and Barcelona). Europe is always fun and I got to see places that my peers went to when they got out of college. I was just catching up, more or less.

When the Euro decided to become a major world currency thanks to the lack of a strong dollar policy, I needed to find a place where I would get more bang for my buck and not feel like I had to eat canned tuna for a month after I got back from holiday. Daily, I always checked the world currency indices to see where the dollar was strong and found that Southeast Asia was a good candidate for exploration.

February 2003, (Which I will put my written travelogue on this blog when I can get the time to sit in front of the computer) was my first trip for 10 days in Thailand. The sights, smells, and sounds were the first things that peaked my interest in this thriving and mysterious country. I didn't have nearly enough time to see the country and the night I got back in the states, I was already checking flight prices for a return trip in the fall. Plus, the weather was going to be in the 80's versus the 40's and below back here in the Midwest.

Quickly I realized that I would only have about two weeks of vacation time left for a trip in the fall and would have to figure out a way to stay longer, get in enough site seeing, shopping, and immerse myself in the culture as much as possible. The only logical solution that I could think of was an unpaid leave of absence.

Now, unpaid time off to me always had some type of stigma, but in talking with a good friend that chose to travel and enjoy herself rather than become bound by the corporate world (boy do I admire her to this day), I realized that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it if your employer will let you take the time, and you can save enough money to make up for the time you'll miss. Thankfully, a few opportunities came up with extra projects that offered extra time off instead of money (a trade off that I'm fast learning is more important) and was able to get another week of paid vacation.

So here I am waiting for next month. I've read and re-read my travel guides, searched on the web, and read everything that I can about where I'm going. I'm prepared with the background, but nothing can ever prepare you for a trip until you actually get there because guidebooks change and web sites can be outdated.

Why Thailand and Cambodia? Because the look on someone's face when you tell them you've been there is priceless. The wonderment as they look at photos of far and away exotic places and the stories behind the photos as you hold a captive audience is a complete rush and honestly a bit of an ego boost too. (Hey, it is pretty cool.) And there is always a little jealously as you tell them of the plans for your next trip.

The other reason is an insatiable case of wander lust. There are too many places on this planet and I'm making it a continuing goal to see as much of it as I can. This trip, Thailand and Cambodia. Next trip, we'll see...

Monday, October 18, 2004

30 Days to go...

Angkor Wat is really only the tip of the "monument iceberg" when it comes to exploring the temples in the area around it. In this piece, travel writer Michael Buckley gives us a glimpse of the treasures of neighboring Angkor Thom: The Splendors of Angkor Thom by Michael Buckley

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

What did you say?

36 Days to go…

Learning languages has always been a bit of an issue for me. I like to be able to attempt to converse with the local population. Usually, I butcher their language and get a quizzical look that says “What the hell did this idiot just try to say to me?”

I’ve never had much luck with studying languages. In high school, we were given the choice between German and Spanish. The early formation of a moral conviction prevented me from studying Spanish. The male teacher would ogle to young female students and favor the athletes. I’d learn Spanish later I concluded. Fourteen years later I can ask where the bathroom is and order a cold beer. Based on my current working knowledge of the Spanish language, I wouldn’t be able to eat in Spain or any Latin American country, but I would be able to get drunk and have very clean hands.

My choice in high school was German taught by a forty-something woman that could have passed for a haus-frau working in a German restaurant. I only took German to satisfy the language requirements for college. I had no desire really to visit Germany, that is until I met a very lovely blonde in Barcelona. Still haven’t made the trip there, but one of these days I’m sure I’ll pass through.

College gave me the desire to study languages for myself. My choice was French. The French language conjured up images of Brigitte Bardot movies and Robert Doisneau black and white photographs. I would learn French and go to Paris I proudly thought. I did eventually make it to France and into Paris, but long after everything I had learned in college had left me. I still enjoy studying French even after my third semester in college when I begged a teacher’s assistant to give me a “D” in exchange for never studying the language again. I failed it, but was able to get around in Paris with little to no problems; alright, I did have trouble getting a bottle of water at the Louvre, but still get the water, bad pronunciation and all.

Fast forward to 2003 when I first decided to go to Thailand. I didn’t know any Thai, but was not intimidated when I left. I could confidently say “hello” sawat dii krap. When I left for my trip earlier this year (February 2004), I figured that meeting locals that spoke a little English would help and it did immensely. What you don’t realize is that in some cases, the people that you meet in the tourist areas speak English for one other reason, to scam unsuspecting Westerners. You learn very quickly who to try and get language lessons from and who to tell "mai ow krap" (I don't want).

I returned from Thailand with a renewed desire to be able to speak some Thai. The Thai language is a tonal language (consisting of mid, low, falling, high, and rising) that has 44 consonants and 32 vowels. I bought a beginning Thai language book with CDs to learn the language and really got into it. That was when I had more than six months to learn. I’m thirty-six days out haven’t picked up the book in three months, and I’m going to have to bring it with. Once again, I’m going in without the most knowledge, but immersion seems to be the best way to learn.

The general nervousness and anxiety has started to begin. Have I booked everything that I needed to? Do I need to get more camera memory? Will I like Thailand the second time around? This drives me nuts, but I guess its all part of the travel process for me. Get the idea for the trip, book the trip, worry about all the loose ends and finally taking the trip. Taking the trip is probably the easiest thing to do on the list. Delays and general bullshit you can get through. The anxiety leading up to is probably the most harrowing part.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Countdown: 40 days to go...

40 days to go. So far I've had my vaccinations (Hep A & B, tetanus, diphtheria and typhoid), got most of my written prescriptions for anti-malarials and antibiotics (hope I don't need the latter). I'm taking the large suitcase which will for the majority of my trip will be staying in hotel storage as I run around SE Asia.

Here's the itinerary for my trip in theory (all of this is subject to change based on plane, train, and automobile schedules):

November 17th - 18th: Big Bird to Bangkok via Japan (I've already done this flight once and its miserable. A hint to the airlines, get better damn movies or give out sleeping pills. This will just benefit us all)

November 19th - 20th: Bangkok, Oriental city. One night makes a hard man humble, two nights makes you a babbling idiot. Good luck.

November 21st: The journey to Koh Samui. I leave on an overnight train to Surat Thani and then eventually the island of Koh Samui.

November 22nd - 26th: Beach, beer, sun. Since February 23rd, 2004, I've taken off three days and only had two other days off due to federal holidays in the U.S. 40 days to go, I'm exhausted physically and mentally. Will the beach be the appropriate "mental floss" (Thanks Jimmy Buffet for that song title) that I need?

November 26th: Back to Bangkok on the train.

November 27th -28th: Back in Bangkok. Probably the weekend to buy souvenirs (get on my good side now).

November 29th - December 2nd: Siem Reap, Cambodia and Angkor Wat. On my listing of places I want to see. 4 days and a lot of temples to see and photograph; silly me, I thought that I was on vacation.

December 2nd - December 11th: Bangkok again. Items undone from the last trip: China town, the giant swing, muay Thai (Thai kick boxing), the golden mount, and the weekend market again.

December 12th: You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. Going back home (maybe).

Not too full a schedule really. I'm excited and apprehensive as I always am at this time. I have a few minor details to firm up on the trip, but the hard parts have been planned and looked over so many times that I've started to get the tunnel vision.

I've started to get to the point where I just want to get this trip over and get on to the next. I'm not really looking for anything in my travels, but a good time and good stories to recount to my friends over cocktails. The world really isn't as big as it used to be is it? Most of the Western world takes for granted that we can within reason, leave for the exotic places in the world. For some they find the exotic place really close for me its anywhere else.

Monday, February 09, 2004

October 2003:

The Euro is sitting at 1.20 Euro to the USD. I love Europe. Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, and France were under my belt and I wanted to go back in February of 2004. Airfare is ridiculously high, too high. I want to see Prague, Italy, Germany, Eastern Europe, but can’t justify spending 20% more, at least. (Brief political rant – Thanks for the strong dollar policy GW)

Where to go? How about the other side of the world? Airfare to Thailand, $800. A little prohibitive, but then I check hotel prices. $20 per night with breakfast included. Hell, I can make up the cost of the airfare and hotel to Europe by going to Southeast Asia.

How little did I know that this trip was going to be one of the most life altering experiences I have faced in my 33 years on this planet.

Sunday, February 08, 2004


This blog documents my travels around the world. Currently, I'll be travelling to Southeast Asia (Thailand and Cambodia) from November 17th to December 12th, 2004.

As time permits the stories from a previous trips to Thailand (February 2004), Barcelona and Ibiza (July 2003), and Amsterdam and Paris (November 2002) will be added.

This will be easier that trying to send e-mails to everyone to tell them what I've done, where I've gone and the goofy events that have occurred while I'm away.