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.