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.