I just want to thank you all for being so patient with me. I have really slacked off when it comes to the blog, but I have been quite busy taking chicken busses, as well as trying to figure out my future. I have been on the road 6 months now, and unfortunately am coming close to the end. I figure I have about another month or so of travel left before I have to make a decision and stick to it with regard to where I want to live.
In the meanwhile I just want to once again thank you all for reading my entries. I know they may seem boring, or just way too long to read sometimes but there is a reason for this. I know that I have been blessed in this world to be given such opportunity, and that I have made the right choices in life to put me in this position. A majority of the people in this world will never be able to experience anything near what I have been able to see and experience on this trip. Chances are that many of you who are reading are in a similar situation because of other commitments (family, significant others, mortgages, jobs, etc...)
Therefore, I feel like I really want to try and have you experience it like I have. More importantly my goal is that after reading my stories, hopefully it will give each and every one of you to go out there and hit the road and explore all the world has to offer.
With all that being said, since the last entry I checked out these places:
- Chiang Mai
- Mae Hong Son
- Siem Riep (Cambodia)
Chiang Mai – Chiang Mai is the largest city in the north of Thailand. The ancient city is about 12 hours by train, or 10 hours by bus from Bangkok. The perimeter is a large square formed by large brick walls that are surrounded by a large moat that prevented invaders from getting in, and is easily walked on foot. It takes only about 20 minutes to walk from end to end. The main attraction at Chiang Mai is the temples. Outside of this, it is mainly used as a gateway point to the Golden Triangle (3 way border with Burma, Thailand, and Laos) and to visit the hilltribes of the north. The golden triangle has forever been known as a large transit point for the smuggling of opium, and as an access point for Burmese guerillas to get supplies and medicine. My main goal in visiting Chiang Mai was to motorbike around. When I was in Nepal I met a man who told me for about 4 hours all about this website (www.gt-riders.com) Golden Triangle Riders, who have made maps and have a website all about motorbiking in asia. It was all started by one man who wanted to motorbike in asia 15 years ago and couldn’t find any legitimate information on it. There was no maps, no info on where to go or distances involved. More on this later.
In the north the most popular deal is to ride an elephant, go on a bamboo raft down the river, and visit the golden triangle. Most people do it on a tour, but you would be waaay better off if you just bought a map from the 7-11 and went on a shitty little scooter motorbike. I never got the opportunity to do so because of a time crunch, but take my word for it – this is the way to go.
When I was in Chiang Mai, I ate up a whole day writing my last blog entry (thank you very much), and then spent the next day checking out all the various temples. Chiang Mai has the highest per capita concentration of temples in all of Thailand. Squeezed within the small city walls are something like 300 temples!!!
Highway to the Danger Zone!!!
Offerings to Buddha: toothpaste, socks, toothbrush, bubble gum, money, a bag of potato chips, pen, chocolate, tiger balm, oh yeah, and don’t forget the toothbrush to go with the toothpaste.
Pai – This place is a real stoner hangout. I think the PC term is “counter culture”, but regardless the whole idea of the place is to kick back and do nothing. Im serious, they have tshirts that are real popular that say “do nothing in Pai” that have a picture of a dude just sitting on a couch somewhere half asleep. Its got a similar vibe to Kathmandu, and just about every restaurant is called gonja café, or rasta bar, or something like that. I had high hopes from everything I heard that Pai was going to be amazing, but for me I wasn’t as into it as I could have been. Just a bit too stonerish for me. I did have an amazing chicken burrito at a place owned by a guy from Jersey City for thanksgiving which was nice.
I took a motorbike out in Pai, and cruised around. For $2.50 a day you can rent a 125cc manual scooter/motorbike and cruise. Pai has really beautiful countryside, and that is where I spent most of my time. I went to an old WWII bridge, Pai Canyon, some hot springs, a cool mountain temple, and to a Chinese village. When I was there I went to a bookstore, and on my way out these Thai guys offered me whiskey so I drank with them. It turns out that the one guy Ten, who owned the bookstore just published his first book and was looking to sell it at the upcoming movie festival in a few days time from when I was there. He was worried because he had to make a quota, but Thai people don’t like to read. The only time they go to the bookstore is to stand in front of it and to take a funny picture like “hahha, look at me – im at the bookstore. Im reading, hahaha” like it’s a big joke to read. Long story short I mistakenly told him that if I worked selling for him that he would no problem make his quota, and I really wanted to help him out, but I had to boogie out and never did it. I think I really let him down. If you are reading this, Ten – I wish you the best of luck buddy!
Pai Canyon – This place was pretty sweet, and had these really weird walkways where everything else around it was eroded.
Cool WWII bridge. Unfortunately I cant tell you more than that.
Funny ferris wheel of sorts powered by people at Chinese village. In typical fashion they had really loud and fast techno playing and girls who had little charms hanging from their mobile phones.
Mae Hong Son (MHS) – I would have to say that of the places I visited in the north, this was my favorite. A bit bigger than Pai, but smaller than Chiang Mai. The town is situated on a really beautiful little pond, with a really sweet Buddhist temple as the centerpiece of the town. They have a really good night market with many handmade goods that come from the local hilltribes. It’s a lot better to buy directly from the person making it rather than in a market in Bangkok where there is 7 other people to pay off, and the profits are mafia controlled. Because of the close geographical location to Burma Mae Hong Son attracts some interesting people. No matter where you go in Thailand you will see older white guys who go for the Thai women (mostly the rejects because they could never score back home), but in Mae Hong Son you don’t see so much the sex tourists or the guys who have legitimate Thai wives, but rather ex-military types. I didn’t figure out what they were doing there until I chatted it up with this guy (I will withhold his identity because he asked me to) who grew up in Riverhead who told me all about the different underground organizations that run out of MHS that funnel supplies, munitions, medicine, intelligence etc. into Burma. They also take care of the hilltribes in Thailand and make sure the ones who are on uncle sams payroll get fair and just treatment for their service to the US DOD intelligence network. Just because of the way I was talking he asked if that was what I was in search for, but I turned him down. Long story short this guy gave me the skinny on Burma, and just about everything that is going on in this long forgotten part of the world.
Also while in MHS I went to a bar where it was just me and another guy, and we started to chat it up. I saw he had a Golden Triangle Riders shirt on, so I asked if he has ever done some of the rides up in the North. It turns out that I stumbled upon the legend!!! This guy in the bar, who was drinking a whole bottle of Ballantines to the head was the originator of Golden Triangle Riders, the original SE Asia motorbike man. Anyways, I went to another bar with him and got absolutely tore down until I met a guy who worked for the Department of Homeland Security and we drank another bottle of whiskey in the street (damn that was a rough night). The INS (no longer the name) is in north Thailand processing paperwork on some 10,000 IDPs (internally displaced peoples) from Burma. Some have served the US as guerilla fighters going back as far as Vietnam working as CIA operatives deep within Lao and Cambodia, and some are in search of a new life.
Katchanaburi – This place, 3 hours west of Bangkok is pretty sweet. The highlights are The Bridge on The River Kwai, Erawan National Park, and the Tiger Temple. I went to Katchanaburi with a kiwi friend Kylie, who I met in the south of Thailand a couple of weeks earlier. She was working in Bangkok as an English teacher, but wrapped that up before hitting the road with me.
Me and Kylie in Tuk-Tuk around town.
Katchanaburi was the last town in Thailand I was going to check out before hitting the road for Cambodia and Vietnam. That makes my Thailand experience longer than any other country I have been to.
- Ko Phi Phi
- Ko Tao
- Chiang Mai
- Mae Hong Son
The Bridge on the River Kwai is most famous because of the Hollywood blockbuster by the same name. Unfortunately I have never seen the movie, so I cant say anything about its truthfulness with all that I understand. Regardless, the bridge was built by Japanese prisoners of war during WWII. Its purpose was to connect Burma with Bangkok, and the conditions were so terrible that 17,000 Soldiers, Airmen, Seamen and Marines from England, Australia, US, and Holland died alongside 100,000 captured workers. The conditions of the workers were terrible, and if you go to the museums you can get a good feel for what a miserable life it must have been for the prisoners. The original estimate for how long it would take to build the railroad was 5 years, but with the accelerated pace of the war and the use of a prisoner workforce it was completed in only 18 months.
Thailand was initially neutral during WWII and didn’t want to have to choose sides, but was essentially forced by the Japanese war machine to sign a pact saying that they would not intervene in military affairs, but that Japan would be able to operate freely within its borders. That’s why the Japanese were building a bridge in Thailand.
At night the town puts on a light and sound show during the first week of December every year for all the survivors. It was kind of a joke initially, but then it got better as the story unfolded (in Thai) about the Japanese occupation, the laborers conditions, and eventually the Allied assault on the bridge. At the end was a fireworks show as the original Japanese train crossed the bridge. My favorite part was when a remote control B-25 Mitchell (the original plane used in the allied attacks on the bridge) all lit up with lights flew around shooting fireworks that blew up at the bridge. I don’t know why but I thought that was really cool.
The next day me and Kylie rented a motorbike, and drove all around. First we hit up Erawan National Park, which is most famous for their waterfall. There are 7 major waterfalls, and about 15 little ones which are equally unique. The place is so amazing, that it almost looks fake, but its all natural. The water is pure blue, almost as if the source is a mountain glacier. Its really beautiful, and if you are ever in that part of town you should def hit it up.
On the way back, the strap on my helmet broke, and while going 100km/hr it flew way up in the air and almost hit a chicken truck. When I went to return the bike, the girl was confused at how I could have a helmet that was smashed to pieces, but that the bike was all ok. I think I am the first person ever to crash only the helmet, and not the bike.
The Tiger Temple was expensive ($12 to get in), but worth it. It originally started as a Buddhist temple where people from the town would take wounded baby tigers, and eventually the monks got good at taking care of them and so people brought more and more animals until one day they needed the expertise of western zoologists, and now its more zoo than temple. They have roughly 35 tigers that range from 4 months to full grown adults, leopards, pigs, buffalos, peackocks, huge crazy deer, some crazy fire breathing eagle, etc…
Finally found the chanchito!!!
Buffalo sunning itself
The thing about the tigers is that you can go and pet the tigers if you are up for it. When you see them for the first time you cannot believe that they are not drugged. They are just lying around, sleeping most of the time, and it just seems so unnatural. After chatting it up with some of the western staff they do their best to convince you that there are no drugs involved and that the only reason the tigers are so tame is because they spend their whole lives around people. At night when they feed it is very dangerous, and they have to be caged. Tigers by nature are nocturnal animals, and I can say that from my experiences in the African savannah from seeing truly wild big cats (Lions, cheetahs, leopards, etc. ) that they really just sleep all day, but even then you cannot predict their behavior, and they still will eat your fucking face off if they feel like it.
I wasnt much of a cat man up untill a couple of months ago, but how could you deny that face???
Oh shit!!! I killed the tiger!!! Oh wait, its just on elephant tranqs....
This one was a freakin animal. He was probably at least 7 or 8 feet long, and nothing but solid muscle.
From Katchanaburi we headed back to Bangkok where I had to take care of some administrative type stuff, and then we headed out to Cambodia. The bus ride from Bangkok to Siem Riep is about 12 hours, and isn’t too bad, but the border is quite shitty. Poypet has a reputation for being a real shithole, and it certainly lived up to its reputation. The most interesting thing about this travel was to see the difference from the Thai side to the Cambodian side. The difference is immediate.
Cambodia is poor, disorganized, chaotic, a bit more dangerous, and the people have a different philosophy than Thais. Their country has been ravaged for the past 30 years, and for only the past 8 or so years have had their borders opened for what I would consider mass tourism (pretty sure you wouldn’t though). The people have done their best to forget the horrors of the past, and are moving on in search of a better life. There are no real jobs in Cambodia, and it’s a real hard life. There are a lot of beggars everywhere (mostly victims of landmines), and the people are really pushy to beg or sell you anything you can imagine. The countryside is unspoiled, and it was a good experience for me to get back into a shithole. When I went from spending one month in Nepal, to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia it was a surreal experience to be back in civilization with clean streets, ATMs, starbucks, a postal system, safe roads, traffic lights, etc. and I never got back into the filth, grime, and poverty of Asia until Cambodia.
To go quickly into the history of Cambodia, it has been historically the center of the Khmer empire. It is most famous for its massive temples, most notably Angkor Wat which is so important to the nation that it is the centerpiece of the Cambodian flag. As a part of Indochina (the French colonies of Cambodia, Lao, and Vietnam) there is a definite French influence, and a majority of all street signs, restaurant signage, etc is in Khmer (language) as well as French. Baguettes can be found nearly everywhere, and French pastries are sold by just about everybody and their mother on the street.
The most important piece of recent Cambodian history is the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge which left the country in shambles, and over 2 million Cambodians dead. I will go into depth on this in the next entry when I talk about S-21 and the killing fields.
The general name Angkor Wat is loosely used for all the different temples in the Angkor Wat complex, but really Angkor Wat itself is only one of a series of about 40 or so temples with a 10km radius of Siem Riep. The major sights are Angkor Wat, Hit Ta Prohm, and Angkor Thom which inside is Bayon. It’s a pretty big area that can be covered in anywhere from one day to an entire week, and is best covered by bicycle or tuk-tuk. You can hire a tuk-tuk for $10 a day and the driver will drop you off and wait for you as you cover the temple, and then you move onto the next one. Its makes for a real nonchalant day, and is a lot easier in the heat than peddling the distance.
Angkor Thom – This is a major complex surrounded by a huge moat that has a lot of cool sights. First head to Bayon, then check out the Terrace of Elephants, and the rest of the lot.
Kylie at terrace of elephants
Bayon – 216 faces like this in one of the highlights of any tour of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat – Built in the 1100s, this is the largest religious building in the world, UNESCO site, and is simply amazing.
I really like this one
Hit Ta Prohm – This place is crazy. Its filled with trees that have engulfed the temple and have become one with the stone structure. The archaeologists like it because of the cycle of life it represents as man conquered nature to create, and nature conquered humans to destroy. Countless movies have been filmed here including Tomb Raider because of how awesome it is.
Band of dudes who are landmine victims. All are missing limbs or eyes. My favorite is the guy who plays the leaf. No, that’s not the name of a fancy shmancy instrument. Its just a damn leaf from a plant.
At sunset you go up to the top of this one temple which has a pretty good view, but the steps up are so steep and narrow, you have to use your arms and legs. Some people who were out of shape struggled.
After hitting up all the temples, we were wore out so we went to an all you can eat buffet and pigged out for the only meal of the day and enjoyed a Cambodian traditional dance show. The dancing is only partially accurate, and is mostly for tourists, but is still cool to see.
That’s all for now. Don’t give up hope on me just yet. I have a couple more entries to go before I finally get my bearings in life and finally figure out what I want to do. Till then, cheers!