Friday, January 25, 2008

Monkey Massage

So here we are at Railay Beach, with it's emerald water and white sand beaches. It's got a chilled out atmosphere despite being crowded and you can buy just about anything on the beach -- sarongs, cold beer, jewellery, or a massage.

After being upsold by Eak, a born entrepreneur, I opted for the foot scrub and massage which Eak promised to take "2 kilos of skin off my feet." It wasn't quite 2 kilos but his wife, the masseur, was very aggressive with the pumice stone and have my calves a darn good workout.

So here I am, laying on a sarong in Thailand, surrounded by waves and palm trees rustling in the breeze when I hear quiet a commotion around me. I open my eyes, look up, and am surrounded by tourists with cameras in their hand all pointing at the tree above my head. There was a swarm of monkeys running all amok while the tourists fed them bananas. I felt like shouting "I'm trying to have a relaxing massage here! Do you mind?" but it was quite entertaining except for the parts where they were dropping their banana peels and the occasional turd on me. At one point a big male came and sat right next to my head, and despite my most aggressive stare, wouldn't leave. I finally gave him a little shove and he moved on.

We have been totally lazy here, just baking ourselves on the beach, eating nice dinners, and drinking Singha beer. After suffering through two nights in our fan room with the very loud bullfrogs (and gnawing rat in the wall) we opted for an upgrade and moved into a nice air con bungalow. I'm much happier knowing I will sleep tonight, especially as tomorrow we're off for an early morning boat to Phi Phi Island where I've got two dives scheduled and Kim will snorkel. Life is hard.

Hope you're all enjoying the snow :-)


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Majestic" beach and Finnish banana hammocks

After leaving Kanchanaburi we went straight to the beach at Hua Hin -- my next favourite thing to do. We arrived at the Majestic Beach Resort and sadly, it was anything but. Our guide warned us that Hua Hin was full of Scandinavians and I pictured tall blonde lithe figures running around making me wish I had dieted a little more aggressively before I came, but no. Apparently this is a popular place for the 'older' Fins, whose good looks seem to drop off by the age of 50. But that doesn't stop them from wearing the skimpiest of swimsuits. I tell you, I have seen enough big bellies resting on banana hammock swimsuits for a lifetime. As Tan says, we felt like we were at a Floridian condo complex.

Of course we made the best of it and sat by the pool, had a thai massage on the beach with the sound of the waves in the background, a pedicure, and a good non-thai dinner in town. After nearly two weeks of eating rice at every meal, you've never seen four people so happy to see a baked potato in their lives.

We drove back to Bangkok for our last night together before Tan and Mom head off to Cambodia and Kimbo and I fly down south. We had a nice dinner cruise along the river and listened to a thai band sing really bad 80s ballads. (What is with this place and schmatzy tunes? Did someone write in the tourist handbook that "You light up my Life" is an appropriate soundtrack to be played in tourist venues?)

This morning (Wednesday) we said a teary goodbye (Mom, not me) to Tan and Mom and we hopped a plane to Krabi, with the eventual destination of railay beach. Railay is not far from town but is only accessible by long tail boat. Watching my sister get into the boat with her suitcase and then have to carry it to the east side of the beach along a dirt path was beyond hilarious. We're a long way from our private tour, baby.

Suffice to say, it was all worth it. White flour beaches, emerald water, lots of hot weather and palm trees ... this is what I flew 16 hours for. We've already booked a dive to Phi Phi island and plan to do very little except bake ourselves, eat good food, drink Singha beer, and relax.


PS I have given up on uploading pictures.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Waterfalls and Thai cowboys

After two hotels that were a bit on the blechy side and six hours of driving we arrived (cue angels singing) in Kanchanaburi and the Pung Waan Resort. It's a lovely riverfront resort with massive gardens, a plethora of birds (and gekkos) and a pool that is actually swimable.

This is one of the parts of the tour I've been looking forward too most. Kanchanburi is a small city on the River Kwai, famous for the movie and thousands of POWs that died there building the railway. Our tour had a visit to the museum and cemetery, but that seemed a little morose and being the water baby that I am I convinced my family to opt for Erawan waterfalls and Death Railway train instead.

Lesson Number One: Never try to do anything recreational on a Saturday in Thailand. We actually did get on the train but it was delayed and so packed with university students we bailed and drove to the lookout instead. I was okay with that because I wasn't exactly looking forward to a slow train ride elbow-to-elbow with students yammering at 90 decibles in 35 degree heat. From there we went to the waterfalls and had a swim in the fresh water where it took a good 15 minutes to convince my sisters to jump in and that the fish big enough to feed a six-year-old were actually harmless. Well, I couldn't call them harmless because they did tend to nibble if you stayed still too long ... I prefer to think of it as giving us little kisses.

Like many places in Asia, you can find some unintentially funny things ... like the private party that's going on in our hotel. Apparently it's corporate event for a bunch of insurance brokers -- with, of all things, a rodeo theme. There are horse rides, a barbeque, American and British (??) flags, and of course, Karaoke. There's nothing like seeing a middle-aged Thai insurance broker, dressed up in full rodeo regalia (cowboy hat, boots, plaid shirt, and tassles) on stage performing some cheeseball love song in Thai.

Tomorrow we're back in the bus for more driving to Hua Hin on the coast. The beach! The sun! Maybe then I'll actually come home looking like I've been somewhere tropical.


PS No one fell off an elephant. However, we still have a few days left and anything is possible.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Elephant artists and revered temples

Wednesday started off with a trip to Lampang and a visit to the Lampang Elephant Sanctuary. First let me say that my family is CRAZY for elephants. For me, not so much. When we arrived there were all these elephants roaming around, you know, free to trample us or stampede or whatever elephants do when generally annoyed with tourists taking their picture one too many times.

The sanctuary has about 100 elephants, the world's only elephant hospital, and a retirement home for the beasts when they retire at 60. (I wonder if they earn pensions?) Aside from being very smart and having the strength to knock over small buildings, apparently they are also artists. As the picture shows, I'm not making this crap up. Kimbo actually bought a painting and it's not half bad.

We took an hour-long elephant ride which is much more romantic in theory than practice, and fed and petted some of the elephants including a six month old baby. Their trunks feel exactly like the hose on my vacuum cleaner, only stronger and bigger and with more snot.

This morning (Thursday) we left early for Sukhothai, a UNESCO heritage site, for a bicycle tour. I knew very little about the area other than it was the former capital of Siam back in the day. I have to say this has been my favourite day so far. The site is extremely impressive and must be seen to be fully appreciated.

It was wonderful to get out into the heat and sun for a wee bit of exercise, since so far I've not had to carry my own bag, walk anywhere, or miss a meal. No one crashed or fell off but we had to keep stopping to pick up Mom's hat. Simon suggested we wear hats for the heat and the best Mom could come up with was something that was only slightly better than those welding visors the Chinese women wear in Vancouver. It was also not entirely practical since the massive visor acted like a wind catch and kept blowing off and parachuting to the ground.

Tonight we have a dinner that Simon says involves throwing food in the air and catching it. Perhaps something is lost in the translation but I'm sure there will be something interesting to report.

Tomorrow we're on the road again for a long journey to Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai.

PS I have uploaded pictures to the last post.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A breath of fresh air ... literally.

Bangkok is nice to visit but it's even nicer when you leave. We arrived in Chiang Mai and for the first time since arriving in Thailand, breathed relatively clean air and felt the sun on our faces. What a joy.

We stopped for lunch at a 'local' eatery, which I think freaked Mom and Tan out at first. (Kimbo has the attitude of "if Ton will eat it, I will.") We had a great lunch for about four bucks -- total -- and I was very proud of Tan when she used the bathroom there. A personal accomplishment for her, though still has yet to attempt the squat.

We went directly up to Wat Suthep, which is a highly revered, 700-year-old temple on the mountain top. It was stunning ... I don't know if it was the fresh air or serene environment but the afternoon included multiple giggle fits and one of Tan's famous mixed metaphors; "That beats the cake."

After the temple we went on a little excursion to a "handicraft centre" (read: tourist sucker trap) and gem shop which was a little annoying ... GAP adventures will probably hear from me on that one. Still, it wasn't a wasted trip as Kimbo managed to still buy some jewellery. God.

That was Monday. Tuesday was a VERY tough day. We started with a Thai cooking class, and then 2 hours at the spa. The cooking class was very fun and we learned four dishes, none of which I'll probably cook at home because the ingredients consisted of things like "root of green lemon" or "gangalon" or "stone mushroom." Still, the food was awesome and no one managed to set anything on fire or cut a finger off. Of the four of us, some of us are cooks, some of us are not. I'll leave you to decide who is who.

The spa experience was fantastic! I had a sauna, body wrap, and massage done by a lovely middle-aged thai woman with strong hands. The massage included, surprisingly, a buttock and breast massage. This was not entirely unwelcome since I haven't had a breast massage since at least Thursday (I miss you honey.)

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Chiang Mai as we're off to the elephant sanctuary in Lampang.


PS I have pictures to upload for these last posts, but having trouble on internet cafe PCs. Check older posts for photos in the next few days.

One day in Bangkok

We started our first day of proper touring with a walking tour of the back alleys of Bangkok. Our tour guide Simon grew up in the neighbourhood so led us through a maze of tiny walkways, little India, the turtle temple (with about 100 resident turtles), the Temple of Dawn, and Chinatown. It was fascinating to see an area where we never saw another foreigner since Lonely Planet clearly skipped that part in the guidebook. He also took us to the temple he attended as a child and gave us a crash course in Buddhism and the role of monks in society. It was definitely my favourite part. Like most religions, the opulence of the building was sublime, if not a little over the top.

We continued on with lunch on the waterfront and then a canal tour of the Chao Phraya river on a longboat, which is a long boat (duh) with a 100 hp diesel truck motor on the back with an extention of the crankshaft as the propeller. Resourceful people, these Thais. Despite her nervousness Mom managed to get in and out off the ferries and boats without falling in, though we did get a little splash now and then which made me thankful my Hepatitis A shot was up to date. We had a really interesting day and I was happy to have learned a lot more about Bangkok and some of the cultural complexities. Plus, Simon is a fantastic guide and manages to anticipate our needs, even materializing frozen faceclothes just when we're feeling the heat.

Next stop ... Chiang Mai in the North.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Trains, planes, and a tuk tuk

We're here! Bangkok is as wonderful and chaotic as I remember it. Unfortunately my brain power is working at about two per cent capacity because I've had about 5 hours sleep in the last 46 hours, so apologies for the short post and lack of wit. For the first time ever I actually slept more than 20 minutes on the flight thanks to Tan and her drug trafficking -- she actually mailed me a couple of sleeping pills before she left.

My trip here was great. I'm really impressed with Cathay Pacific and the only item of note was sitting next to a four-foot-nothing Chinese woman on the flight from Hong Kong who belched like a linebacker the whole way, without any shame. She also offered me some sort of candy, which I took. It tasted like a combination of dirt and fungus so I'm guessing that's not what it was.

After meeting up at our hotel we went for a wander which mostly involved trying to cross the street without getting mowed down. We had a harrowing ride in a tuk tuk (is there any other kind?) to a super posh hotel for lunch and had the most fantastic salad and probably the only glass of red wine I'll have this whole trip. We also met up with our tour leader Simon who is quite funny and sweet though I have to restrain my inner English teacher and not correct his grammar.

Tomorrow we start the sight seeing in full. Until later,