Friday, January 29, 2010

Sick in the Sky (in Pai): by Fiz

Ugh….I think I can now count, as of today, the number of times I have willingly taken antibiotics on two hands. A bit over a week ago I was feeling right as rain, but then from out of nowhere I started to get moody, and gloomy, and feeling downright down in the dumps. I thought it was the weather, I thought it was the lack of appetizing food, I thought it was the rate at which we were spending through our cash.

Then three days into my buzzkillness it occurred to one of us that I might actually be sick. I was... and still am. I had a fever for a little while during which I had dreams that my father was still alive and what kind of existence that would mean for me, but that tapered off and left me with a sore throat, that has gotten worse over time. Despite the herbal remedies I got from a local pharmacy.

The clincher is that I have now successfully infected Kathleen. I don't think there is anything we have done here, in Pai, since arriving worth mentioning. Well I have been spending an inordinate amount of time reading "Commitment"( by Elizabeth Gilbert) in a cafe that Pioneer Valley really could use. I will share no details so none of you open it before we get to.

I spent the whole day today killing time waiting for the pharmacy to open.
We shall see if the antibiotics I bought today kick this ailment of mine.
There is this huge annual reggae festival this weekend that starts, I think, tonight that should be fun... if we make it.

Totally unrelated... in Thailand they have these pickup truck with the beds loaded up with speakers about as tall as me driving around city streets blaring adds or something, not being able to speak any Thai, the two of us have been curious as hell wondering if this is some form of propagating politics, or if companies have adopted the method as grass roots advertising. Either way its not so bad in the bigger cities, because well, there big. They only drive around in the afternoon after the workday ends, when people are commuting home, but being in a city where downtown isn't much more than 3 square block, it got old pretty quick.

Going back to the Reggae festival thing,...I don't really have much more to say about that...
The scenery here is beautiful, in the process of killing time I stood on a rickety old bamboo bridge over the Pai river, which sort of wraps around three sides of Pai, just looking at the dull green of the mountains in contrast to the blue sky, with wisps of clouds floating around. It probably looks much more striking in the wet season.

Not much going on really.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pai in the Sky by Kathleen

Yesterday we drove three hours up the winding, twisting, sickening mountain road to a small valley that is home to Pai. Thirty years ago Pai was nothing more than a small Thai mountain village, albeit with an ideal location between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Song, two major travel destinations.

Fast-forward to the present day and Pai is a thriving stop on the not-so-touristy tourist route. It once had a big population of hippies and artists trying to escape the world, but as is often the case, the world found them, liked their spot and realized it could charge admission to see the sites... the sites in this case being the local hippies. There really isn't much here besides the town, which is basically Amherst/Noho in Thailand. Its crunchiness is a bit more exposed, but it is here to make money.

One thing that has really impressed me is that it is so like home in its attitude, well that isn't the impressive part, that’s actually kind of dull. What’s impressive is how many people think this place is paradise. It makes me proud really. I live in a place that people would call paradise. I just take it for granted. We in the Valley are truly blessed, I suppose if I hadn't grown up in it I would be over the moon about it too. Actually I still pretty much am, which is why I haven't left. It’s nice to be remind of how awesome home is, but aren't we supposed to be traveling here? I want sightseeing!

To be fair it’s nice to be here and have a bit of rest from it all. To sleep in without feeling like I'm wasting time that could be spent seeing something. And Pai is pretty chill, there are lots of artist and musicians and foodies. I am always pleased and heartened to find so many like-minded people. We are everywhere! It gives me hope.

This also gives me the opportunity to process and talk a bit about things that don't really fit in anywhere.
Things like water. In Thailand, as in most of Asia you cannot drink the tap. When you can't drink the tap you start to notice water like never before Wow, do we take it for granted. Think of all the times you use tap water, to drink to bathe to make food with to clean dishes with.

Now think of all the times you get tap water in your mouth, when you drink , when you brush your teeth, when to take a shower, when you eat veggies or fruit that have been washed. Now that you’re thinking, imagine doing none of it. Replace all of that with either bottled water in the case of drinking/cooking/ brushing teeth, or keeping your mouth closed tight and spitting occasionally, in a shower, to not eating anything raw, like fruits of veggies, that haven't been peeled.

Think of washing your hands and not being able to pick your teeth. We use water for so much. It gets to a point, when you are minding all this that you start to realize that " if I was home, I could be drinking toilet water" and it would be ok, it would be clean. That we wash ourselves, our dogs, our cars, flush the toilet, mop the floor, cook, clean... everything with clean water. Our tap is so clean that they bottle and sell it. It’s a real blessing to have clean tap.

It’s a blessing we waste constantly. Like really 5 gallons of water, clean drinking water to flush the toilet.... really? 5 gallons? We have half finished glasses of water that we dump, bathes that we drain.... all of it... drinking water. Now, I'm not advocating we wash in dirty water or anything like that. We should use our water but we could use less of it.

We could use it more mindfully. True you’re not going to get clean water to Thailand from the Quabbin, but we could show it some respect. We should all remember to be grateful for what we have. Though some days it doesn't seem like much. That's what I like about traveling. It reminds me to be grateful, and it shows me other ways to live. This time we have the better end of the stick, other times we don't.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chiang Mai by Kathleen

Here we are, in Chiang Mai. We have been here for three days and we have one more day before heading out. It is a great city, small and low key but full of exciting things to do. There is a large foreign expat population here it seems and this has influenced the quality of restaurants and hotel establishments. Unfortunately it has also raised the prices. It’s actually more expensive than Bangkok.

There is so much to do there, there are many wats and an amazing night market that sprawls for blocks. We took an all day cooking course the day before yesterday and learned how to make tasty Thai dishes. I highly recommend doing the same if you ever find yourself in Thailand. Usually I shun these types of forced “experiences” but it was so much fun it was stupid and it gave us a chance to connect with other travelers a bit. It was nice to cook, we cook at home for most of our meals and I have missed it.

Travel is working into a good pace for me, but Fiz seems to be homesick. To be fair the food hasn't been agreeing with either of us. Most Thai food here is not what you think of as Thai back home and you get tired of noodles and fish sauce for 3 meals a day. So our taste buds are a little tired and our stomachs aren't so pleased either. It gets old always feeling a little ill. Hopefully India will be better. The food there is closer to what we eat daily and what we like.

Today we rented bikes and biked precariously ( really me on a bike is like a turtle on roller skates, awkward and slightly dangerous.) around the city from wat to wat. There are so many in such a small space.

The wats ( temples) were magnificent, each with its own character. I have never been to a Buddhist country so its all very exciting. We were thinking of going to an elephant camp tomorrow, but given the price, it looks like we will be finding something else to do. Besides, I don't feel quite right about it. They might be well treated but.... they might not be. Seems like a tourist trap to me.

Traveling is a wonderful thing but sometimes I wonder why we do it. I was wondering that on our way up to Chiang Mai. We took an overnight train from Bangkok and got sleeper class tickets. Figured it would be romantic. It was not. At all. Our seats were at the back of the last car so it was like being the last person on a game of “snap the whip” all night. That coupled with pleather seats that made us sweat and the crew gathering behind us to while away the time.... we were not pleased.

But still, these wats are worth it, even if the food isn't.

Until next time.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thai Mysteries by Kathleen

Bangkok was a fabulous city, I miss it already, Kanchanaburi is small and there doesn't seem to be much happening. It looks like it has potential and there is a national park nearby, but I enjoyed all that the city had to offer.

Thailand is beautiful and the people are nice, but culturally it is rather inaccessible, but I think that the Thai like it that way. “Welcome welcome, enjoy your stay remember to leave. Thank you.” They seem mostly numbed by the hordes of mindless tourists that crowd through and at this point seem willing to allow people to just be stupid foreigners without trying to explain culture or any other subtlety.

“Just give us the bhat and it will be all good thank you have nice time.” They seem intensely private and the only glimpses I have seen of the inner workings of the people who know this land have been stolen ones.

In Bangkok a family early in the morning, the woman mixing noodle dough, the father taking their child to school while the mother in law cleans up; a tuk tuk driver buying a string of jasmine flowers to hang in front of the king’s portrait he has on his dashboard, he bows his head and makes a silent prayer at a red light. But as soon as they see you its all show "Epcot Thailand" I will call it, after the booths in Disney Land.

To be fair this is a great place to hide from the world, with no effort at all you can become unseen, hidden behind farang( foreigner) status the Thai mostly take your presence for granted. It’s not like in India where you become a spectacle. The Thai also seem uninterested in passing many moral judgments on you, you are a dumb outsider as long as you don't disrespect the king or the Buddha or dress like a streetwalker then “sure, fine”. India tries to change you, the looks you get are of disapproval, not here, mostly smiles that range from friendly to bored.

I wish I knew a little Thai, as I am sure this opens many doors and I wish I knew bit more about the history of this land. Without these tools, I earn the farang status. Though in my defense, I did try and learn something, I know a little bit it of the history and culture, mostly because of my years of studying Chinese, but back home it was near impossible to find a decent book on this kingdom of elephants even in the Umass library.

Maybe time will show more of this land than beautiful green and good prices on sarongs. Until then, I will take advantage of being unseen and relax.

Goodbye Bangkok

We left Bangkok this morning headed for Kanchanaburi, the home of the famous Bridge over the river Kwai. It is terribly anticlimactic, I'm not sure what I expected, but this is not it. After looking at it and taking the token picture we went to the WWII museum next door which was not in any way worth the entrance fee. (it reminded Kathleen of one of those "Worlds largest ______" spots).

It had an antique train engine that was used by the Japanese in the entrance way. I was afraid of putting too much weight on it and falling through the side it was so rusted over. Then there was a rail car prison cell, with the caption "rail cars like this were used as prison cells for POW's and workers who were working on the rail tracks.” There was a life sized wooden manikin of a very unhappy looking prisoner.

After that was a land rover and a motorcycle "used for short distance travel by Japanese officers". And finally we walked through a corridor of the most random and arbitrary stuffs from the WWII period, like rows and rows of coins, jugs, etc. At the end there was a guy carving soap, that I thought was pretty awesome. But what was totally worth the 80 Bhat (the Thai currency) to get in was the iguana cooling off in the mid day heat by the entrance. It let me touch it (yay!).

This town is really quiet, in the best way possible. Not a lot of obnoxious tourists or traffic. We have a really nice room in a guest house not far from the main drag, but far enough that on the off chance things do get loud we won’t hear much of it.

The countryside is so green, more so than anywhere I have ever been before. Must be the sun, the plants must love it. Speaking of which, apparently the longest solar eclipse on record was a few days ago, and the next comparable one will be in 3045 or something far-far away like that. Just a fun fact I learned from a foreigner turned local.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bangkok Busy Busy by Kathleen ( no money for editing)

It smells like Asia as soon as I step off the airplane, cigarettes and cement, some sort of flowers. I inhale deeply. I missed this smell. It’s warm and welcoming. The air is almost stale. I can't tell you how nice it is to not be cold. The snow and ice of home seems 8,000 miles away, but I think it’s more like 10,000.
As we drive into the city, Fiz falls asleep in the taxi leaving me to look out the window at colourful billboards and neon lights. Bangkok seems friendlier than India, calmer than China. I like it immediately.

The city is sprawling. There is a cluster of high rises but most of it is low-lying, stretching on and on. We get to the hotel, down a small alley, passed expensive homes. Its as nice as the pictures on-line were, which is remarkable.

The next day: We get up early, no choice of ours, we are sharing a room with 5 or 6 girls of unknown European origin. They aren't speaking a language I recognize, but it’s a romance language for sure. Which means, but deduction that they are probably Italian. Whatever they are they are loud and they are earlier risers. So, we get up.

We head for Khao San Rd. the main backpacker destination in town. I am not enchanted, its overrun with tourists and all the stalls are selling the same cheap, "pretend your cool" shit that you can get anywhere in this part of the world. Fiz on the other hand seems quite taken, I'm not sure why. I'm more interested in back streets and quiet alleys. Places where I can take pictures…..( I feel like such a stereotype when I say things like that.)

Next, to the Royal Palace. It’s amazing. There is no real way to convey to anyone how spectacular it is because it sounds tacky to describe and isn't photogenic. Go there see it. It’s all gold and shiny, mirrors towers and chedis glittering in the brilliant sun. It’s blindingly brilliant.

We end up at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha( who is jade not emerald btw.) Reading about him I was unimpressed, not only is he misnamed but he's quite small. Seeing him on the other hand was a totally different experience. The energy coming off of him pushed me to the floor, like most other in the room. Maybe it was the holy water, placed on my head with a lotus, maybe it was the chimes in the rafters speaking the voice of the wind, maybe it was the incense, but it was divine. We sat in contemplative prayer for many minuets. The Thai's around us had gold leaf on their faces, part of a devotional offering taking place outside. It was as amazing as Khao San Rd was not.

For lunch we ventured back to the backpacker central and then down a small ally passed a huge school hidden amongst the buildings where the sounds of children playing unseen echoed off the concrete walls. There we found Ethos, a vegan/vegetarian hangout, with low-lying tables and huge plates of very good fare. I felt even more relaxed when I heard " Under the full moon light we dance we dance /holding hands we dance". Pagan tunes in Bangkok so far from the woods of Western Mass, I am consistently amazed by the power the internet has in connecting everything.

After lunch we took the bus back home, but by then the time change was catching up and so sleep soon ensued.

back dated blogs by Fiz

Hey all! So this all happened a couple of days ago, but lets bring you up to speed.

January 10:

The journey has begun for real! I will not see my mother or anyone else this side of the Atlantic ocean for four months, as of now.

There is this cute little baby, well toddler, running around exploring the gate we are waiting at. He ran up to these massive windows and looked outside at the tarmac for a minute, then he wandered in front of us for a second. Then he went back to the window, touched it, and then he went running around behind us. A second or two later he ran back to the window and touched it again then went along the length of the window and up another row of seats.

He did this for a good ten minutes or so, till he had gotten his bearings. Meanwhile this other toddler is being led around by his older brother. Both little tykes are so small and could loose themselves so easily in the vastness of Terminal B had they no method of not getting lost.
Kinda puts our trip in a little bit of perspective.

Some time after January 10 ended:

We have a 13 hour lay over in Abu Dhabi. The lounges are closed to poor backpackers like ourselves. Even if we had the cash I don’t think they would let us is dress like we are. The look they gave us was of pure disdain.

We wanted to wi-fi more than anything so we lingered in the hall and tried to pick up a signal, which failed. So we retreated to the only place with benches, the trustworthy Burger King. Kathleen fell asleep for a bit on the bench with the TV blaring a football game. I just had a four hour conversation with a bird that had made a home for itself in food court.

Our trip is in phases, this is how much we have got through:

Phase 1 (drive to NYC with mothers and stay in cousins apartment) - complete
Phase 2 (flight from JFK to AUH) - Complete
Phase 3 (layover in AUH the length of our flight from JFK) - nearly done
Phase 4 (flight from AUH to BKK) - wish us luck

Abu Dhabi has a crazy airport. There are

a.) a posh looking hotel (inside it),

b.) As many first and business class lounges as there are economy class seating areas,

c.) Potentially more duty free shops as JFK although it is 1/3 the size, and

d.) The coolest traffic control tower ever, it looks like a giant sail, or a colossal dorsal fin. The most striking thing about it is that it is the tallest thing visible from the airport in any given direction. We would know too, having just spent 12 hours here walking laps and taking naps. Hopefully in 2 hours or so we will be in the air again.

Later the same day:

Phases 3 and 4 Complete. We are in Bangkok and finally have a wi-fi connection! Laying in bed next to Kathleen I'm looking around the room we are in. There are 6 other beds and I think I'm the only other male in here. We got in and put our bags down on the last remaining bunk bed. Shortly there after I realized that there was either a purse or feminine sandals near every other bed. ha!

Our roommates just walked in, not really sure how I feel about being that token guy in the co-ed dorm.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


We are getting down to the final days before departure. Getting ready for travel anytime can be hectic, but seeing as its Mercury retrograde, things are made a little more so. We, after much deliberation, seem to have settled on a rough itinerary. It looks like there is simply too much to do in Thailand/Laos. Because of time constraints we decided no beaches. I know, go all the way to Southeast Asia and no beaches? I would love to see them too. However, we are traveling at high season and hordes of frat-boys trying to have a cultured experience are not our idea of fun. So, maybe some other time, for now... into the mountains.

I am looking at my inventory of things to pack and bring, its hard to think about what you will need over the course of four months and 3 countries. Clothes make up the smallest portion, mostly its medical supplies and electronics.... you know the essentials.

This is a test run on this blog, to see that it works, and that everyone can see it. Leave a comment and let me know.