bo sang

last night i met up w/ jason (jamie’s friend who decided to try living here in thailand). we went to a bar called rasta cafe to get some drinks. this place was pretty cool: laid back atmosphere, pretty good music, and everyone that worked there either had an afro or dreadlocks. jason was also supposed to meet this girl there, and pretty soon she arrived w/ a friend in tow. so, the friend was a bit stand-offish, and after only a few minutes of conversation, things got awkward. it seemed like all 4 of us had hardly anything to say, and i wanted to leave and go back to my guesthouse, but they convinced me to go w/ them to a club. the club was pretty packed and there was a band on stage playing thai cover songs. everything was fine till all of a sudden this crazy bar brawl broke out right next to us. i’m not exactly what happened there, but next thing i know there’s blood splattered *everywhere* all over the floor (and on my shorts too i discovered later). seconds later all sorts of people were getting kicked out, and i took my chance to go home.

today i got up really late, and after checking the bus schedule (i needed to catch the bus to chang rai), i realized that i only had a few hours left here. there’s this small town called Bo Sang about 15 km outside of chang mai that is really famous for making those paper umbrellas. jason and i decided to ride down there and check it out. turns out it was our lucky day. today just happened to be the paper umbrella festival (a big deal in this town), and there was a huge parade to celebrate it. watching the parade was pretty dope. they had a marching band, tons of different paper umbrellas of all shapes and sizes, people doing dance routines, old men with old-school traditional drums, and even some floats. of course, the floats were not very high tech… they were actually just large pickup trucks w/ crazy decorations on them and little platforms.

after that, we got back w/ just minutes to spare to get to the bus. unfortunately though, we got in an argument w/ the scooter rental people who accused me of messing up the breaks on the bike. i had no way to prove that i didnt, so 400 Baht and 15 minutes later i missed my bus. damn! luckily though, there was another lame bus going soon after that, and i was forced to sit only halfway on a seat for the next 4 hours.

-v

cooking and monks…

Many people love thailand because of how great the food is here and because of that, there are many places that offer one to five day cooking courses. thai food is one of my favorite kinds of food and i am totally down w/ cooking so i decided to try out the one day course. the course ran from 10am to 4:30 and during that time we cooked 6 different dishes.

the class was hella cool! they start by introducing most of the main ingredients used in thai food, tell you a little about chilis and stuff, and then get you started on making your own curry from scratch. we used a bunch of both dry and wet ingredients and then actually ground them up using an old-school mortar. once we all made our own curry paste we added the rest of the ingredients and made some super delicious food. seriously, most of the dishes that i cooked myself today were some of the best food i’ve eaten so far. cooking it all was a lot of fun, and surprisingly (other than making curry paste from scratch), it was actually really easy. turns out most of these great dishes only got flavor from like 3 or 4 main ingredients.

after making and eating 4 of the dishes, people were feeling way full. and yet there was still more to go. the fifth dish we made was this spicy glass noodle salad. our teacher told us that we could vary the spicyness by adding less or more chilis, and then said that most thai peole would use 10 chilis, but that we all should probably use between 3 and 5. well, the swedish couple i had been cooking w/ all day and i decided to try it thai style and we put all 10 chilis in there. oh my god. this stuff was sooooo hot. we were all dying pretty soon but ate the stuff anyways cause it was so good. the rest of the class was pretty impressed.

Later in the afternoon i decide to go see watt doi suthep. it’s a watt way up high on a mountain above the city. the road to the watt is about 16km and very very twisty. blazing up it (and back down) on my scooter was a blast. i got to the top a little before sunset, and watching from above as the sun went down over the city was really cool. the watt itself was really dope. you had to walk up 306 steps to get to it and at the top you could explore the watt, see many intricate statues, and ring any number of huge bells that were around.

there was a room at the center of the watt that was filled with probably a dozen different golden buddha images, and in the room there was a monk that would bless you if you wanted to. people would kneel in front of him one by one, he would tap you on the head, and then tie a piece of twine around your wrist. i dunno… there was something very special and spiritual about it all and even though i’m not buddhist, i definitely felt very moved to be up there being blessed by a monk on a mountain top.

i asked someone about the piece of twine and what it was for. it turns out that there is some special buddhist ceremony where the high level monks pray for many many hours while each of them holds on to a section of a very long cord. once this is finished, the cord is then cut up into small pieces, and each of these pieces becomes a bracelet to be handed out by a monk. the bracelet is supposed to give you good fortune and guard you from harm. also, you’re never supposed to take the bracelet off, instead you let it slowly deteriorate until it breaks and leaves you on it’s own accord. how cool! i dunno, i havent yet bought a single souvenir here in thailand, and although i’ll probably buy some at some point, i get the feeling hat this tiny piece of twine is gonna be my favorite thing of everything i bring back.

-v

not much…

so i dont have that much to report today. yesterday, i slept in fairly late, and then got up to go catch the 4PM bus to chang mai. at 4:30 the bus arrived, i grabbed my backpack, walked up to the bus… and then turned around and decided to stay here in Pai for another day. i was feeling quite lazy and decided to spend a day just hanging out, soaking in the atmosphere and doing *nothing*.

so that’s what i did. i watched “the big lebowski” in one of the bars in town. i took my scooter on a super long ride along the highway (where i finally got it up to about 90km/h). switched hotels to a cheaper room (only 100B, WERD!). i ate a few meals… and really that’s about it. it was nice to have a day w/ no plans.

one thing that i keep forgetting to mention in the journal…. there’s one thing i absolutely HATE about pai. pai is full of roosters. they’re everywhere. and every morning at 6am, they take it upon themselves to be insanely irritating and loud as hell. ugh. and you assume that they would just crow at sunrise and stop… but no. they crow and crow and crow for hours. at all hours. last night when i was trying to fall asleep at midnight, one was just crowing nonstop for a hella long time. ugh!

today i woke up and took the bus back to chang mai. chill bus ride. we stopped halfway there to eat and i got this snack thing that i’ve bought once before. it’s a stick of sugar cane that’s been hollowed out, and then they fill it up w/ sticky rice, condensed milk, sugar, and black beans. it’s hella good. to eat it, you fan out the cane pieces like you would a banana peel and chow down.

once in chang mai, i got a room, and randomly once again ran into this girls from richmond that i keep running into. it’s cool to run into someone from the bay area back home, especially since there doesnt seem to be many americans here.

-v

paranoia…

there are many hill-tribes living around here in the mountains and other than corn, their main cash crop is opium. over and over as we drove by random people, they would offer to sell us some. now, on one hand, we were curious to try some, but on the other hand, all of us had read in the guidebooks how drug offenses here are severely punished and that people can get anything from several years in a small dirty inhumane prison to death. of course, curiosity killed the cat, and we couldnt resist the temptation.

we bought 4 tiny packets of stuff from a tribal person on the road, and from that moment on, the day was filled w/ paranoia. we rushed to the hotel cause we didnt want to keep the stuff on us, and jamie hid it behind a shingle in the room… so far, that we were almost unable to retrieve it later. we began to imagine police behind every corner ready to arrest us and ship us off to jail.

of course we still needed to buy a pipe in order to smoke the stuff. while we shopped for one at a local souvenir shop, we kept looking around, thinking the store owners would know what we’re up to, or even call the cops on us. seriously… things were starting to get ridiculous. when we got back to my bungalow, we took huge care to make sure none of the packets touched anything in the room, and then at first started only smoking it in the bathroom cause we were scared that someone might walk by and see us thru the window. finally, we got up enough courage to come out of the bathroom, even though still we would jump every time we heard a noise outside. looking back on it now, it’s pretty funny just how freaked out we were and how much overreacting we did.

so, in the end, the opium was less than spectacular. in fact, none of were sure whether we felt absolutely anything at all. i still maintain that we were all stoned ever so slightly, but tom and jamie think that there was no affect whatsoever. *sigh*. all that trouble over nothing. but oh well… at least we tried!

-v

pai day 2

today was another lazy chill day in pai. in the morning we drove out to go see a waterfall. the ride to the falls was a gnarly dirt rode with water running ruts thru it everywhere. it was probably the most treacherous moped ride so far, and jamie practically fell of tom’s moped and i bent one of my moped pedals when i scraped by a tree stump. somehow we managed to make it all the way to the falls. the falls were cool, and we watched some little local kids slide down the rocks into the water below (while almost crushing their heads on the rocks. yikes!). oh yeah, another cool thing about the ride to the falls was that we drove by several really really rural hill tribe villages and saw a lot of the people walking around in their traditional garb.

after the falls we went to go check out some elephants. we got to feed sugar cane to the elephants, and it was pretty cool to have the elephant grab stuff w/ it’s trunk right out of your hand. they also had one baby elephant (2 yrs old) that was really small and funny. it was hilarious to watch it as it chased any dogs that would get near it.

oh, we also saw a less than spectacular WWII memorial bridge, that according to the sign was built in 1942 BC. heh

the plan for tonight is to just hang out and drink some more. the town’s atmosphere here is just so nice. even when you dont do much, it’s still hella cool.

-v

Pai

***YESTERDAY***

i caught the 9am bus to pai today. when i got to the bus, there were no real seats left, so me and some other guy had to sit in the middle of the aisle on these cushion things the whole way (4 hours). ouch! finally we got here though, and soon thereafter i met up w/ jamie and tom again. it was hella cool and we spent some time telling each other about how our trips have gone since we split up.

Pai, is a *dope* town. it is totally super mellow and chill. it’s a small mountain town with only 3 or 4 streets containing some restaurants, net cafes, and bars. everything here moves at a slow pace, there’s not much traffic on the roads, and everyone seems to be just hanging out. this is actually what i pictured a lot of thailand to be like and it’s nice to finally see it. all of us agree that pai is probably the best town we’ve been to in in thailand.

during the day we rented mopeds (it’s great to be driving scooters again! so fun!) and drove up to go see Watt Mae Yen. it is a watt sitting on top of a hill, and after the drive you have top walk up a ton of steps to go see it. the watt itself was fairly small, yet was quite decorative and it was cool to walk around up there. plus the views down the hill were amazing!

Later on we got thai massages (which were good but not nearly as good as the ones we got at chakra massage before) and headed out to start drinking. we went to a bar called 50 satang. it was dope cause the bar was really tiny, and while sitting on the elevated platform and drinking our drinks, we totally go to talk to the owner. he was a super social guy named pong and he made it a point to talk to every single customer that walked into his bar.

it turns out that he has owned this bar for 16 years, and it is the oldest bar in Pai. his father used to be a medicine man, and now pong uses the ancient herbs as additives to the special kinds of whiskey he servers. seriously, this guy was just sooo friendly and cool! so we tried some of his “energy whiskey” and it was great. hardly had any harshness to it at all.. and had this odd flavor that none of could place. eventually tom and i decided that it tasted like candy canes maybe?? pong also had a bunch of guest books where his previous patrons had written all sorts of funny comments about pai, the bar, and even some special “erection whiskey” that was for sale there. heh.

after pong’s place, we grabbed dinner and proceeded to drink some more at another bar called the bebop. the one drawback to a quiet small mountain town… is that stuff closes early and the bars etc here shut at around 12:30, so not too much later after that, we had to call it a night.

-v

GUNS!

yesterday, while sightseeing, my driver asked me if i wanted to go to a shooting range. shooting range? apparently, in cambodia certain military personnel, in order to make some extra cash, illegally allow foreigners to try out the army’s weapons. the driver tells me that for 20-30$ i can try out any number of weapons from an AK-47, Uzi, M16, rocket launchers, and even hand grenades. whoa! now i’m not a big fan of weapons, but seriously, when will i get a chance like this again? so i said yeah, i’m up to try it.

today i woke up and all of a sudden started wondering whether this might be a horrible idea. was it really safe to go to some remote area of cambodia, far from town, to meet up with a bunch of guys armed to the teeth with weapons and who apparently had not much regard for the law?? despite my doubts, i decided to go for it. unfortunately my funds were pretty low, and i was feeling sketchy about bringing a lot of money w/ me to this place, so i decided to just bring 20$, enough money to try an AK-47.

after the long drive to an army base in the middle of nowhere, we arrived to a building with tons of rifles and guns hanging on the walls. i get handed a menu, that has different weapons with the price for each weapon, ranging from different revolvers, to machine guns of all shapes and sizes, to rocket launchers. the menu even had as little icon on the bottom of a family holding hands (i guess shooting guns is fun for the whole family). i paid the 20$ and minutes later i’m holding an ak-47 with 30 bullets at my disposal.

shooting the gun was quite a rush. LOUD, even w/ the ear-guards on. the spark, the smell of the shot, and the kick of the gun were all pretty hardcore. wow, i could not believe i was doing this! so first the guy put the gun in semi-automatic mode where each squeeze of the trigger was one shot, but then after about 10 shots, he put it on fully automatic where the gun just keeps firing while you hold the trigger. even though it probably only took me like 3 minutes total for the whole process, this was definitely one of the more intense moments i’ve had on this trip. once i was done, i fully regretted no having brought more $$. oh well. before i left, i asked if i could grab some of the shell casings from the bullets i fired as a souvenir, and the guy said yeah.

so that’s all for my trip to cambodia. very brief, only 4 days. but it was still quite an experience and i’m really glad i did it. later in the afternoon, i went to the airport. after killing some time, i went to go thru the security checkpoint etc. of course, i had to pull out all the crap in my pockets: camera, batteries, coins… and when i reach in there… i pull out a huge fistful of bullets. ah, crap!! now what? i totally had not thought of that, and even though they were only shells, i felt like a total moron putting them in the tray on the conveyor belt (it was too late to ditch them). of course all the guards immediately started talking rapidly to each other as the tray went thru xray, and then i was notified that i had to leave the casings behind. phew. i had begun to worry that i might get in some serious trouble, but i guess not.

tonight i’m spending the night in chang mai, a city in northern thailand. first thing tomorrow, i’m catching a bus to Pai, a small rural town that’s know for it’s relaxed atmosphere.

-v

history lessons

today i went around and saw all the sites of phnom phen. a lot of them were really depressing. mot of you probably already know this, but in case you slept thru world history class (like i did), cambodia is the site of one of the bloodiest revolutions in history. from 1975 to 1978, communist forces called the khmer rouge took over the government and then tortured and killed around 2 million people. they said they wanted to start a society led by the working class, but really what they did was kill everyone who was educated. a lot of this happened in phnom phen and because of that there are several sites around town that are a tribute to the victims of the genocide.

the main one one in town was the tuol sleng museum. this is a highschool within the city that the khmer rouge took over and turned into a prison/torture center called S-21. they surrounded the whole city w/ corrugated iron fences and barbed wire, turned the classrooms into prison cells, and began the long task of tagging people and torturing them. most of the people detained here were eventually taken to choeung ek to be killed (more on that later), but about 100 people per day died at s-21 from the torture.

walking around thru the halls of this place was really really unsettling. so odd… how on one hand it looked like a highschool w/ long halls, chin-up bars, etc… but on the other hand it was surrounded by snarls of barbed wire. you could walk into the little cells and inside they had pictures of the different methods of torture that were used here. truly horrific. and then… there were the photos. the mugshots taken by the Khmer Rouge of everyone before they were executed. there were rooms full of these photos… tons of them on every wall… each face looking lost and mournful while holding up their prisoner number. it was so devastating to look at this sea of faces while knowing that none of them were alive anymore. how could people do something like this?? it was all just so *so* sickening.

inside one of the rooms, you could watch a documentary about s-21. they interviewed some people who had survived,and others who had been guards here. at one point, they were interviewing one of the guards and he was explaining how he would go about killing the prioners… AND THE BASTARD WAS SMILING THE WHOLE TIME. UGH!!

the other place i saw today was choeung ek, the infamous Cambodian Killing Fields. this is where most of the people were taken to be killed. the whole places is surrounded by huge pits used as mass graves. you can still see bits of rags that used to be prisoners clothes floating about and bits of bone in the pits. did i mention that since bullets where expensive, pretty much all of these people were bludgeoned to death? sheez. walking around here was really eerie and horrible. the place was filled with lots of green grassy fields, with *tons* of butterflies peacefully floating by… it was hard to imagine what kind of heinous atrocities happened here. at least it was hard to imagine until i saw the memorial stuppa in the center of the field. it’s a huge golden monument that’s several stories tall dedicated to the victims that died here… and as you approach it and come closer… you realize that the whole thing is filled w/ skulls. yes, over 8000 skulls in row upon row and shelf upon shelf. it really gives you a sense of just how many people fell victim to this place.

anyways, the last place i saw today was the silver pagoda by the royal palace… but somehow i think that writing about beautiful temples would be out of place in this entry. so i’ll skip that.

tomorrow is my last day here and i fly back to thailand in the afternoon, but not before trying out some crazy illegal shit that my moto-driver is taking me to… more on that later.

-v

even more so…

***Yesterday***

today i woke at 6am. sheez, once again i get no sleep. i had a long bus ride ahead of me. i was going from siem reap to phnom phen which was about 8-9 hours away. we drove for hours through the cambodian countryside on this “road”. ok, so calling this a road would be way too generous. it was more like a dirt path, full of ditches, gulleys, bumps, and was in a state of horrible disarray. (and this was the main highway thru cambodia). driving over it with a long bus was so insanely bumpy. everyone kept being bounced into the air from their seats…. that and the bus was slowly but surely filling up w/ dust from the road.

so, one of the main reasons why i came to thailand was cause i wanted to see a lifestyle that is totally different than the one i see back home. i wanted to see how people lived in a country that wasn’t as industrialized as europe or the US. i definitely got what i wanted. seeing cities full of crumbling one story buildings w/ no hot water, and holes for toilets really expanded the way i view how people can live. now, after seeing cambodia, it makes thailand look futuristic! in the cambodian hillside, all the “buildings”are just little huts on stilts. these huts are tiny and since most of them had their doors open, i could see that all the huts had hardly anything inside them. other than the little huts, there was pretty much just tiny food stands, mobs of children wandering the fields, and stray livestock here and there. it was totally beautiful and yet sad at the same time. much of the soil here is a deep red color which contrasts strikingly with all the bogs and ponds everywhere that are covered w/ fluorescent green (algae?)

after driving for hours the bus pulled over. “toilet stop!” great! so everyone piles out of the bus and…. errr…um, where’s the toilet? no toilet!! the driver just picked a spot on the road where there was a lot of bushes and that was where we got to pee. after some shock, everyone just shrugged and went for it. finally we made it to phnom phen. i found the cheapest hotel yet. 2$ a room! werd!

but then my hotel tried to rip me off. i dropped off my laundry, and you pay by the kilo. she puts the laundry on the scale and the scale reads 5 kilos. then all of a sudden i notice that she’s pushing down on the scale while she’s weighing!! i mention that, and she lets up a bit and the scale now reads 4 kilos. i give her an annoyed look, and now she takes her hand completely off and it’s really only 2 kilos! dude, she fully tried to rip me off. and when i pointed it out, no appology… nothing!

-v

temples, guides, and mini-celebrities

i woke up at 4:30 am feeling utterly miserable. how could i be awake at this hour when it’s still pitch black outside? after a *freezing* cold shower, i stumble outside. if you’re on your own, the cheapest and easiest way to see all the temples of angkor is to hire a scooter driver for the day. he picks you up in the morning and drives you to all the temples you want to see. all day long for 6$. we arrive to the main temple at 5:45 when it is just barely starting to get a little bit light out. everyone was milling about anxiously awaiting for the sun to rise from behind the watt. it finally did, and it was quite a sight. angkor watt is a huge stone watt with a collection of towers, tunnels, columns, and staircases. without showing a picture, there’s no way of describing how cool it looks. let’s just say that it isn’t considered one of the wonders of the world for nothing.

other than a few minor areas that have crumbled and are dangerous, people are allowed to walk around anywhere in the watt. it’s so cool to be able to explore all the different long passageways, see all the sculpted stones, and climb all over. the staircases here are insane. each step is about 1.5 to 2 feet high, but only about 6 inches wide! climbing up them is really sketchy, there is no handrail, and i am honestly surprised that people don’t fall to their deaths. oh, did i mention that a lot of the steps are crumbling and unstable? well, they are, so you have some added dangers there. i spent the next several hours exploring. it turns out that angkor watt is just one of the many ancient stone watts in the angkor ruins, so i got to see a ton of temples today.

as you walk into each temple there are usually a bunch of kids hanging around who try to be your guide for $$. the trick is that they just start following you around and telling you interesting facts about the temple. then, *after* they are done, it’s all “oh btw, gimme money!” and no matter how much you offer them, they always say that this is too cheap and that they want more. it’s a tough game to play. on one hand, i was interested in learning the history of the watts, but on the other hand, if i was told to pay a certain amount, i wanted to just pay that amount, and not spend the next 15 minutes haggling w/ the guy, and feeling bad. a lot of the guides are young, and one of mine was actually just a 10 year old kid!

by noon, i was thoroughly exhausted and very very hot. i had to sit down by one of the watts to rest. i noticed this old (and i mean *old*) man selling trinkets by the watt. he was so old that when he walked, he was so hunched over that his hands practically touched the ground. moments later, a ton of tourists show up and all of a sudden… they all go totally nuts! people are whipping out their cameras, shouting excitedly to their friends, pointing at the man, etc etc. huh? it turns out, this old man is on the cover of the lonely planet cambodia guide book. *the* guidebook. pretty much anyone who travels around uses lonely planet and every damn person had probably stared at this old man’s face a million times… and now they finally got to see him. seriously, the sunrise over angkor watt didnt create a stir as big as this.

as i said earlier, i was dead tired. so i probably spent a good 20 minutes sitting there watching. too funny. as each new person would round the corner, their face would light up and inevitably i would hear them turn to their friends “oh my god! look, that’s him!” followed by them whipping out their copy of the book, “oh my god. do you think he *knows* he’s on the cover? we should show him the book! should we? YES! lets show him!!!” so all these people would keep trying to show him the book, and he would look at it, grunt, and nod. i’m sure they all hoped that *they* had been the first to show him, and that he would thank them ecstatically… but alas, that never happened.

it was kinda sad in a way. all these people had no problem taking tons of snapshots of this guy, were soooo excited by him. yet hardly anyone would help him out by spending the *one measly dollar* that he was selling trinkets for!! i had to wonder what this guy got paid for being on the cover of the most popular guidebook for his country. a guidebook that’s sold probably millions of copies. obviously he didnt get too much if he’s still sitting here selling 1$ trinkets. *sigh* i bought a trinket, took a snapshot, and moved on.

later on i watched the sunset over another temple in angkor. AMAZING. when my guide showed up, he offers to take me to the “secret store”. secret store? now, i’ve already been offered hookers, drugs, and illegal gambling… but a secret store? what could that be? so, it turned out to be a lot less exciting than it sounded, he was actually just saying “cigarette store” with a very bad accent. ah.

-a few other thoughts on cambodia-

it’s weird. dollar is king here. all prices are in dollars instead of the riel (cambodian money). the riel is worth jack squat (3865 riel=1$). after being so used to paying in baht etc, it’s so bizarre to all of a sudden see dollars everywhere. to make matters more complicated, they also accept thai baht. so when you buy something, you never know what change you will get: baht, dollars, or riel. pretty soon my pocket was a huge jumble of tons of random bills and trying to figure anything out was quite confusing.

i know i’ve already written quite a bit about crazy driving, but here they take it to the next level. people drive on the right side of the road… except when they dont feel like it. so what you have at any given time is: no lanes, trucks and busses and cars being passed by scooters in either direction while cross traffic is coming at you from both sides. seriously nuts. and i’ve only seen one intersection w/ a traffic light, so most of the time, everyone just goes for it. the intersections end up being a jumbled mess of people going in like 16 different directions. and this is all a mix of bikes, scooters, walking people, and trucks. whoa!

-v