April 29, 2008

All around the islands we go

In keeping with tradition, Greek weather only remained crappy through the evening of Easter, presumably mourning Jesus. On the day after Easter, we got bright blue skies and gorgeous sunshine. Go Greece!

We rented a car yesterday to take us all around Paros - which, if driving slow, takes a couple of hoursto completely circumnavigate. It was only minorly hairy at times, thanks in part to the weeeeee little car we had (which was like 4 sized UP, and the "s
mallest" they had that day (!) but which was also an awesomely ugly bright green and therefore nicknamed Kia the Grouch); partially due to the mostly-paved, mostly-marked nature of the Paros roads, and partially due to the fact that my dad is not as familiar driving stick shift anymore. I, sadly, cannot drive, as I am a poor unlicensed driver, as it expired on my birthday. Sigh.

But there were no casualties! And we got to see such a pretty island -
we found beaches that were tiny and cold, but with gorgeous clear blue water and littered with spectacular marble pebbles; we went to the third-largest town on the island, a non-tourist spot that we were told was what Greece was like 50 years ago; we got lost several times in the windy cobblestone streets of Parikia, the port town (but found ourselves in time for an awesome lunch at a local souvlakeria). I really like paros, and I can easily see why it is such a popular spot for people from all over Euope to come and rent an apartment or a bungalow and just get lost for a month or two every summer.

The today, we went to a whole other island. The original plan was to see Mykonos, but ferry schedules being what they are this week (they are notoriously changeable in Greece, apparently) a day trip was impossible. Instead, we went to Naxos, the island next door. It's mostly agricultural, but the main town is pretty big. They have their own ruins there - an unfinished temple to Apollo that greets you as you come up on the ferry, how is that for spectacular? - as well as a really well-preserved old town, complete with Venetian castle. But the most amazing thing was in the oldest part, the Mitropolis, where the excavated ruins of the town are underground, really, and date back, no joke, to the 13th century BC. That is OLD, when it makes the Acropolis look like nouveau construction.

We walked about some and tried for Mexican food - it's been too long! - but it was sadly closed. It was hardly a bustling day, but it did make me realize that I like Greek islands a lot in general, but I do like Paros more than Naxos. Tomorrow, we head to Santorini, and we will see how it stacks up. I am already guessing gorgeous.

April 27, 2008

diet coke: greece

My mother and I split a Grecian Coke Light yesterday. I think my parents' conversation sums it up the best:

Dad: So, Coca Cola Light didn't cut it, eh?
Mom: Coca Cola Crap is more like it.

Easter, again, some more

It's my very special second Easter this year - in Greece for Eastern Orthodox celebrations means I get the whole Good Friday/Easter Sunday rigamarole again, and things are just as shut down - and rainy, sadly - as they were in Sydney back during Famous Original Easter.

It's funny, the things that I hear about countrie before I get to them, and how they compare. Bngkok was so exactly as advertised that I felt like I had been there before I'd even set foot in the city. Athens, though...it was touted as a grotty, smoggy, dirty city, very much see-the-Acropolis-and-get-out on the itinerary. It was, though, nothing like I expected, in a good way. I kept being struck by how quiet the city was; it was no more dirty than any other major metropolis, and quite a bit cleaner, really, than a lot I've been to. I don't know if it's that we were there at the first blush of the tourist season, or if it was because it was the start of Easter weekend, when many of the Greeks flee the city, or if most of the information was from people who had visited a while ago, and changes from converting to the Euro and upgrading the city to accommodate the Olympics changed everything that significantly. Whatever the reason, I really liked Athens, and found it navigable and interesting, and much more appealing than I had been expecting.

Yesterday, though, it was time to go and we ferried out of Athens and to the Cycladian island of Paros. It is every bit as picturesque as postcards would have you believe. We are here really early for the tourist season (a lot of things like restaurants, bars, and hotels close in the winter and only reopen in mid-April or early May) and it's easy to see why. Athens had perfect weather - a light breeze, sunny and fine. Perfect jeans-and-tee weather, with a light fleece for the evening, which might be a little warm for scrambling around ruins at midday and a bit cool after a late dinner at a taverna, but overall pretty ideal.

Here, though, it's a bit of a storm - quite chilly, rather windy, overcast. It's still picturesque, but not exactly beach weather. It made me glad we booked the high-speed ferry; it took 3 1/2 hours from Athens, and got pretty rough in the middle. I got seasick for the first time ever (happy birthday!) but it passed and I was fine when we arrived.

If it's ever possible, I do recommend spending a birthday on a Grecian island - this place is stunning, an just wandering about everywhere you look are the whitewashed buildings and blue shutters and red geraniums. I love it. There is also an unexpected bonus, being here for Easter - apparently the tradition is to go to Easter services late on Saturday night, and then have a huge feast afterwards. So for a birthday dinner, I ate a spectacular 5 course meal at about 1am, complete with the grilled Greek cheese and roasted lamb and dried figs. Fantastic.

Being on a quiet island out of season on a rainy Easter has one other good side effect, too - I really feel like I can see that I've become a lot more adaptable to things since I left originally. Obviously, having everything shut (though apparently things open at like 6pm on Easter Sunday, and that's when everyone sets of firecrackers and goes to the bar? Weird Greek traditions.) is not ideal for anyone, but I don't know - it just doesn't bother me much. I've learned quickly that the best laid plans of a traveler often bear no resemblance to how the day turns out - as often for better as for the worse, though. So a day is rainy, you get bored, you get a different day the next. It is what it is - that's the way life is, honestly. It's nice to let things roll off your back more often than not.

Happy Greek Easter, everyone. He is risen for the very last time this year, I think.

April 25, 2008

Greece is the word

First off, you guys are great. Thanks for all the nice things, and the votes of confidence, and for reminding me that I am not the only one for whom travel is an awesome walk in the park where every single moment is magical. Sometimes, the moments suck, and sometimes that's ok.

I am in Athens, and already things look up. Being with my pare
nts is such a load off - I suddenly don't have to decide every thing for myself, I get to have others suggest dinner or an itinerary, and when I see something as spectacular as the Acropolis, I have people there to share it with.

It's also reinvigorated other things as well, being in Greee - my skin is already so grateful not to be trapped in smoggy humidity, my poor melted "solid" shampoo is about back to solid, and I remember why I like traveling again. Things are better.

I really like Athens, probably more than I thought I would. The Plaka neighborhood, with its tiny streets crammed with tavernas and a view of the Acropolis
, is my favorite. We don't get to see the National Archaeological Museum, as it's closed for Good Friday, but hopefully I will see it on my way back through Athens. Instead, we've scrambled over tons of ruins, enjoyed the perfect weather, fallen in love with Greek yogurt, and eaten wonderful lamb and chicken and enjoyed it all. And it's only day two!Tomorrow we are off to the islands. I can't wait.

April 22, 2008

the naked truth

the truth is, i am tired. right now, today, yesterday, i am tired of traveling. if you honestly gave me the choice to keep going as planned, or to go home with no harm or foul...i would take the latter. i would leave. right now i am just at the end of my rope.

i am at the halfway point - way past it, technically, if you count from when i left for south america, and just at it from when i left again for new zealand - and i think i am just worn out from traveling in general. it is draining, to always have to be making decisions, figuring out where to go, always on the move, always away from anyone who knows you.

some of it, to be sure, is bangkok, and thailand in general. it's a hot, disorienting country, one that i didn't intend to be in this long - that kind of thing wears on a person.

part of it is just the added difficulty of being abroad for so long. anything that goes wrong is a huge hassle - calling a credit card company, for instance, is nearly impossible from another country. and things go wrong, all the time, things that are an annoying 5 minute fix at home and a full day of stress on the road.

so there it is. i am burned out and lonely. but the bright side: i leave bangkok tomorrow. i fly to somewhere significantly cooler, significantly more picturesque. i get to move on and keep going, and remind myself that, no, i don't want to leave. i want to be right here doing this exact thing.

and best of all, i get to see my parents. i get to have a hug - it's been six weeks - and i get to let someone else choose where we go to dinner, and i get to have people i love around me.

i just hope nothing goes wrong, because if my parents are with me, who is at home to fix everything? hi, susan!

no, it will be fine. this mood will pass, i will love greece, i will get to see pyramids and fjords and rolling green hills yet, and i will be a better person for it, and so grateful. but the truth is, every day of travel is not a vacation.

this is not a food blog

Without a doubt, as I knew it would be, the best part about Asia has been the food. I could eat like this forever. I have already gone on at length about the awesomeness of the street food in Singapore, and I am not honestly sure if Thai food tops it, per se, but it is just as enjoyable.

I certainly have my favorites - Thai iced tea, green curry, mango and sticky rice (and I am here during mango season to boot - it is astounding how good they are), but more than that, the food here is just such fun.

I mean, not all of it looks tasty, and I can certainly do without the more aromatic things, like the dried fish stands with the
ir barrels of little...fish...crisps things that reek to kingdom come. And Thai street food is, a lot of it, still the domain of the locals, so there frequently is no English translation, photos, or handy instruction manual on the carts. I am certain I have missed some of the best foods here because I don't know what the completed meal is like when I walk by the ingredients, so don't know to get it. I know some things, though, so I get to enjoy little gyoza or spring rolls, the always popular meat on a stick (I don't know what the ladies have done to this chicken, but it is SO TASTY), sugar-popped corn (for when I went to see a movie!) and all manner of little sweets or sandwiches. I did learn one valuable lesson, though - never buy a curry from a street vendor or a night market stall. Those things are not meant for westerners - I could take two bites before my mouth was on fire. In a restaurant, you can always get the tourist-level spicy, and that's plenty when you are pansy like me.

The Thais know how to do fruit - cut up fresh fruit on the street, the freshest fruit blended with ice to make a shake that will finally, for a second, let you feel cool(er), the mango on the rice...the fruit here is like the antithesis of Argentina, where produce fears to treat. Vegetables are not easy, but the fruit.... Nothing has equalled Ko Phi Phi in that, though, when there was a Thai pancake and fruit shake stand every 20 feet. I would have been way more full of banana or mango or coconut or pineapple shake if that were the case.

There is, of course, ubiquitous American fast food here as everywhere - McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Subway (though not nearly as many as in NZ or Australia), Pizza Hut, Starbucks, etc. But then there are a lot more, ones that I didn't know aggressively exported, like Swenson's, Dairy Queen
, Dunkin' Donuts, Sizzler - some of those places I can't even get at home. Western food is everywhere, and what's sad, thouogh not surprising, is that it is easily 2-3 times more expensive than Thai food, and yet they are all jammed. The model has been aggressively copied, too, and there are all kinds of local chains that look just like the Sizzler, serving Thai or Chinese food like a peking duck Red robin - these places are more expensive, too. I don't know why I find it sad, but I do. The menus are not, unsurprisingly, the same - McDonald's especially seems to have a lot more pork on the menu from what I saw, and I did check - no Diet Coke on fountain. But the best part - the dessert pies (fried, like in the days of our own transfat-filled yore) come in three flavors: pineapple, taro, and corn. Awesome.

Nothing has been more embraced and incorporated to Thai life, though, than the 7-11. They are everywhere - which really isn't an exaggeration. There is one across the street from this internet
cafe; there is also one next door. Every couple of blocks in Bangkok, there is a 7-11. I am not knocking it, at all - air conditioned havens of splendor, these are. And the 7-11s sell lots of water (essential so you don't die of dehydration walking from one to the one on the next block) and other minor essentials. But they also sell awesome stuff - Thai iced tea from the little machines that is as tasty as any restaurant in Thai town, and apple mentos, and quick snack foods. They have a lot of hot food, too - chicken burgers that I tried out of curiosity, and a baby clam burger (like, the patty is made out of baby clams...smooshed together) that I wouldn't try if you paid for the doctor bills after, and toasted sandwiches - this month's featured flavor is ham and corn chowder. They have regular slurpees, as well as slushies made from aloe jelly and sugar cane, and candy called "Toe Dust" that looks like either Pop Rocks or Lik-em-aid. I did try try the sushi Lay's, too - they taste like seaweed. So, I mean, if you are into that....

The food, except anything western in style, is affordable and flavorful and wonderful, and I will be so sad to leave it behind. Naturally, this has made me terribly hungry, but on the little soi (side street) where my hostel is located is the neighborhood night market, so I get to go to town for my last dinner in Bangkok. Yay!

April 21, 2008

thai kind of day

So today, I went uber-traditional, uber-touristy, and uber-Thai for the day - why not, I only have a couple left. I took a morning Thai cookery class, and had a Thai massage.

Unexpectedly, considering I generally love to cook and am not so keen on massaged, I was a much bigger fan of the latter than the former. Who would have guessed?

The cooking class was great, don't get me wrong. It's just that a couple of years back, I took a Thai cooking class with my father and sister that was awesome, and I didn't feel like this one blew me away any more than that. Any excuse to eat, though. I do wonder if my opinion would have been different if we did a different dessert - namely, mango and sticky rice. I want to know how they get that rice so sticky! Instead we did bananas poached in coconut milk. Tasty, absolutely. But the how to is...kind of right there in the name, you know?

The massage was better. Not just for the hour of aircon splendor in the middle of the day, but beause it was a lot more stretching and working of kinks than a massage I am used to - I felt more like I was being stretched out by a trainer at a gym than getting a massage, and I mean that in a good way.

Other day highlights (it was a full one!): My last wat, Wat Arun, a Khymer-style temple that you can climb up. It was late in the day, thank God, but the hard part was the steepness of the steps - I had to pull myself up by the hands, honestly. I didn't die, though!

Because I've been in Bangkok so long, I am checking off anything from any guidebook highlights section that sounds remotely interesting. One of them is fascinated by upscale hotels, so a friend and I went to check one out today. This place was so stuck up its own bum that it won't admit backpackers to come in, and has a stricter dress code than the grand Palace, one of the most sacred sites in Bangkok. I wouldn't stay in that hotel for anything, honestly - those places, like flan, are really only good if you are fancy on the inside, and I am not. I took a picture, crossed if off my checklist, and went on my merry way.

(On a side note, there is a side of Bangkok that is like that - forget the income of 98% of the country, we are rich and we will flaunt it; it's called Siam Square, it tires to be as European or American as possible, and it is distressingly juxtaposed with the entire rest of the country. There is more to it than that, sure, but this country has nearly as much in the way of five star luxury resorts as it has in poverty, and that's just bizarre. I got way off track here. All of that wasn't today, it was just where my mind went).

I am still ready to leave, but at least I will have seen more when I do.

April 19, 2008

diet coke: thailand

inexplicably, this:
is absolutely the closes i have ever come abroad to american-tasting diet coke. it's not perfect, and it's really only available in a can (what can you do?) but i mean, really. it's so diet coke-like!

makes it more fun to spend more than a week in bangkok, let me tell you.

one more night in bangkok...

I have now, officially, been in Bangkok a week. It's too long, especially since I am pretty much done with shopping, and I've been to the Grand Palace, and there isn't a lot more I really feel like I need to do. And yet, I have four more days here. Who knew that one of the dangers of world travel was not traveling fast enough?

Fortunately, the other day I moved out of the hotel and moved
into a hostel across town. While I am very, very sad to have given up the 24 hour aircon (how I miss you, air conditioner!) and the cable television, there are some good things. One is that I am on the complete other side of town, and given the traffic and majorly flawed transport system in this city, it feels almost like I am in an entirely different city. Almost. The other is that, being back in a hostel means I once again have people to talk to, and people to go to the market with, and things to do besides enjoy the aircon and the television. All good things.

Yesterday I wallowed in Westernity, but I am unashamed. Sometimes the day calls for going to all of the uber-hopped-up malls in the city center and looking at what the Thai consumers yearn for, and also bask in their air conditioning. It's still exploring the city, dangit.

And I also went to Jim Thompson's house. I wasn't initially intere
sted, but the guidebooks talked me into it, and I am glad they did. He was an American who moved to Thailand after WWII and ended up starting the Thai silk trade with the west. His house is gorgeous and the tour was really interesting.

I have no idea what all I am going to do in my last few days in Asia, but I am sure I will find a way to eat through them at least.

April 16, 2008

things we lose along the way

This is, chronologically, getting to be old news, but it took a few days before I really felt up to rehashing and writing it all down.

On my way to Bangkok - actually, on the bus ride from Phuket to catch the train in Surat Thani, I was robbed. It is unfortunately a well-known scam, apparently, where whilst I rode on the bus above, the bus workers climb in with the luggage, go through your backpack, and steal anything of value.

Objectively speaking, I didn't lose that much, and certainly I didn't lose more than I could afford to - in reality, I lost what I had placed in my backpack as back up, in case I lost my real valuable items that I carry with me always. So while I lost some emergency funds, it does not derail my finances. Nevertheless, these guys were thorough - they went through every pocket of every pant, every pouch, pawed through my underwear, unrolled my little stash of Ziplocs, and essentially left nothing unturned. They missed nothing.

I was devastated when I discovered the treachery, and since then have pretty much done the stages of grief - though maybe am still a bit hung up on the anger part. But all in all, it's an important and unfortunate lesson.

In the scheme of things, I am traveling a long time and though a lot of countries, and in the end I don't think this will rate more than an unfortunate blip, but it does have consequences. For one, it's caused me to give up my planned trip to Cambodia and Angkor Wat to see the temples. Getting to Cambodia from Bangkok involves either quite expensive flights or a protracted series of bus/tuk tuk/cab haggling and riding, long travel, and taxi drivers and border agents who are all, apparently, famous for ripping people off. Frankly, I am not up for it right now, and while I can be quite certain that nothing of value remains in my backpack any longer, the thought of putting it back on another bus for someone else to make SURE there's nothing valuable in it makes me a bit ill. So I am not going. It makes me sad, and back to the angry again, but it's what I have the wherewithal to handle right now.

I am trying not to let it, too, color my opinion of Thailand, but it is hard. It is a poor country, one overrun by tourists and travelers, and people adapt in many ways - many more speak English than I might otherwise expect, there is much more of an structure in place to sell tours, food, souvenirs, clothes, and services to travelers. And unfortunately, there are many, many, MANY people in Bangkok who have adapted by becoming scam artists. Every time I step from my hotel, I am pursued by tuk tuk drivers, even though I am clearly not looking for one. I have stopped answering the oft-asked question of "Where are you going?" because I am invariably told that it is closed (it never is, they just want to take you shopping somewhere they get a commission). Yesterday at Wat Pho, no fewer than four people told me it was closed for a ceremony for the next few hours, when in fact the entrance was just around the corner. No one told me that; I just went to find it. I have lost count of how many times my unsolicited directions have pointed me in a way different - and presumably wrong - from the way I was told to go by maps, guidebooks, the hotel.

I am trying to ignore the scams and the ripping off, and not let it shade what I think of the place, but between getting robbed and getting it in tiny forms, it is hard. I have one more week in Bangkok, and I am determined to enjoy it. But while travel is amazing and illuminating and interesting, not all of its lessons are ones I really wanted to learn.

April 15, 2008

got wat

I figure I've been in Bangkok for three days, so it's time to go and see what is arguably it's most famous site, so today I went to the Grand Palace. It's no longer a royal residence, but you wouldn't know it by the bejeweled and bedazzled buildings.

I think going to the Palace and making offerings may be a New Year tradition, because there seemed to be a LOT of Thais mixed in with the tourists. Like a lot. Like
three times as many. It made it busy as hell, but at least it didn't feel like a tourist attraction, but like a living and breathing sacred place.

Inside the Palace is a huge temple, along with dozens of other buildings. Pictures don't do it justice, because they can't really capture that these multicolored buildings and roofs are all covred with mirrors and shining jewels, so they literally sparkle in
the sunlight. It's an amazing site, like we just don't have in the west, really.

The next stop after the Grand Palace is the Wat Pho across the street, where one finds the reclining buddha. And he is huge, but just chillin', really. Kickin' it. Again, the place was packed, and many where Thais making their offerings - burning incense, pouring water over the Buddha images, making money donations into pots. I think I liked Wat Pho better of the two - something about the Grand Palace was magnificent, but to stoic for me. Inside Wat Pho were vendors and hawkers, lots of walkways that went nowhere or to some other little temple, a massage school, all kinds of little treasures.
I took a water taxi back, and it's the fastest way to travel around here - traffic is insane in Bangkok. And ironically, it's the driest way, too; no one gets you with water when you are on the boat. Once you are off, though, fair game.

April 13, 2008


If you ever get a chance to visit Thailand during the New year, it is a trip - but do think about whether you want to get anything done whatsoever before you decide to go.

The Songkran festival is apparently like 4 or 5 days long - I guess it started Saturday, and I think tomorrow is the last day, so that would be four days this year, at any rate. It's the New Year. It's chief characteristics seem to be closed government offices, chalk drawing on faces, and water. Lots and lots and LOTS of water. It is essentially a national waterfight, and if the major center for the celebration is in Chaing Mai, I can't even imagine what it must be like up there, because Bangkok is more than a little damp.

I heard about the water festival from the people in Phuket, and they described it as something that kids do all day, and drunken tourists embrace in the evening, and so I knew that I would get wet and the like. I pictured people with squirtguns shooting one another, maybe some water balloons? I didn't really know.

Oh, no. Maybe kids/backpackers is how they roll in Pattong, but here in Bangkok, everyone is throwing water. Little old ladies have super soakers in their ha
nds, with the full reservoirs strapped to thier backs. There are some food stalls out, but nearly every other street vendor in the city has put away their normal wars, and for now the only things being bought or sold on Khao San Road are water and things to use to hurl that water at others. And there is no such thing as an innocent bystander, as everyone is fair game - walking though the market, you can (and will) get a bucket of ice water poured down your back. Currently, after a brief walk around town, I look as if I went swimming while fully clothed. I had to wring out before I could sit at the computer.

There are dunk stations - kids with huge water barrels to fill their bowls and buckets and guns, and they pelt everyone who walks by. There are masses of guys in the back of open pickups who all have squirt guns, and they spray you from within traffic. People spray cars, they get you as you are going in doors, they pour water on you as you walk away. It's all good natured, but there is no way to be safe. Well, unless you are the uniformed police. They seemed pretty dry.

There is also this chalk stuff, which I don't get. They look like Hershey's kisses, and some people draw on their faces, and others mix it with the water and smear it on people as they pass by. Some seem to throw it, this chalk water, but that is apparently generally reserved for serious mutual waterfighters and for cars - no one has thrown the chalk water on me, but I have gotten smeared with it more than once.

What's hilarious to me is that no one can explain why. It's tradition, but there is apparently no reason for the water or the chalk that anyone knows. Just that it's hot here in April, and I gotta say - before too long, you begin to appreciate the ice water, and feel like the people spraying warm water are just being stingy. Today was the first time I've gone for an hour's walk in Thailand and not been hot, too. So while a high-powered soaker at close range can hurt your neck, and while I still don't like the smearing with the chalk (call me a prudish Westerner if you will, but there is something unnerving about strange men walking up to you on the street and touching your face. I can do water fine, but hands off, eh?) overall, it's a pretty fun festival.

April 12, 2008

leavin' on a midnight train to bangkok

After two more relaxing and lazy days in Phuket, I headed off to Bangkok - it wasn't precisely a midnight train, but it was a night train, so I was ON the train to Bangkok AT midnight; that counts, right?

There were some snags, some large and some small, with getting here, but overall the train was a pretty cool experience. It was sort of a challenge to get a berth because right now is Thai New Year, so all of the locals are traveling to visit family - and everyone getting on and off this train had bags and bags and boxes galore. One mother and kid was hauling around a full-sized bike. There was some traveling going on, that's for sure.

The train left early-ish, about 5, but that was ok - if it was going to get in to Bangkok at 5am, I needed to go to sleep early or be useless today. So they come around and convert the chairs into relatively comfortable upper and lower bunks. This is me all snug in my upper bunk:

It stayed light, and it could be noisy from time to time, and I didn't feel entirely relaxed, so I didn't sleep the best ever, but it was not the fault of the berth at all.

So here I am in Bangkok, and a little groggy, but still looking to get out in the town - first stop is the weekend market. Now I just have to find it. That is the challenge here, isn't it?

By the way, I am staying, for the first time since Aerolineas put me up in Buenos Aires, in a hotel by myself, because my sister is awesome and that's what she gave me for Christmas. And having my own room, television, aircon, and bathroom? Priceless.

April 09, 2008

diet coke: imaginary

I am not even kidding, I had a dream last night that Thai Diet Coke tasted right. I woke up and almost wanted to cry. I had a Thai iced tea instead.

Phi Phi Praise

I know I hardly painted the rosiest of pictures, but really, Ko Phi Phi grew on me. Yesterday was my last day there, and Michelle and I took a sunset snorkel cruise out to the sister island, Ko Phi Phi Leh (technically, we were on Ko Phi Phi Don, the inhabited resort island).

Ko Phi Phi Leh I believe has a contract that specifies the name must be followed by "where they filmed The Beach," because that's how every sign, tour, and sentence uttered refers to it. Phi Phi Leh is part of a natural reserve, and it technically has no inhabitants, save park rangers, but man does it get a lot of boats and tourists there for the day. Maya Bay, which was the actual The Beach, is in fact stunning, if a bit shallow-watered, but maybe it's the heaps of people that make it maybe not the bestest place I have ever ever seen. The snorkeling is also crap, with deep and murky water. There were some pretty fish, but not many. Great Barrier Reef it is not - though one of the boat workers opted to feed the fish when i was swimming in them, putting me in a feeding frenzy of striped angelfish. Man, that feels weird!

So Ko Phi Phi definitely grew, but I think three days was enough. Today I am back in Phuket for 2 nights, awaiting my overnight train to Bangkok - which was a feat to get, by the way. Everything is booked for the New Year here, and at first they were telling me that I couldn't get to Bangkok until the 20th. With some fancy footwork and some convenient cancellations, I got a berth on the sleeper, though, so all is well.

I am now going to digress a bit onto the food on Ko Phi Phi. I am sure it will be the same in other parts of Thailand, but I have to rave a moment for the pancake and shake stands that are everywhere on this little island. The Thai pancakes are essentially crepes, made slightly differently and fried in butter - not too shabby. They have sweet and savory, they are all less than $2, and when it is stiflingly hot, a light and tasty meal, or a Nutella breakfast, is so handy.

Did I mention it was hot? Because it is. Thailand is hot. So what goes better with a pancake, or a walk, or being alive enough to breathe, than a fresh fruit shake. They make them everywhere, and I've had a mango, a lemon, a coconut, a pineapple and a banana, and I love them. They are all made with incredibly fresh fruit, the ice is like manna from heaven, and why aren't there fresh shake stands everywhere on earth?

On an unrelated note - I have taken gobs of pictures, but the computers here are not great at uploading, so it's on the agenda for Bangkok. Wait patiently!

April 08, 2008

Back 2 Skewl

Current location: Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
aka, Tropical Frat Party

Ko Phi Phi is gorgeous, y'all. Really, in its natural state, it has got to be paradise on earth. The water is surreal in how blue-green, the sand is perfectly white, the rocks are sheer and beautiful. The internet is also not super cheap, so I am not uploading pictures yet, but it is just like a postcard, honestly.

I didn't know what to expect, also, because the tour books all are printed before the 2004 tsunami which went right across the island and killed masses of people here, or they were printed right after, which means there were like 2 bars that were planning to reopen, and much accommodation was still shut. Well, things have progressed a lot, and the accommodations are back up, and believe me - the bars are booming. Even more than the east coast of Australia, this feels like a tourist mass. The island is small, but everything on it is a hotel, a restaurant, a tour shop, a bar, or a souvenir shop. That is essentially Ko Phi Phi. I will be here for 3 days, and I think that will be enough.

(I am really glad I got to come, though. The accommodations here are all rather inexpensive guesthouses, but they really have very few dorm-style ones. so on my own it would be a pretty pricey bed, and I likely would ahve stayed one night at most. Since I met Michelle in Phuket, though, we've been traveling together and splitting our own, bare-bones bungalow is quite cheap, so it's a lovely way to travel).

Anyway, so this place is packet to the gills with young travelers, and they love their drink late at night. The drink of choice would honestly rival Las Vegas for crass excess: you buy a bucket. This is not figurative. You buy a little plastic sand bucket on the street, and it is filled with a can of Red Bull, a can of Sprite, and a flask of Smirnoff or whiskey, and a few straws. Mix, and proceed to forget the evening.


The bars serve them, too - generally they compete for business with 2-for-1 bucket deals, amazingly - but why bother with those prices when you can pick one up at a stand on the street and wander through the tiny cobblestone streets with your bucket in hand?

I really feel like I am on spring break in Cabo, or wherever the Girls Gone While hotspot is now. It's so...classy.

April 06, 2008

ooo, burn

Today, I spent much of the day on the beach in Phuket.

How often do I get to say that? I mean, really. Phuket is lovely - the parts with the water are simply drop-dead gorgeous, in fact. It's also stiflingly, oppressively hot. It's a toss up which one of those is what I mostly think about Phuket, and it shifts moment to moment. Really, pretty, but really hot. Why didn't someone tell me I was going to Thailand in its hottest month? It's Thailand; I can barely handle the coolest one.

Oh well. I'm managing. There was a girl on my flight from Singapore, who then showed up on my airport bus, and when we got off, we realized we were going to the same place. We've been on the same schedule ever since, and had dinner last night - the only place we could find in Phuket Town that was serving food at that time was a swanky air-con hotel restaurant, so we coughed up the $5 for dinner. Today, we took one of the buses to the beach. We meant to go to Kata, but couldn't figure out where to get off, so we ended up at Karon instead. I've never been to Kata, but Karon is gorgeous; exactly what a Thai beach was supposed to be, with this clear and shimmery blue-green water that you an just walk out in until it's shoulder high. The beach is lined with deck chairs with umbrellas that you rent for the day; shade is worth any price to me on the beach, but it was still really cheap to do.

Still got burned, though. I blame it on a combination of factors. I was under the umbrella the whole time, which lured me to a false sense of security; my sunblock (stupid Australia) is merely "30+" which is clearly inadequate; and it's also quite thick, so I didn't spread it around well. This last is very obvious, because my burn is this fabulously blotchy mess all over. I have a burn patch on my ankle, and one on the side of my knee. I think I had my watch on when I put on sunblock and then took it off, so my white watch patch burned. The sun was on my right, so the outside of one thigh has pink, as does under my arm on that side. All of it is jaggedly ringed with white where I did manage to apply enough block. I look STUNNING, and it's only after 4 hours on the beach. I've got days to go yet - I will be a patchy lobster by the time I am done at this rate. I need some SPF 50.

April 04, 2008

i just came for the food

I love, love, love street food. I have no idea why, but in any country, it's just about one of my favorite things to eat. So essentially, Singapore is like paradise. This city is certainly not near the cheapest one in Asia, but the food, which is everywhere and delicious, is dirt cheap. It's supposed to be similar in Thailand, and I can't wait, but street fooding in Singapore is like a religious experience.

Like everything else, it's all multinational. I'll have gyoza and naan for lunch, generally picked up from stalls down the road from one another, and total costing about $3 Sing. Heaven! There are Muslim eating houses, tea shops, dumpling huts, and lots of places that essentially serving plates o' stuff - I generally don't know what it is, but I like it. Lots of the food comes from food courts, with all of these various stalls and communal tables, to let you cobble together the ideal meal.

There are weird things, too, that people eat. I'm not even talking about things that I just find unappetizing, like a giant fish head served on...anything, really. The 7-11s all have these machines that sit next to the slurpee ones that dispense mushroom soup or mashed potatoes and gravy. Um, ew.

But mostly the food is extraordinary. I had Ginger onion chicken for dinner the other night
and it was utterly spectacular. Then yesterday, I had one of my favorite things yet. It was dessert, passionfruit with crushed ice, coconut milk, and tapioca beads. SpecTACular. One of the best things I've had in my mouth. I wish I could go back four times for more...

Last night, the hostel had it's signature evening, a food walk of the neighborhood that was like a Singapore 101 course combined with lots and lots of eating. It was one of the best experiences I've had. I learned about the makeup, culture and history of the country, and ate noodles and curd and meat that had been turned into wonderful things. It was probably one of the best organized events, and the guy who did it - who owns the hostel - clearly loves what he is doing.

The best thing we ate (and at $1 Sing per person, the most expensive) was this thing that I don't know what it was or what it was made of, which makes me sad. It was a little...cup of something, the cup made from a fried wonton, filled with stuff, with a shrimp and chili on top. Little sweet, little spicy, all spectacular. I will have to find these again.

Legend has it (and by legend, I mean Brian and Wommie. Hi guys!) that Thailand is just as kickass on the street food. I may melt whilst doing so, but I will belt into a pile of happy, street-cooked noodles.

the people you meet in hostels

In general, I don't have a problem meeting people on the road. Most of it is in hostels; I have found that the all-female dorms are, for some reason, way more social than the mixed ones, so I generally pick those when available.

The conversations all begin the same way: Where are you from, where are you coming from, where are you going to, how long, etc. Specifics then come from there, depending on answers. Names are generally exchanged about one hour to one day into the conversation. It makes it way less lonely, just to have people to talk with, plus it's cool that I've played the Australian version of Monopoly with three Scottish girls, met a British vulcanologist studying an island in the South pacific, and a Chilean veterinarian who left Chile because they only have two species of snake there, and he wanted to study more. But in general, I only rarely meet people who I wish I could be better friends with, irrespective of how we met. Generally, it's like the first week of college - you are friends because of circumstance, but that's about it.

This hostel is by far the most social place I have ever, ever stayed. Seriously, if you are ever passing through Singapore, I do recommend the Betel Box hostel - it's well worth it. Since the minute I arrived in the dorm room Monday night, I would not have had to spend one minute alone if I didn't want.

And the people here are, for some reason, generally more interesting than the ones at other places. I mean, there are the 19 year old Brits and Germans en route to Australia to do the East Coast, so they are the same travelers I just left, but they are new, so that's charming. But there's also the three Irish guys who are on their way home after a year in the US, Mexico, Cuba, South America, New Zealand and Australia.

There is the Australian guy who lives in China, but is currently here bringing his dog from China back to Australia. The dog has to be in quarantine for five months, so he is getting an apartment here in Singapore for the duration. He generally lives in rural China, but also sometimes in Melbourne.

There are the two Tasmanians who are one week into a one- to two-year trip through Asia.

There is another Aussie, this one from Brisbane, who is spending a month in Southeast Asia before going to Europe fro two years to live and work and see every country.

There is the American who has not lived in America for years, as she's been working for an organization based out of Perth for six years, doing midwifery, antenatal and birthing classes for three month stints in places like India, Nepal, Cairo and Japan.

There is the American and the Welsh girl who are here for a week while the school they teach in Japan is on holiday.

There are the two girls from Kuala Lumpur who are here for a weekend.

There is the Nigerian girl who has not been home before 6am once, so excited is she to be in a country where it is safe for a female to do absolutely anything on her own.

There is also the writer of the new Lonely Planet book on Singapore, starting his research.

I'm telling you, the people I've met in this hostel have completely rocked.

April 03, 2008

mix up

Singapore is, apparently, the intro to Asia country. Everyone here is either on their way into or out of Asia for some travel, so it's a really interesting mix. But the country itself is this mish mash of Asia and its British colonial roots.

Everything here is in English. Often, things are in several languages - depending on what it is, it can be in a couple of Chinese dialects, Malay, Hindi, Indonesian, or something else I don't recognize. But everything is at least in English, from advertisements to signage. I imagine this makes it appealing for people who want to do Asia, but don't want it to be impossibly difficult. But what's fascinating is that, even though it's all in English, it doesn't mean that the people who live here and who are from here actually speak English. English is just the common language between all of the people who have come here that it's the default, but many of the people who have grown up with the English ads, signs, television, music, etc, still only have a basic, minor grasp of conversing in it. Still, it's better than it will be in the rest of Asia, I know.

It's still preposterously hot, and I know I will never be able to drink enough water, but I also still love the way the mashup of cultures shows up everywhere. Today for lunch, I ate a samosa, some banana naan (which, why don't I eat this every day? It's banana and cheese baked in NAAN. Wonderful!), and gyoza on a stick. All of it bought on the street, all of it divine, and all of it combined costing about $4.50 Sing (so, figure $3 US). I went to Little India again, I went to the river, and I also nearly suffocated in the heat.

So far, so good, though. I feel better about Thailand, I feel great about my three weeks here, I have officially been to a whole new continent.

April 01, 2008


Everyone said that a couple of days was plenty for Singapore, and uniformly - people in Australia, even people working at the hostel here - are mildly surprised that I am here for FOUR FULL DAYS, like it is epic. But after day one in Singapore, really, there is plenty to do.

Or maybe it will just take me a long time to do anything, because it is ridiculously hot and humid and I am in constant danger of melting onto the sidewalk.

Singapore is hugely international, that's the first thing I notice. All of the signs are in four languages (but the first is fortunately English, so I can even find my way about). Today, I wandered Little India, Chinatown, scouted a major vestige of Colonial Britain, and ate dinner at an Egyptian place. I feel like I've done a mini-RTW in one day.

Part of the reason it was so full was that this hostel, more than any other I've been to, makes it easy to meet people. I am not sure why, but just sitting at breakfast this morning, I met three girls, and spent the day with two of them, and since one is leaving in two days, she wanted to see as much as possible. Then tonight, I went to dinner with the third. I've made more headway making friends here than I have just about the entire trip. Weird, but nice.

Anyway, even though it's relatively small, it takes a while to get around. It's not expensive, but it's not cheap. The street food is everywhere, and really impressive. I don't know if it will be possible to drink enough water in the next month. And even though it's only midnight, and I got lots of sleep last night, I can barely keep my eyes open.

Those are my day one Singapore thoughts.