Friday, February 24, 2006

archive from Jan 05 SE ASIA: Finding a little bit of West Virginia in Ko Chang

Archives from my Dec 2004/Jan 2005 Asia trip - this was originally sent January 2 2005.

Bangkok- Chiang Mai - Hanoi - Hoi An - Ko Chang - Luang Prabang - Vientiene - Bangkok. I didn't have a blog then, these are my mass e-mails.
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another long one, sorry. I can't open my e-mails but it looks like i can send them out. Maybe when I get to Laos I can answer whatever e-mails you guys have sent me.

I'm back in Bangkok for the night. From what I've seen, I really do like it. It has a sleazy, fun feel to it. I'm staying off Khao San Road, which isn't the "real" Thailand, it's a big street where all the travellers go. So many things competing for your attention. cheap bootleg CDs and videos, pad thai and bug vendors, all kinds of shops, music blaring from everywhere.. I'm happy to hear that "you promise me" by In Grid is very big here. That song follows me everywhere. I even got to see the video, the singer bounds and gags a guy and takes him off in a speedboat to dump him in the ocean, it's funny. What an awesome song. Also lots of the old beach vacation classic, Beyonce's "crazy in love" (uh oh, uh oh, a-ohh-ooh!) and some thai song by some young Thai Briney Spears called "dhoom, dhoom mataley". You can hear those three songs at any moment. I am staying in the same guest house as before, the sawasadee. My room overlooks the huge bar/restaurant with pillows to lay on and they play great loungey music. The rooms are pretty grungy but not as bad as expected. My room has baby cockroaches running around but I'm choosing to ignore that. Last time I sat down for dinner outside and watched the parade of people outside. Two shaved bald British guys, maybe 37-38, from Kent, England sat down at my table, Dave and Chris. We had a good time talking and drinking beer. At one point we almost jumped in a cab to see a ping pong show in the red light district but it was too late. I looked up and it was 2:30 AM. The guesthouse lounge was still hopping. I think I was the first person to go to bed and it felt so early. I never have to even leave the guesthouse, there is so much entertainment there. I love the vibe in Bangkok.

I went to the island of Ko Chang on New Years eve day. I already knew where I wanted to stay. There is a "legendary" beach there called Lonely Beach. I had done a lot of research months before I left and I kept coming across great reviews of it, and gathered that it was sort of a cultish place where time stands still with a beautiful beach. Supposedly there was a huge, huge wooden complex over the water called the treehouse resort. I asked about it on some message boards and I kept hearing that it has burned down. That's what people say to keep you from going there. Let's go guide called it "the stuff of backpacker legends" with pillows, black lights and hammocks all over and rustic huts to rent. I wanted to see if the reviews and rumors were true. I caught the standard taxi there (riding in the back of a pickup truck) and hiked down a rocky trail. Holy sh*t, they weren't kidding. This was one of the craziest places I've ever seen. huts all over the place and hippies frolicking everywhere. Literally frolicking with their clothes and hair flowing. (Three of the six people in the "taxi" going to this beach had also been to Montezuma, Costa Rica and we all loved it. I think there are some similarities between Lonely beach and Montezuma.) Every place - full, full, full. full, full, full, full. A few places were setting up little tents for people to sleep in. I got the last tent! I was actually pretty excited. Camping in a tent in this crazy place on New Years eve. They have outdoor showers surrounded by wood and bushes and a communal water tap. That sounded really fun. You know how I love camping. I started to put my stuff in the tent and the thai woman came over and grabbed my arm. I didn't understand for a few minutes - then it dawned on me. Three girls had come right after me. They were willing to pay 3X what I was paying to stay in my tent, and she would rather have that. I was kicked out of the last tent on lonely beach. I walked away, shaking my head and saying

oh no SHE Diiii-IIIIIINT!

I can't believe she did that to me. I was SETTLING for the tent, and I was kicked out. So I hopped in the back of another pickup truck and went back to the main town, white sand beach. Another couple was searching for hotels at the same places - a man in sarong and his haggard, 40-something girlfriend in cornrows. they kept going into the nicest hotels and saying "we are looking for basic hut accomodation". I kept saying "I'll take anything, I'll pay anything".

I finally found a room in a pretty nice hotel. I had my own porch and view of the ocean. The hotel had a frosty feel to it after some of the places I've been staying. When I looked in the room and saw some signs in German, I knew why. This was a hotel for older, and seemingly unfriendly Germans. Still relieved to have a room, I walked down the hill to see the free New Year's eve lady boy show with all the Germans. The lady boys were cute but they have nothing on the talent at the Kit Kat in Chicago. I know good drag when I see it and this was not it. They were kind of going through the motions of the standard drag songs like "its raining men" and "oops I did it again". Exhausted, I laid down to take a nap and woke up in the middle of the night. I missed New years eve completely. I meant to go out and fond something fun to do but I missed it. Oh well! A drag show with some geriatric Germans. That was my New Year's.

The next morning I got up early and feeling better than I have on New Years day since I was 11 years old, changed to the hotel next door and went back to lonely beach. I went to the treehouse resort and it is EVERYTHING they say. It's not a "resort" resort, like we know it. Let's call it what it is, a commune. Massive, over the water, pillows everywhere, signs like "book borrow center - do not steal or you will have bad karma forever!!" and all sorts of vegetarian stuff. I have never seen more lethargic, hungover people in my life. Everyone was laying on the floor or in hammocks, sleeping or moaning. I loved the reggae they were playing. It was the slowest reggae ever, hillarious. Instead of "dum dum dink! dum dum dink!" and Bob Marley singing about freedom, it was like 4 seconds of bass followed by a "dink!" no words, just beats. I should get a CD like that for when I'm hungover.

I waited for my mango shake and laid down in a hammock myself and tried to act like I was a hungover hippie. The hammock smelled exactly like you would expect it to - moldy canvas that some guy slept in for 4 days straight. I listened to some conversations around me. From what I gather, a lot of people slept in the bar on the pillows and there was some insane party, but the details were fuzzy for everyone.

I took my shake (in a plastic baggie with a straw) down some paths to the beach. I walked past the "Tibetan tae bo healing center" and past some wreaths of flowers around a small, non-descript rock with some photocopied pictures of some guy with long braids and a message that made no sense. "this is the philosopher's stone. the earth and mind are one. The philosopher's stone carries the energy of consiousness". Something like that. I read it three times and had no idea what they were talking about. I wonder what my dad, the retired community college philosophy instructor, would think about the philosopher's stone. I think he would get a good laugh out of it. Lonely Beach? 1967 called and it wants it's hippie commune back. You know, I would totally stay there if they had room for me. It looks fun.

The beach was beautiful, clean and soft white sand. The water was warm like bathwater. I read my book and tried to picture spending my remaining time there but something was bothering me. If I had just arrived in Ko Chang two weeks ago, I would be fine but I kept missing Vietnam. I was actually kind of bored, like "I've had this vacation before". I have. I've had it in Costa Rica and Greece and I'll have it again, the do nothing on the beach vacation. I love the beach vacation but for some reason I felt like I had to do something else. I'm sure it would be pleasant but I had an urge to actually see something new. I wanted what I had in 'Nam. And the other people in Ko Chang were annoying me for no real reason. I wasn't loving the "vibe". There were too many drunken tourists and my favorite, the big fat men who can't get laid in their own country so they come over and find a teeny little thai girlfriend. They are EVERYWHERE. I was sad to leave the beach, and I can't believe I left, but I decided to leave the next day and go to Cambodia or Laos. I'll go back to the beach another time. That's the great thing about travelling alone on the sprur of the moment with no plans. If I want to go to Laos tomorrow, then I can do it without screwing anyone else up.

Last night I found a cool bar that plays movies and has live music everynight. Now, usually you just take what you can get with the live music. For example, In Chaing Mai I saw some guys in a bar playing an eagles song. They didn't know the words, they were just mouthing the sounds. "you cannnn hiide you ryin' eyes".. it was funny. But this band was fantastic. They guy, a thai man with round John Denver glasses who sounded EXACTLY like Eric Clapton. Really! They were a little thai blues band. they must have been mouthing the syllables too because the thai John Denver could hardly speak english. But he took a liking to me, he kept smiling and winking. I know good blues when I hear it and this WAS. He played a rousing, knee-slapping (I knew you'd like that description) rendition of Lay down Sally and some Allman brothers. It was wierd to hear that music in Thailand. I liked that bar a lot. Dark, candles, pool table and a big confederate flag on the wall. It reminds me of a bar in West Virginia we always went to on rafting trips. I met David from Holland and his friends. They left and an Australian guy named Tim joined me for awhile. (pronounced Teeem in that accent) He told me all about Laos and we played pool for a while and I went home. It was one of the best nights out I've had so far. It really made up for missing New Year's. And my new hotel was a hut with a view of the beach - thought with running water and a bathroom. It reminded me of a little Appalacian mountain hut, kind of slummy and wooden. I loved it! It was so cozy. I think it might be one of the best places I've ever stayed. Little rickety wooden huts are so under-rated. I could hear the ocean all night.

Today I took a bus to Bangkok and the bus was great - they handed out wierd snacks and played music videos. My two favorites were one of a guy wearing a panda bear costume and anther that featured people shooting blow darts at monkeys. Yes, these were pop music videos. I had to stifle my laughter because I was the only non-thai person on the whole bus.

I leave for Luang Prabang, Laos in the morning if all goes well getting the visa. This is actually a good idea because the islands are extra crowded. Everyone who WAS going to go to the damaged islands (and there were a lot of them) are now going to the others, making them chaotic and very crowded. There is a feel of chaos and sadness in the air. The timing probably wasn't right for me to see the islands. That's not why I left, but it was a small factor. I met a nice Swedish family today who were a bit down about the tragedy. A friend of the family lost their little 8 year old daughter the other day. The tsunami hit an island that a lot of swedish people go to and the Swedes lost more tourists than any other country. They told me that they have been very depressed about their friends. It's all very sad. I don't know much about Luang Prabang except that there are a lot of monks, temples and outdoor activities, among them white water rafting. I just had my 6th massage of the trip, as if I really need one. It's getting to be a nightly occurance.

archive from Dec 04 SE ASIA: - I squeezed the sweaty Vietnamese man tight

This was originally sent December 30, 2004 from Bangkok

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get your mind out of the gutter. I hired a motorbike! I haven't really been able to use the internet for days, Hoi An didn'treally have any good internet connections. Actually, the electricity goes out once in awhile too. But don't get me wrong, Hoi An was a classy little town. Trendy little lounges with candles and real art for sale. It did have a really rustic vietnamese part to it, though. The first night I stayed in my usual slum-style hotel. After I arrived I explored the town and walked across the river to some fancy bungalows for $40 a night. TV, swimming pool, my own back deck facing theriver... I decided to splurge.

The best restaurant ever

The first night I wandered the town, then ate at a tiny restaurant Lonely Planet recommended (cafe des amis). A place where there is no menu, just what the chef Mr Kim feels like making that day. You have a choice between vegetarian and seafood. Nice little rickety tables by the river and street. Let me tell you, Mr Kim is a genious. Lots of fresh stuff, lemongrass, ginger, vegetables right from the market a block away. Mr Kim even walks around and makes sure you like it and are dipping things in the right sauces. He takes your chopstick out of your hand and makes sure you do it right. A pushy host, I can appreciate that. With 2 glasses of wine it came to 6 dollars. The food in 'Nam was soooo good. In Hoi An there was a woman selling deep fried, breaded pineapple slices. Those were so good. I'm going to try to make them at home. Later wandered into a bar because they were playing one of my favorite new CDs really loud, Thievery corporation. I wrote in my journal and met a swiss guy also travelling solo named Jurg. We drank some beer, swapped stories and agreed to play pool the next night.

Next day went to the beach 5 km away - I rented a rickety bike that was really uncomfortable, my legs are too long for their bikes. The beach,though - it was awesome. Clean, tropical, virtually empty. Women with black/red teeth (from chewing betel nut) walk around in those conical rice-picking hats and sell tropical fruit. I had a mango and the woman noticed my 15-20 scabby mosquito bites. She sold me some brown liquid to put on them for like 50 cents. It really did stop the itching! Later, had a 2 hour cooking class and got to make some vietnamese food like spring rolls, stuffed fish and squid. I hung out with Hillary andPauline from Scotland. Later I met Jurg for pool and I actually beat him once. I was tired so I called it a night and walked back across town (thank god I had a flashlight because there are no street lights! very safe though and not far to walk.) and passed the "Peace Bar" near my hotel. I talked to some more swiss people and had a beer with them.I talked to this one guy, really cute, for awhile. He was on a tour andwasn't too thrilled about it. We compared 'Nam stories. I asked if his life at home was one big Ricola commerical. He was with an old guy from his tour and the bar was closing so we went our separate ways.

Next day, dark and cloudy but I wanted to go to the beach again anyway. I figured I could just read in a hammock in the palm tree grove, which I did. I thought about the bike again and how much it sucked so I hired amotorbike driver. It was scary but enjoyable. You have nothing to hang on to but him and no helmet. He was a bit sweaty. We got really"close" on the ride. It was funny, He kept saying "it ok! it ok"because I kept sqealing and grimacing. We passed all the tourists suffering on the bicycles. To every one I shouted "suckaaa!"

I got back and ran into the hot, smiley swiss guy again, I never did get his name. He said he was sorry he couldn't stay another day. He told me that he went across the river to the poor part of town for a look and that it was interesting. I decided to do the same. The streets were dirt and I walked around the houses with open doors and chickens running around. You can see the trendy area from across theriver, it's like night and day. I walked past an open shelter area withabout 5 young guys watching music videos. They waved me in. I ended uphaving coffee with them. Win, who called me over, is 23 and his friendnext to him was wearing a ski cap. I asked him why, it's not cold! He lifted it up to show me his cut-up head from a motorbike accident.yikes! I talked to them for awhile, then wandered down the street some more. A woman who looked about 40, named Phouc, started talking to me. She invited me into her house. I was like, OK, why not. She lived in one room with her two kids. They had a cooking area outside and a bathroom. She thought I was 22. Turns out we are the same age, 34. It was very interesting to talk to her. I don't think many tourists ever wander over there. I'm glad I did. It was a great experience. I don't thinkI will forget about Phoc and Win for a long time.

Vietnam itself was a great experience. I can't believe more people don't go there. It is easier to travel through than Greece. The food is to die for and the people are NICE and honest. I had many people back home make a face and ask me if it was really safe to go there alone and the answer is an absolute YES. I am so glad I took a chance and went there for a week. Traffic in Hanoi made me insane and the country itself was like an assault on the senses at first but Hanoi itself wasn't so bad. In the nice hotel I get BBC news and I finally got to see the extent ofthe damage from the tsunami. I was absolutely shocked. Wow! And I was surprised that people were worried about me, from all the e-mails. I was just sitting around eating mangoes in Vietnam having a good old time and all this was going on. My friend Eva from the trek was still in Chiang Mai and said that they could feel the earthquake up there. I flew to Bangkok today to decide where to go next, because Bangkok is kind of a crossroads and you can get a ticket to anywhere. I didn'twant to give up on my dream of hammock on the beach for a week so I decided at the travel office (after kicking away a dead cockroach on thefloor) to go to Ko Chang tomorrow. It is a thai island but if you lookon the map, it is waay far away from the tsunami area, just off Cambodia. There is a beach there called "Lonely beach" that is rumored to be a laid-back backpacker place with lounges with pillows. That's all I really know about it, but that's where i'm going to try to go. I hope I get a place to stay because it is new years eve, afterall. Tonight I'm staying on Khao san road in Bangkok where all the western travellers go. My hotel, the Sawasdee guest house, is playing loud music constantly and there are sunburned people walking around with dreadlocks drinking beer. So this will be my one night in Bangkok, we'll see how it goes. I had the song in my head today. It's a good one.

same same but DEEFRENT!

One thing about Thailand and Nam that I have been pondering since I got here - I keep hearing the phrase "same, same.... but different!" you see it on restaurant signs and people keep saying it to me randomly when they try to sell me things. I didn't really notice until I woke up in the middle of the night thinking "same, same.... but different!" It keeps popping in my head. I walk down the street muttering "same, same... but deefrent!" (you have to do it in a thai accent) for no reason. There is ever a "same same but different guesthouse" I heard of somewhere. It's on food stall signs. It's like my own version of what is the sound of one hand clapping or what is the sound of a tree when it falls and no one hears. same, same... but different! What the heck does that mean?!?! same as what?! so today on the street I saw a shirt in Bangkok that said "same same" on the front and you turn it over and it says "but different". Is this some colossal joke that I just don't get? Am I going to have to buy that shirt?

Happy New Year! I hope 2005 is same, same... but different!

archive from Dec 04 SE ASIA: When massages go wrong

This is from December 27, 2004, from my SE Asia trip

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"they are a quicker people" the old Austalian man told me when we waited at baggage claim and we were laughing about how the Vietnamese all unclicked their seatbelts and stood up before the plane stopped moving, when it was still braking really hard. It was like the plane was on fire and they all had to race off. He compared the thai to the vietnamese. The thai people move slower and I think he's right.

The taxi ride into town was interesting. Instead of palm trees there were boxy commie looking buildings, grey sky and more motorbikes than I have ever seen. NO traffic rules, no stop lights. Everyone keeps going in a continuous flow and people beep their horns constantly in a way that says "I'm here, don't hit me". I went right to the corner that I found in Lonely Planet that had a lot of cheap hotels. As soon as I got out, I started to panic because I didn't know how I was ever going to cross the street. Motorbikes came at me in every direction and exhaust fumes were really stinky. Everyone seems calm and smiley but Hanoi really got on my nerves at first. It makes me really jumpy and panicky. I found a little hotel in an alley that had little old people with black teeth making soup and grilling meat inches from the curb. They all sit on little chairs just a few inches from the ground. My hotel was nothing special - for $8 a night it wasn't horrible. Every place I've stayed had a hose attached to the wall for a shower, no stall, just a drain on the bathroom floor so the floor is ALWAYS wet. I didn't mind in Chiang Mai because the place was so homey and fun. But this lobby had no charm. Charming lobby and I can overlook a lack of shower stall. My room had big spots of dirt on the wall and I tried to imagine how they got there. I decided that a dirty guy had slapped his feet on the wall, perhaps he had a prostitute over. I did have a cute little french balcony though. And the alley I was in had great little hole in the wall restaurants. Literally, holes in the wall where they all squat by the street and eat noodles. I wandered around and figured the best way to cross the street was to wait until some Vietnamese people had to cross, then cross with them and look down. If you look up, you see no less than 10 motorbikes coming at you. They swerve just in time. It's crazy. You have to un-learn everything you learned about crossing the street. They have a lot of great little clothing/art shops in Hanoi too, it's nice and not slummy for the most part. I had dinner, then walked past a massage place and said why not?

Now, I've become quite a massage conniseur. I get them at work, in Chicago and I had a few in Thailand that were fantastic. In thailand they were $5 an hour. $5!! You may have a dog sleeping in the corner, or a lizard on the wall and it's a little grungy but that's part ofthe fun. Both times in Thailand they give you a clean cotton outfit to wear and they were very businesslike and knew exactly what they were doing. I walked in to this place and asked for the hour massage. The place had a sleazy, colored florescent feel to it and I could hear some guy grunting in another room but I figured it was all good. I went into a little room that had a window looking into the lobby. No outfit to change into. huh. OK, so I left my underwear on and got under the sheet. An 80 pound, maybe 20 year old Vietnamese girl came in and poured baby oil on me. That's not what normally happens! She looked at me like "I know you made mistake by coming in here, so I will try to give you a half-assed massage even though you not normal client". I could see guys coming in the lobby, all guys,and something just wasn't..right... I kid you not, I think people get things other than massages in there. It was just so wierd. The Vietnamese lady tried to pull off my underwear and I said "oh! no! I leave it on!" haha. So I got a half-assed massage by a vietnamese lady who is used to giving "other" massages. This was Christmas eve so in the background they played loud Christmas songs sung by Asians with bad synthesizer in the background."Iiiiiiiiim deeming of a whiiii Chrit-mit!".... that would be a medley with"jingle bell! jingle bell! Jingle all da way!" with a cheesy synthesizer beat in the background. It was like when I used to play my Grandma's organ and press the "bossa nova" button.I left the massage oily and a little more stressed out than when I walked in. I used the bathroom and set my bag on some tile by the sink. I picked it up and saw that it was wet and smelled it. Oh yes! I had just put it in the urinal. Luckily it was a disposable bag but it had some important papers in it.

Later I went into an irish bar for some christmas eve fun and talked to some irish guys for awhile and hung out with them. At midnight everyone toasted to Christmas. Christmas is a big party inVietnam and Thailand, .like St Patricks day. Just a normal day but an excuse to drink. I seem to hang out with a lot of irish people on this trip.

I booked my 2 day trip to Halong bay and left early the next morning on a bus with about 10 other people. Aussies, germans, some italians. Our guide was "Tinh", a cute tiny little Vietnamese guy. He gave us a speech on the bus, welcoming us to Vietnam, telling us about the boat and the trip.

"you will haf many fun and comforts on da boat fo you. At night we have Carole King on da boat"

"Carole King?" I asked

"yes! Carole King."

"Carole King....like the 1970s singer? huh?"

"I think he means "karaeoking" the Australian guy suggested.

"oh"

We boarded a big boat with sleeping cabins and a nice louge. Cheng, a Taiawnese/Austalian girl was my cabin-mate. To make a long story short, we all ate a lot, compared travel stories, drank beer, kayaked and napped on the roof. typical excursion. At night for Carole King, Tinh sang some off-key Asian songs and the rest of us found songs and sang. Actually, I took a nap and missed most of it. There were bad songs - Richard Marx, some oldies and that stupid titanic Celine Dion song. Everyone else sang and drank but I went to bed early and slept more than I have slept in a month. I was in a rare antisocial mood and enjoyed sleeping very much -the boat rocked and the bed was really comfortable. Of course they had "Last Christmas" by George Michael. That is Vietnam's favorite Christmas song. I heard it at least 7 times in 2 days. On the plane, on the street,on the boat. I could hear my boat-mates singing it and jumping up and down upstairs.On the way home we made a pop and food stop at the "Handicapped children''s factory" where little girls sit in rows stitching cloth and we stood around buying snacks. There was a sign on the wall saying that all profits go to familes affected by agent orange.

I decided to leave Hanoi. I didn''t even see the most famous things there- Ho Chi Minh's body under glass, the Hanoi hilton and the anti-american film. I just wanted to leave town and go somewhere more chilled out. I will probably regret it later but dammit, I''m on vacation and I don''t need to run around and see everything. I know the history already and I''d rather do things like drink coffee (vietnamese coffee is so good! espresso with tons of sweet syrup in it) and take cooking classes and drink beer and be lazy. Oh well.

Now I am in Hoi An, a beautiful little tropical french colonial town with alot of art galleries and cool stuff to buy. I''m moving south so it's finally hot. Tomorrow night I take another cooking class and today I am just going to sit at a cafe and read a book about the famous photo of the burned running girl from the war.Well, my dad informed me that a tsunami has hit the thai islands and that's where I go next. I hope it's done by the 30th because that's where I wanted to go! I have not read a paper, or seen any news since the 16th so I have no idea what''s going on. I guess I need to check on that. I must say the Vietnamese are super nice though. They take no for an answer the first time and don't hassle you about buying things. They almost run you over with their motorbikes, but they are very polite about almost killing you. There have been a few occasions when they could have over-charged me or taken advantage of my confusion but they haven''t. I did have a guy say to me "america!" (rat-tat-tat-insert mock machine gun gesture here) But he was just joking around. Another funny thing - I''ve been catching myself talking in broken english. "how.. late.. you.. open?" I come back in ten meenute!" "i buyteeket?"

hope you had a Mehlly Chrit-mat!

archive from Dec 04 SE ASIA - Cockadoodledoo!!

This is from December 22, 2004 - My SE Asia trip

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I just got back from our 3 day, 2 night trek to the hillside villages. It was great! There were 8 of us. I liked everybody a lot, we had a great mix of people:

Eva, 66 year old lady from Ireland. She had great stories and has done some really ballsy things in her life. A wierd fact - she is a good friend of Frank Mc Court, the guy who wrote Angelas ashes. She had some good scoop about him - her sister dated him and he wrote about her in "Tis", his other book. I knew exactly who she was! I could ask her anything about all the characters in the books - crazy. I loved Angelas ashes. She travels solo extensively.

Jacob - older guy from Norway who really likes fish and was stung by a scorpion while we were sitting by the fire the second night. He was quiet but had a good sense of humor.

Oscar - 77 year old guy from Belgium but has lived everywhere. He is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Crazy, crazy stoies. In addition to that, he kept pretending to hit on Eva and some of the older hilltribe women. Like when we saw an old woman at the side of the road when we were riding elephants he would say 'hey sweetheart! you want a date? you got black teeth?" He got married in Vegas a few years ago and they want to go back to Vegas now to get a divorce, then take a road trip.

Alan and Mike - guys from Australia who had funny stories about snakes and animals, toilets, we had hillarious conversations. They teased me about being such a wimp. Yes, I was the biggest wimp on the trip. These people were hard-core.

Slevin and Dimiti - cute young couple from France - they didn't speak english very well - I wish I knew more french. Three of us shared an elephant on the elephant ride.

Our guide was Noom, a thai guy with a fu man chu facial hair thing.

And me, who was called "yuppie" and "city person" and "wimp"..haha. I didn't have a little bag for my camera so I used my coach purse. Oscar said "you going to the opera?"

We had to get up really, really early so I did what any reasonable person should do - play pool until 2AM at the corner bar with an English guy and an Irish guy so that I would be really tired for the next day. (One of them cheats at pool really bad and I told them that was NOT how I was taught at home by my friends Mike and Turck!)

So we left Monday morning - we all had to pile in the back of a truck and drove for 2-3 hours out to the Burmese/Thai border in the middle of nowhere, where there were checkpoints with military guys. Oscar and another thai guy threw up off the back of the truck because we were so carsick. We hiked to the first village - it was so cute, wooden houses on stilts and farm animals running everywhere. We all slept together in a big treehouse under mosquito nets. It was the massive treehouse you dream of as a kid - I loved it. Not comfortable, but fun. We all passed out as soon as we got there and I joked that I was so tired that I would pay someone to bring me a bedpan because I was too tired to go to the bathroom. The bathroom was in a little wooden shack, I have a picture of it, the toilet of your worst nightmare. I won't even tell you about it now, it will take too long.

The village people cooked mild thai food for dinner, it was very good and we all ate at a big communal table. We had interesting conversations. These people like to talk about toilets as much as I do! I was the most boring person there. Everybody had some story like "when I was at Everst base camp..." or "when I drove from Alaska to Argentina, I..." "when I was at elephant camp and learned how to slide down an elephants trunk..." Mike the Aussie told us about how he was on some trek where there were crabs in the toilet. Then they were served crab for dinner. Funny stuff. After dinner, the village children ran to our table and sold us handicrafts like hats and bags, woven stuff. It was all like 50 cents or a dollar. I liked my hat so much that I wore it for 3 days and it's in every picture. It's going to be hard not to wear it in Chicago. The village people observed us and we watched them. It was kind of strange. None of them knew a word of english, none, so we talked about them and we could tell that they were doing the same. This particular tribe was from Burma.

The next morning we woke up to sounds of the farm. It was SO loud.

COCK A DOODLE DOOOOO!COCK A DOODLE DOOOOOO!
OINK SNORT OINK OINK BARK BARK SNORT
the chickens and roosters would beat their wings FLAP FLAP FLAP
COCK A DOODLE DOOO!

they were all a couple of feet from the treehouse.

It started before dawn and went on for about 4 hours. It was insane. The loudest morning ever. EVER. Waking up at a cubs game would be quieter. It was awful.

Next day we hiked more then rafted down a river on bamboo rafts. I got soaked. Good scenery. Kind of like West Virginia, only jungle-y. It was a blast. Everyone stood on the rafts and some people paddled with long bamboo sticks.

Next night, new tribal village. This tribe was from China. They had Chinese features and colorful clothes. They were way more outgoing than the other one. Lots of them had black teeth from chewing betel nuts. One older tribe woman had a thing for Oscar and we teased him non-stop about it. Again, none of them spoke english. There was one mosquito net short that night so Oscar had to share one with Eva. They joked about how they were going to get busy under it. I told them what happens under the mosquito net stays in the mosquito net and not to worry. That night, phenomenal thai food for dinner. I had 3 bowls of red curry soup. YUM. They sold us more handicrafts and we sat on logs by the fire where Jacob got bitten by a big brown scorpion. He was in agony all night, poor guy. The village people had already gone to bed and we were on our own.

Repeat on the COCKADOODLE DOOO!

Next morning, elephant ride. Our elephant was huge. We called him Babar.

Another carsick ride back. We went past a golf course and everyone said at the same time "ya know, I kind of hate golf..." I knew I liked these people!

Tomorrow I'm taking an all day cooking class. I like the Libra guest house. They do laundry, treks, internet, cooking school, they got me my visa and it's only $5 a night. Kind of grungy but really homey. Even the bedbug that bit me didn't bite that hard. There are big communal tables and strangers eat together. I recognize people already like one of my pool buddies. I wonder what I'm going to do in Vietnam. I feel really comfortable here, I have people to do things with. I hope I find the same sort of situation in 'Nam.

Thanks for reading my rambling! I hope you all have a good week! I'll try to have some good stories for you later.