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.
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.