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    Life as a Tourist – Two Thumbs Up!

    April 14th, 2008 by steve

    You get to eat pizza everyday and have ice cream whenever you want. That was our experience while mixing with the sunburnt foreigners on the beautiful beaches of Koh Phi Phi in southern Thailand. The islands in this area are gorgeous. It was so good that we decided to skip the other islands we had on our list and spend the entire time here. You just have to accept that you’re one of the thousands that flock and bake here. Don’t fight it, just pass the coconut please!

    We hiked, snorkeled, took boat trips, but mostly we just worked on our tan lines while watching the parade of bikini bottoms stroll by. Yeah, bikini tops aren’t really the in thing here. They’re so 7th grade dance.

    We also spent some time exploring Krabi, Ao Nang, and Railei before saying farewell to Thailand, for now. Little did we know that a technical problem with our plane would cause us to miss our connecting flight to Sri Lanka thus forcing us to spend a couple of unplanned days in Bangkok before we could secure new flight to the Maldives directly, thereby missing Sri Lanka altogether. A big AIYA!

    Posted in beach, thailand | No Comments »

    Fake Smiles in the Similans

    April 14th, 2008 by mary

    Most people go to the Similans because it’s supposed to be one of the top places in the world to dive but for us it’s a convenient place to try out our shiny new dive gear.

    We booked ourselves onto a 4 day liveaboard with 21 other tourist divers, 8 divemasters and 7 crew; the MV Dolphin Queen embarked from Khao Lak in south Thailand. Before we pushed off from the dock the crew lit a 10ft string of firecrackers hanging off the bow of the ship to bless the boat for its voyage. We were told not to worry because the pressurized bottles of oxygen and generators were in the back of the boat. The vessel wasn’t big but somehow there was always space and plenty of lively conversation. We were even surprised by how little toe stepping there was given there was only 3 bathrooms on the entire boat that everyone shared. It’s funny, when we were on land sitting in the dive office watching their dive video we kept whispering to each other ‘where’s the fish’. There was a very noticeable absence in the usual underwater reef scene. And we had heard from people that have history in these waters that in the last two years between the mass tourism and warmer waters (el nino gets blamed for everything) the quality and abundance of the fish life has dropped dramatically. So we were set up for a pretty tame time and wow, there really was nothing to see. Sure there were highlights now and then but in general the visibility was low, the water cold, and creatures few. We still made the most of it and kept on jumping in four times a day. On the boat we were having a good time and there was enough underwater to keep us interested. Even more importantly our gear was working nicely.

    – steve says: The Similans don’t top my dive list, but they were better than I had expected. No big fish, but we did get seahorses, ghost pipefish and a stonefish!

    Posted in diving, thailand | No Comments »

    Going Green

    February 8th, 2008 by mary

    It’s hard to resist cooking classes when you’re surrounded by such good local food so we signed up for a 3day/3night cooking course up in the hilly farm lands outside of Chiang Mai. It wasn’t until we looked at the poster a second time that we found out it was an organic vegetarian farm. We were worried we’d be surrounded by granolas but the people there were really friendly and fun. Okay, so we were the only two people that didn’t practice yoga, meditation and mantras daily.

    There was yoga class at dawn, fresh baked bread for breakfast from the sustainable farm next door, then we would cook 3 dishes for lunch and another 3 for dinner. We even made tofu from scratch. Everything was fresh and made from raw ingredients. The kitchen was completely outdoor and had a great vista of the village and farmland below. While we were there we stayed in a hand molded mud hut right out of the flintstone’s. There is a wealth of knowledge there and a seemingly endless list of active projects. One day a group of 25 monks came by for a tour of the place and to learn how to make natural soap and shampoo. The day that we left they were mixing up organic paint. Who knew! It was easy to see how most people there were repeat and extended stay visitors.

    The people that we met were part of the highlight we spent the nights laughing at everyone’s stories and screaming at rowdy card games. The Thai couple that owned and ran the cooking class were incredibly funny and awesome cooks. We made so much food that we couldn’t eat it all.

    All in all it was a great time and we now we know how to make really good pad thai, tom yum soup, curry pastes, and an awesome peanut sauce among other tasty thai dishes, with or without meat.

    Posted in food, thailand | No Comments »

    We are Short Necks

    February 2nd, 2008 by mary

    When we got to the village we were told the first souvenir booths were of the short neck people so we should walk without stopping until we get to the long neck tribe. Yes, we were part of the short necks. The road was muddy and slippery and completely lined with souvenir stalls on both sides so that you didn’t see the villages right behind them. The women were sitting at their shops making scarves. Many of the people on display were young girls. They were quiet and seemed not to mind the attention of the cameras and people that would crowd around them. They would pause and smile for the photos then get right back to their threading like seasoned veterans. Many of the faces were painted in addition to make-up. No one seems to know why they started doing this practice of lengthening the girls’ necks but the three prominent stories are
    1. because tigers bite necks (but then why don’t the men do it?)
    2. to make them ugly because the ruler could pluck any girl he chose
    3. as a beautification that makes them look more like a swan.
    Yes, the last two contradict but so goes theories. I asked Ren if the girls thought it was pretty and his answer after a hesitation was that he thinks they do it for the business. Otherwise no one would come up here. And inside their straw huts were portable DVD players so it shows it definitely pays off. One old woman had the solid brass rings off her neck which I was surprised by because I had thought that they couldn’t survive long after taken the rings off because of a lack of support. But it seems they can live with their extruded necks bare. The girls start the process at 5yrs old and put on progressively taller rings until their late teens. Thus taking advantage of the growing years. They definitely moved about with a stiff neck, like someone wearing a brace.

    Posted in thailand | No Comments »

    Prayer Machines, No Whammies!

    February 2nd, 2008 by mary

    This is our 3rd time in Thailand and it won’t be the last. We’re spending a week in the northernmost province of Chiang Mai. We visited an orchid farm and went into a cave in the highest limestone mountain in Thailand that was a temporary shelter for the Burmese army during the war. All that was only mildly interesting compared to the small temple sitting outside the cave that had prayer machines. That’s right, prayer machines! With their flashing red lights you could see them from the parking lot. There were eight Vegas style slot machines and a weekday Buddha in each. Wednesday gets two for some reason; one for the day and another for the evening. Each of the 8 boxes had slots for the offerings. Sadly there were no levers to pull but wow, this was ‘Lord of Light’ put to action. I knew the book’s idea of prayer machines would catch on sooner or later. It was too good to pass up for any entrepreneurial religion.

    Posted in thailand | 1 Comment »

    Planning is Hard Work

    December 22nd, 2007 by mary

    We had returned to Thailand after almost a month home in California. It was a last minute decision but a much needed break. When we returned to Bangkok we had the future legs of our travels to figure out. So we went out to beachy Koh Chang and Koh Kood to stay amongst the comforts of aircon, salami, and wifi for 2 weeks. For breaks we explored the island on a motorbike and played with some elephants including a napping baby Dumbo, drove through rubber plantations, and did some puzzles. At one point Steve had to get a monkey off his back that was trying to go through his pockets and bite his ear. We were reluctant to leave but we had planned out the next six months of adventure so it was time to move on. A quick return to Bangkok to pick up a delivery and we would be on our way to Cambodia.

    Posted in thailand | No Comments »

    Logistics and Land Mines

    December 22nd, 2007 by mary

    We took a side trip back to Bangkok to meet up with our diving gear that an army of Steve’s friends were involved in, doing various logistics somersaults, to get a box out to us. We’ve met up with said baggage and can’t thank everyone that was involved enough, especially the Daves. You know who you are and seriously…we can only imagine the trouble you guys went through to make this happen and can’t figure out why you guys were willing to do it, but wholly glad that you were. :)

    So now we’re going to be on a bus to Cambodia on Christmas day. Doing research on the country you see the typical warnings like scams, malaria, and monkeys. But it’s a little disconcerting to get to the part of the world where land mines is added nonchalantly to that list. It’s a real threat apparently and the suggestions are to ‘stay on the beaten path’. Well, as far as I can figure there are only 2 paved roads in the country outside the cities and everything else is dirt. Needless to say we’ll be thinking twice before we follow a jungle path to a less visited temple. But what if twice isn’t enough?

    Posted in thailand | 2 Comments »

    Putting on the Pounds

    December 22nd, 2007 by mary

    Coming out of Nepal our stomaches were still shriveled from our Himalaya experience. Bangkok was there to fill it back to its bloated form. There were fresh fruit juices galore. Our favorite being mango and passion fruit. There were also refreshingly fresh young coconuts, vinegary tom yum soup, the perennial favorite pad thai, succulent grilled jumbo prawns by the kilo, savory oyster omelets, and crispy chocolate banana crepes. Of course frequent trips to Swensen’s ice cream and Subway sandwiches helped too. We also found Isreali places that served good falafel and hummus when we needed a change. There is no shortage of food options here and I found myself counting down the minutes to the next meal.

    Thai food in Thailand is completely different than what you’d get outside the country. The taste is fresher, more distinct and flavorful. Each bite hijacks your taste buds for a thrill ride. The food carts and gutter side eateries are often the most tantalizing. And there’s no shortage of ambience on the streets.

    John got to get some good bites in before heading back to the States. The jumbo prawns never had a chance.

    Posted in food, thailand | No Comments »

    Bangkok’s Soft Squishy Tourist Side

    December 22nd, 2007 by mary

    Religion is a big part of Thai life. There are always small standing shrines in front of houses and inside businesses. When this pious energy is focused into erecting temples the result is massive ornate structures of color explosion and gold leaf, always topped with pointed roofs. Or sure there’s colored glass, painted cement and terracotta flowers to fill in the spaces. You can’t miss the rows of brass buddhas smirking down at you with their heavy lidded eyes. The statues of various mythic creatures are always interesting. The half girl-half rooster is something to pause at. So is this guy but I’m not sure what it is.

    The old capitol Ayutthaya is a bearable 2hr train ride from Bangkok. It was a glorious temple ridden city, the center of the Thai nation for four centuries until 1767 when the Burmese sacked it. The place was left it in a ruin of rubble so the capitol was relocated to Bangkok. The locals opted to leave the battered remains as they stood as a reminder of the atrocity. So now tourists ride around from temple to temple looking at the mostly red brick remains and beheaded buddhas. It’s a nice day trip and some good exercise if you go around by bicycle.

    Colorful row boats of fruit, souvenirs and other tourists drift past at thefloating market; another popular day trip. Sure the people living amongst the canals may have once conducted their daily lives afloat but now it’s as authentic as the gandola ride at the Venetian.

    The traditional Thai massage is done on a stuffed mattress on the floor. The masseuse cleanses your feet with lime water and does a quick prayer before starting. They rub with rocking motions, elbowing your other cheeks, kneeing your back, stepping on your shoulder. They stretch you out, often in ways that you don’t normally bend. The result neither relieves nor relaxes but loosens.

    Posted in thailand | No Comments »