Asia | South East Asia | Thailand | Bangkok – Songkran, Sublime Siam Discovery, and What I Have Not Told You
Songkran, Sublime Siam Discovery and What I Havent Told You
Its the unknown and the unexpected that often provide us with some of our greatest joy. Sometimes, a dear friend or lover does something unexpected, or joining a club turns out to be a whole new world of friendship, or you do something out of the blue and its surprisingly amazing. When traveling, its often the things we didnt plan on doing that bring the most interesting events and experiences to us. Today, Id like to tell you about some of the small moments that have brought some joy, some awe, some humour, and some wonder along the way so far.
First, some salutations and an update:
A very Happy 40th Birthday to my sisters Rose and Christine! Wishing you both the very best and hope you enjoy your spa day together! I love you both so much!
Sawat Dee Krap and Sabai Dee! Its a world of wais, somtum, khao pat khai, mekhong and coke. In the kingdom of Siam, the beginning of the hot season has arrived. Rawn Maak is very hot in Thai if the breeze will not be blowing. This weekend marks the beginning of the longest Thai holiday throughout the year Songkran or the festival of water and the Thai New Year. Originally, Songkran (meaning time of changes or moving upwards) was a festival where people made merit by burning incense at the temple, releasing birds, making good wishes to one another, cleaning house, wearing new clothes, and sprinkling water on their elders as a sign of respect. That still continues, but as things have gotten out of hand with pickup trucks full of drunken youths with high-powered water canons full of dirty water and powder in recent years, the government has decreed that certain popular celebratory expressions will supposedly and doubtfully not be tolerated. They include the use of supersonic water guns, the throwing of powder, touching of women (by men), and a few other more exuberant non-traditional activities. Parents will be held accountable for the actions of minors, and traffic fatalities are unfortunately, expected to be high somewhere around 1000 additional deaths during the week. In any event – Songkran takes place on April 13th, and people are celebrating with exuberance.
Originally, I was having a difficult time trying to decide to go north to the heartland of Songkran or go south and finish doing a diving ticket on Koh Tao, before visiting Ko Lanta for the first time and doing a visa run. Now Ive decided to both go north to Chiang Mai and then carry on to a small village near Luang Prubang in Laos called Ban Suphon and hopefully do some start-up work with the Greenheart Foundation which is a story in itself. Briefly, an expat American is donating a collection of Bhutan Textiles to raise funds to assist in UXO removal and infrastructure improvement in rural Laos. Ill update you on that in the next post.
Having been to Chiang Mai back in 1997, I didn’t have the best memories of the place, but now that I’m here again, I’m actually enjoying myself. It’s one of those surprises that I mentioned. I have been drenched from head to toe many times already in Chiang Mai, and can only hope that my ride north is as cooling. A nice little side trip today took me out to the Chiang Mai Zoo where they have a couple of Giant Pandas from China. The zoo is remarkably good for Asia with enclosures that give the animals plenty of space and in most cases mimic their natural environments. Nn the case of the Giant Pandas, they have a specially built air conditioned enclosure that has 10 minute limited time viewings for people willing to pay the extra 100 baht foreigner rate or 30 baht for Thai nationals. It was most enjoyable with people ooing and ahing at every move.
To backtrack a bit – about a week and a half ago, I arrived in the City of Angels and here on my fifth visit, Bangkok is everything its ever been, although muted somewhat with the crackdown on bar closing times and police raids where they check everyones ID at select bars, doing urine checks if they suspect the use of drugs. It doesnt matter how old you are, if you want to avoid the 5,000 baht fine, you better have picture ID. For the first time, I stayed in the Sukhumvit area, close to most of the embassies. Soi 4, is close enough to Soi Cowboy that it has the 2% of Thailand tourism that I manage to avoid most of the time by staying in Banglamphu or in the Silom business district. That means there are a lot of Caucasian men meeting some Thai women for friendship of a temporary nature. My hotel there was okay, but Im not going to recommend it.
My friends Lannie and Aaron came to Bangkok, so we spent some time shopping and eating, and some more time shopping and eating, before catching the Muay Thai at Lumpini Stadium, and doing some more shopping and eating. Lannie celebrated her birthday a couple of times. I was sorry to see them go home to Canada as they were great company, and headed to the closest island Ko Samet for some R & R, staying at the usually most chilled out beach on the island, Ao Kiu. And here is as good a place to continue on about the unexpected things that have happened so far on this trip, both good, weird, funny-to-me, and sometimes disappointing.
When I woke up at the usually very peaceful and pristine beach called Ao Kiu on Koh Samet, I was in the middle of a television commercial shoot, with crewmembers pausing from their shuffling about to look and stare at the bleary-eyed falang in his sarong. (I have spent some time working in television, so it was a little bit like waking up in the office)
In New Zealand, I personally found it highly amusing after the second or third time asking a rural Kiwi for directions. A pattern emerged. First, there would be a very long pause, followed by a very long pregnant pause, followed by an even longer wait, followed by another pause, etc. accompanied by some thoughtful tilts of the head, and then an unintelligible mutter. Once I tried to test this theory, it didnt work anymore kind of like the cat who will do tricks except when strangers are around.
Had I not gone to New Zealand, I would never have known how bad restaurant service there has become, nor how brutally expensive its become, nor would I have blown my budget so badly and so quickly right from the start.
However, I had not even thought about the power of the sea and the wind when I decided to go to New Zealand. Its awesome! Really!!!
Until I went to a footy game in Australia, I was convinced that the continent had all of the most beautiful and friendly Caucasian people on the planet. Aside from footy games Im still convinced.
I did not really plan on going to Ayers Rock, but had I not gone, I wouldnt have had the immense pleasure of going four wheeling in the outback, sipping champagne at sunset, or walking on a salt lake. When I got back to the resort, had I not gone to Ayers Rock, I probably would not have been hit on by this supremely drunk supposedly straight English guy whose mother was staying in the very next room, and convinced that I would sleep with him (which I wouldnt have) kept holding his head in his hands and saying Jesus my mothers RIGHT THERE!!!
Right now, they’re playing “Sailing” by Christopher Cross in the internet cafe.
When I cycled the Great Ocean Road (which I had never heard of before I got to Australia and saw a picture of the twelve apostles), I stayed in the charming fishing resort of Nelson, and the one horse town of Lavers Hill and shared a bottle of wine with Pete, the ex-cop proprietor who had a very wry sense of humour, and I met Roman and Cornelius two Swiss guys cycling who were really good company. I lay back on the sand at night on numerous occaisions and stared at the southern sky full of stars while the wind blew in off the sea with nothing but it between me and the continent of Antarctica.
Had I not stayed on Sukhumvit Soi 4 in the heart of Bangkoks SEX tourist zone, I would not have discovered the anti-sex tourist sublimely beautiful Atlanta Guesthouse one Soi over that is an Oasis beyond compare with its Jazzy Art Deco lobby and restaurant, as well as its garden and super clean large pool.
If I didnt take the coach tour of Kangaroo Island in South Australia, I might still be wondering if I could handle doing a coach tour I cant.
When I walked down to the dock of Port Douglas in Queensland, Australia on a whim to try and get on the Shaolin Junk for a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, I never knew I would have one of the most wonderful wholesome afternoons in my life seeing over a dozen sea turtles while lying on the bow of the boat as we arrived at the low isles.
So, Im anxious to dispense with plans and expectations and really truly begin wandering within the framework of my RTW ticket. I wonder if wanderlust isn’t the bona fide desire for the unexpected pleasures, amusements, and frustrations of travel without agenda? I think so, and thats part of the reason Im out here in the world: to wander; to wonder; and to discover things I dont, didnt, and wouldnt know. Sometimes I think any minute now its going to begin. But it has begun it most certainly has!