The first leg.

Greetings everyone!

First off thanks to everyone who filled my inbox with birthday wishes,  it really means a lot to me.  It also reminded me that I promised I  wouldn’t just drop off the face of the earth during my travels, so i’m  being productive on this 7 hr jaunt back to Bangkok and am writing this.

Hmm where to start…the beginning seems as good a place as any I  suppose.

So just a little bit before leaving Winnipeg that huge natural  disaster hit Japan, which was going to be the first stop of the trip  (and had been the only part that was actually planned out…).  A curveball before even leaving.  The week before leaving Anny, my travel partner, and I were throwing around ideas ranging from volunteering over there to cancelling our tickets altogether. As March 22nd quickly approached the nuclear issues Japan was going through just kept being uncertain, so we decided to go with the latter.  We cancelled our original tickets and bought new ones that went through Hong Kong instead.

New problem: we were going to get our 60 day Thailand visas while in Japan.  Well…Vancouver’s nice this time of year, heck we might even see some cherry blossoms there which would be a little reminiscent of Japan! And so a week layover on the west coast it was.

The west coast was pretty great – saw some old friends and did some amazing things.

When Peter, Anny’s uncle, offered us his truck to get around in I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to revisit the sea-to-sky highway and drive up to Squamish. We invited a fellow named Ezra for the ride, and it ended up he was the one touring us around. The snow was just coming off the mountains so we thought we’d try an ascent and climbed to the first peak of The Chief.  What a view, and boy did it ever make me rerealize my love fir nature and being outdoors.

We decided to catch a ferry over to Victoria.  Now there are two ways to look at things that morning.  One: We were late (2 min!) for our ferry.  I had no idea they would stop selling tickets 10 minutes prior to departure.  Two: We were REALLY early for our ferry.  Either way, we got there when we got there, just with a little extra time to kill at the ferry terminal beforehand.

I led a hauntings tour around Victoria for Anny, Jess, and whoever else might have been listening. And do I know that city..at all??  Nope, but I found this really cool walking tour pamphlet in city hall and just ran with it.  I also made bread for the first time at Jess’s, and I do mean by myself. Once the girls knew I’d been wanting to do it for ages they relinquished all the work to me. So tasty – I make good bread.

And then there was Vancouver, a city I should have explored deeper a long time ago. A couple quick notes:
-sushi in this city is cheap and delicious
-the beer in this city is also delicious (try The Alibi Room in Gas Town or St. Augustine’s on Commercial for huge beer selections on tap – most local but some around the world, i even saw Half Pints at one)
-the arts scene seems pretty good here. We caught an arts night at Cafe Deux Soleil on Commercial, really solid music/spoken word/comedy. This night was put in by East Side Yoga Studio but I looked and the schedule and it looked consistently awesome.
-East Side Yoga invited me over for a free class at the cafe and I checked out a yin class. It felt so good. I also dropped in at Unity Yoga for their open practice. Great people here – I hung out with the girl up front for an hour after my practice chatting, playing guitar, drinking tea, eating trail mix. A nice afternoon.
-Lynn Valley > Capilano Sispension bridge
-always check to see if the brakes are effective on a borrowed bike before coasting down a big hill.  Enough said.
-sunsets at English Bay and along Stanley Park are the place to be at sundown
-Sikh temples really are a place of refuge for travellers

One long day of travel later brings me to Bangkok.  Oh Bangkok: crowded, polluted, loud, hectic…not exactly my natural habitat.  I did my best at giving this city a chance but I still just craved the moment when I could move on and take a deep breath of fresh air again.

Khao San Road is pretty ridiculous – especially at night but even in the day.  I just don’t understand why people would come all the way to Thailand for such debauchery when they could just do it back home.  There must be some crazy stuff they’re into here that I just don’t know about.  Also: Sangsom buckets are gross, I don’t know why people said I’d be addicted to these things.  They DO do what they’re meant to do, but they’re anything but tasty…  You can get lots of handy travel accessories there though (like International Student Identity Cards…) so it still was worth the trip.

The Chatchuk market is the big weekend market in the city, and it is HUGE.  20-some football fields huge and believe me when I say it’s easy to get lost in that makeshift city of tents and stands.  I circled around a few times.

A few English teachers over here took me out to the Holland Brewery one night.  Being a refined drinker that’s been on a few brewery tours in my day, I expected the standard brewery tour and sampling.  Nope: It’s a huge entertainment hall with risque Thai performances (while drinking beer of course – and ordering it by the 5L…).  Even more odd was that it seemed to be a family joint.  There was a little girl a couple tables over who was celebrating her 5th birthday.  Oh well, she seemed to enjoy the lady-boy who sang to her.

A couple unfortunates happened in Bangkok.  A Thai security guard slipped into our apartment after Lewis went to sleep and before Anny and I got home from Khao San Road and stole some money out of her money belt.  (Anny wrote about it here: http://annynews.tumblr.com/post/4256281572 ).  And I also had my first bout with food poisoning.

Some taxi drivers were great…some less so.  I mean, Bangkok is a big city so you can’t expect them to know it perfectly right?  And so you ask that they know how to get where you want to go before you get in.  Now here’s something I’ve learned: Part of the culture over here is saving face – in other words not admitting when you don’t know something because you’d be embarassed.  Instead you pretend you do.  Not cool when your taxi driver doesn’t know where you’re going and you can hardly speak a word of Thai.  Also not cool when you’re a foreigner asking for directions and they point you in the wrong direction.

We also had one cabbie pull over to the side of the expressway 10 min into the ride, going really slow on the speedway trying to barter more money out of us.  80 baht later we sped up from 40kpg to 160kph again.  Oh that the seatbelts worked here.

Needless to say I was pretty happy to take off this past Sunday for the island life for a few days!  A bus ride, skytrain ride, big bus ride, shuttle ride, ferry ride, and taxi ride later (we left the apt in Bangkok at 7:30am and didn’t arrive ‘til after dark…) we found paradise.  A nice little place on the cliffs, a short hike from the fishing village of Bang Bao on Koh Chang.  Following the directions in the dark was pretty hilarious.  They were very minimal, pretty much: “Walk down towards the pier and hang a right just past the dive shop.  Walk 8 minutes.”  …Ok…  The narrow path snaked in and out of locals yards, and they just waved us on with big smiles so we shrugged and did.  I was pretty happy when I walked up to the bar where the ocean met the ocean and they said they had a little hut waiting.  Lying in that hammock that first time was pretty damn wonderful.

My time here was pretty awesome.  Somehow all the twists and turns of life led me to this place where I could simply awake to the birds’ song on a quiet island in the South Pacific.  Nothing but a mosquito net and some loose boards separating me from nature’s beauty.

And there were monkeys there!

I was laying in my hammock the morning of my birthday and just so happened to notice monkeys dash up the cliffs on the other side of our bay.  “Monkeys!” my inner monologue exclaimed, and off I went looking to see if I could convince Anny to go for a walk.  Well I didn’t find the monkeys (this time), but since I was hot I decided to dive off the rocks and cool off.  A couple of things…One: the water here is not cool and refreshing, very disappointing.  Two: Before jumping into the ocean, make sure there is a way out.  The tide was out and the only way I could climb up was to wedge myself into a crevice and shimmy my way out, but the rocks were covered in sharp mollusks.  Combine this with the waves pushing me in and trying to pull me out here, and I cut up my hands and feet pretty good.  I think I managed to ward off infection with my hand sanitizer, but lesson learned.

The next monkey encounter was on the road (there’s only one road going around the island).  We stopped ‘cause we saw one monkey cross the road, but on closer look it was more like a family of ten.  And they kept running across the road to steal from a shops garden and then run back up the cliff with their plunder.  What funny animals.

Hmm, what else to say about this place…  It was remote and beautiful.  The seafood was as fresh as it could get.  An epic thunderstorm rolled through one night.  Nice beaches dot the shoreline here and there.  Yeah it was good!

Oh yeah!  I spent an afternoon with this amazing Tibet man one afternoon.  We met on the pier, him asking me about my necklace (pretty basic w/ beads and a jade buddha) and then showing me his (made of human bone!  Each bead individually painted and hand crafted.  It was quite beautiful).  Well we got to talking about happiness and religeon…  Then we got hungry so we went for lunch and talked about life and love.  Then wHe found a nice spot to sit and he pulled out a few singing bowls (his wife had just arrived in from Tibet that day.  She was sleeping and recouping while we were hanging out, but he had a few things from back home that she had brought with her – like these singing bowls).  He let me try each of them, and one really resonated with me.  And so he gave it to me for next to nothing.  I love it and it is a nice memory of my new friend.  Nepal/Tibet has always been pretty high on my “to travel” list, and now I daresay even moreso.

Something I didn’t anticipate was having amazing people come into my life, and then having them leave just as suddenly as they came.  This could take some getting used to.

Whew well that’s a quick overview with random stories that catches up with the present.  Hopefully I’ll be on top of things a little more after this and there’ll be less catch up to cover next time.

So…so far so good!  Thanks for all the e-mails and sorry if I haven’t had time to respond individually yet, its been busy.  I care about you all back home and miss you very much.

d.