Posts Tagged With: Thailand

SPIDERMAN

uluru

You’d think coming from Australia, land of ‘Everything can kill ya’, I’d know how to camp. I’d know that I should shake out my boots (that I never wear). That I should shake out my clothes before wearing them (and wonder where that new stain came from). That I should shake out my sleeping bag even though I don’t use it cause it’s too hot.

You’d think.

Especially since I’ve had some experience with venomous creatures of the lethal kind. You see, the category of animals in Australia is divided into two: Deadly or lethal.

My first encounter would have been back in 2011. I was hiking, barefoot, through the Cumberland River Gorge with two female friends. We reached a beautiful rocky outcrop by the river that spills into the Southern Ocean where my favourite left wave rolls lazily to the beach (it was here that I had my first Epic wave, dropping off the lip of a 4-foot beast, landing it and then zipping between the other surfers crowding the water).

I needed to pee and waltzed up the river, skipping over rocks. A large boulder was in my way so I climbed over it and landed with a thud on the other side. Just as I was about to unzip I heard a hiss. I looked down and froze.

My left foot had magically landed right next to a coiled up Tiger Snake, the 6th most lethal snake in the world, leaving just enough space for oxygen to pass between it and my foot.

tiger snake

Perhaps if I hadn’t drunken mushroom tea and smoked some joints on the trek, then I wouldn’t have attempted to break Usian Bolt’s hundred meter record.

*But I did.

Six months later I was exploring a semi-dry lake with my good friend, Warwick, a talented photographer who had been showing me the ways of the land in the Otways bushland. As we’re hiking through tall, dry grass in the month of September (just coming out of winter), Warwick, who has grown up in the bush, said,

“Careful mate, this looks like snake country.”

lake

As he went to the right, I went to the left and froze after about 10 meters. Before me, on top of the bushes, lay a long dark snake. Motionless. I couldn’t even see if it was breathing. It’s eyes seemed glazed over, like I get when I have one puff too many on a happy stick.

Hmm, I thought. It looks dead. Reckon I’ll pick it up and throw it at Warwick for shits and giggles.

I guess Karma read my mind and decided to intervene. As I bent forward and reached down with my hand I stopped, not dropping my gaze from the snake which had yet to show any sign of life. A gut instinct rang alarm bells.

Hmm, I thought. It might not be dead. And it might actually be deadly.

“Warwick, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal, would you mind moseying on over here? I’ve found a snake and I’m not sure what it is or if it’s alive.”

Warwick crashed over through the bushes and stopped upon eying the critter. Carrying a mono-pod for his camera he instructed me to,

“Step to the left there, mate,” as he came to stand between me and the snake. Using the mono-pod, he rustled the bushes under the snake.

Now Warwick is a big guy. In height and in muscle. And when he rustled those bushes and the snake came to life, saw us two bipedals and shot into the bush at the speed of a bullet, Warwick crashed back on to me which resulted in me being splayed on my back like an upturned turtle.

“Holy shit!” I yelped. “What was it?”

“Tiger snake,” Warwick said, standing up and helping me to rise.

“Shit, mate, that’s the second time in six months.”

Tiger snakes have a very potent neurotoxic venom. Death from a bite can occur within 30 minutes, but usually takes 6-24 hours. It’ll will generally flee if encountered, but can become aggressive when cornered and strikes with unerring accuracy.

Let’s fast forward to the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand in the year 2013. I was driving a scooter to a jam session on the other side of the island in torrential rain at night on unlit dark roads. Tall grass was growing by the roadside. I noticed something long and dark just on the edge of the road. I slowed down by it and immediately recoginsed the cobra that had me close my legs in and push the throttle all the way.

A few months later I found myself on the sailing boat, SV San Miguel, hitching a ride to South Africa. An epic adventure of adventurous proportions. We had left Phuket, Thailand and sailed off to Sri Lanka. From Sri Lanka, we sailed south to Chagos Archipelago, a deserted chain of atolls and islands. The nearest habituated land were the Maldives, 180 nautical miles to our west.

As we cruised the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the depth reader showing 4,000 meters of water below us, we came across a strong current that the marine life were using as a super highway. As there was no wind, we jumped in to swim with sharks, barracuda, leatherhead sea turtles, a small hawksbill sea turtle, corafin fish and some Portuguese Man O’War.

Chagos map P1060956

The Man O’War isn’t a jellyfish. It’s a siphonophore, a collection of living organisims known as zooids (I shit you not). As I was watching a shark swim beneath me I felt a sting on my left ear. I clambered back on board and in the galley I wiped my ear with vinegar before returning to the water. Then I was stung on my left rib.

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Damn it, I thought as I returned once more to the galley for another swab of vinegar. I hate vinegar. The smell can propel me backwards as though I were taking a 12-gauge buckshot to the chest. Returning to the water for the third time I was then stung on my left ankle. I looked around and saw the floating zooid colony and identified it.

Merde, I thought as again, I returned below deck and swabbed the stung area with vinegar. But the venom of the previous stings had reached my left lymph node and it was fighting back hard. So hard that the pain caused had me stumble back to my cabin like after a typical night out in Bangkok. I collapsed on the bunk and passed out.

An hour later I came too and exchanged survival stories with the captain who had suffered the same fate.

Let’s time-jump to June, 2015, when a recluse spider bit my left shin in my sleep in Kilifi. Not knowing what it was I let the bite fester for 9 days before I figured that the black, dead skin and continuous oozing puss (which was my liquefied flesh caused by the spider’s venom) might need to be looked at in a hospital.

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After they dug out a hole that could house a piggy bank, placed me on anti-biotics and painkillers, it took four weeks for the wound to heal.

You see, a recluse spider, the size of a quarter, has venom that destroys and melts your flesh. It doesn’t get into the blood stream, it’s extremely painful and leaves a pretty nasty scar if not treated in time and can result in death.

I was close to losing my leg and was very grateful for the treatment I received.

Now, a month later, I’m once again bitten by a recluse fucking spider in my tent. Once again in my sleep. Once again on my left side. This time, on the very point of my left elbow. This time, I knew what it was straight away. Confirmation came on the third day and I headed over to the hospital where I greeted the same doctors that had treated me before (it starts off looking like a mosquito bite, it’ll itch all day and then the day after a white head, like a pimple will appear. Pain sets in like a tender bruise before the venom starts to melt your flesh under the skin).

“Got a new one,” I grinned as they cleaned me up, gave me antibiotics and now, I hope it’ll only take a week to heal.

I love nature but sometimes, nature loves me back a little too hard, like an aunt with giant bosoms who squeezes you in a bear-hug, suffocating you to a point of passing out.

Now I’m practicing how to shoot webs from my wrists.

*Please note: in the event of encountering any snake, you should freeze and give it way. They’ll usually slither off to not be bothered. If it’s a black mamba then good luck.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Australia, Kenya, Sailing, Thailand, The Indian Ocean | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ISLES OF THAI

P1060228“Alright,” Captain Francois said as we left the harbour of Chalong in Phuket, “let’s hoist the sails.”

The sun was setting behind us, splaying it’s raw beauty of orange and yellow as it set behind the Big Buddha on top of the hill, 6 K’s outside of Chalong. We had just received the reconstructed lever that directs the engine to push us forward, backwards or just idle softly. It needed testing and so a trip to the outer islands of Thailand’s west coast, picturesque scenes taken from travel magazines, was called for.

We were sailing dead on into a threatening cloud that seemed to dare us to come closer. The captain double-dared and the rain hit us on an angle. But as we reached the protective bay of Koh Yao, where only two fishing villages (of Muslim faith) resided, the rain subsided. We dropped anchor in 8 meters of water and as the stars came out I helped Kira in the galley prepare a rice dish of mango, chilli, coriander, garlic with tuna cakes washed down with a couple of beers.P1070435

Now this was sailing. Tropicbird didn’t have a fridge so there was no point in having alcohol. This boat, the illustrious San Miguel, a dreamy 47-foot sloop with a crew of 3, my addition making it 4, had all the spoils that proper sailing come with.

After dinner we watched the lightening show, nothing short of Pink Floyd’s Pulse concert. It reminded me of Darwin in the wet season, sitting on the beach watching earth-shattering clouds rupture with flashes and strobes of lightening in every direction and ear-drum piercing thunder.

The perfect weather to bring out the guitar and provide some tunes on the quiet waters of the bay.

The next morning, with the dinghy providing some motor issues and the shore being to far too row, we sailed out to Koh Hong, an island surrounded by towering rock-faces and jungle vegetation with an inlet of water a meter deep, surrounded by mangroves and with the residing tide, a sandbar enticed a blue-grey water bird with yellow feet to land on it and fish for whatever it eats.

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Walking around under the rocks while boatloads of tourists chugged in, looked around and chugged out. We headed back to the beach side and as Francois and Kira checked out the beach, the water called to me and I swam out in knee-deep water to the underwater cliff edge and snorkeled down 4-meters, avoiding the 18-meter drop to the blue depths below. I floated about as curious fish came up and checked out the human jelly fish invading their territory. I also avoided the dinghy sized jelly fish that were pulsating about.

 

I rejoined the captain and Kira and we headed back out to the boat. As we passed the ridge I pointed out where I snorkeled. Francois dived in as Kira and I continued to paddle to San Miguel. I raised the anchor, which is like trying to lift a granite rock the size of a small Fiat, and we headed over to Krabi, the southern point of the mainland of Thailand.

We anchored in 6 meters of water as the sun set and we paddled the 20-minute pass over calm waters, passing a small catamaran. As we beached and tied the dinghy we heard a heavily accented South African voice call out to us.

“What the hell are you guys doing here?”

We turned around to greet South African Francois, a fellow sailor we had met at Phuket’s Cruising Yacht Association and had confirmed the story of Rodriguez and the Search for Sugarman.

“Come on,” he slapped Francois on the shoulder. “Let’s get you a beer.”P1060337

He was working on the catamaran, sailing groups of tourists that chartered the boat for such an expedition.

We sat at the bar on the beach and watched another storm roll in before the heavens cracked open and flooded every possible space made for walking. It was as though the skies looked down and said, ‘Hmm, footpaths. Challenge accepted.’

 

So we sat and drank for the next two-hours, meeting an Aussie couple living in Singapore, the crew of South African Francois’ boat before we headed out to a reggae bar and partied with the staff (because there was no one else) and the owner’s adorable little kid that danced with us.

I found a stick that the staff had twirled and applied my skills to it. But I learned that twirling while drunk isn’t the best idea. Especially when the stick is over a meter long and made out of very hard, unbreakable material that really leaves a mark.

Right on the left side of the left brow, under the eyebrow.

As the rain stopped and the party died out, we headed back to the beach, emptied the dinghy of water and paddled back to San Miguel for a good night’s sleep.

The next day we paddled back to the beach on the far side to snorkel (which was like swimming through a poorly recreated marine park that was left in the hands of a 57-year-old retired councilman).P1060375

Back on the beach I watched as a couple of tourists with ropes and climbing apparel crossed my path. I followed them into the brush and came out behind them at the entrance to a huge cavern. I left them to their climbing wall and explored the cavern, lined with stalactites coloured in green with a grey dusty ground covering the floor of it.

I clambered over the boulders and looked out at the green jungle vegetation, spread out like a carpet from the 60s across the beach.

I headed back and watched as boat load after boat load of tourists were dropped off at the beach. I walked down and crossed paths with Francois.

“You should go check out the dicks,” he said as he continued on to check out the cavern I had just exited.

“Check the what?” I turned back as he kept walking.

I wasn’t sure if I had heard ‘dicks’ or ‘decks’. I made my way to the end of the beach, passing exclusive looking resorts, the kind that made a ‘happy-to-sleep-on-the-beach’ nomadic adventurer like myself become repulsed by what man has done to nature for our own 60-second pleasures.

At the rockwall I saw Kira standing before a Hindu-shaped temple – surrounded by penises of all shapes, sizes and made from every material known to man – wood, metal, cloth and plastic.

“What the…” I stood in awe.

All through Indonesia I had seen in every souvenir shop bottle openers, flip flops, everything you could think of, in the shape of a penis without finding out why.

“It’s a sacrifice the fishermen make to this goddess,” explained Kira, reading from the sign. “The cave represents a sacred womb which is why they give phallic offerings.”

That and maybe because every island in Thailand is phallic which might explain the highly lucrative (and legal) sexual trade in the land of a thousand smiles.

We returned to the dinghy, making our way through the throng of tourists that were crowding the beach, pushed it into the water and paddled back to San Miguel. We got her ship-shaped, raised the anchor and headed back to Phuket.

Next stop, Sri Lanka, Chagos Archipelagos and the east coast of Africa.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Conservation, Sailing, Thailand, The Indian Ocean | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

RAW FOOD FOR THOUGHT

P1060027“Whenever you cook vegetables, you lose 80% of the nutrients that our body needs,” Boris explains during his 4-hour raw food workshop at the Vikasa Yoga Retreat on the coconut-treed island of Koh Samui, Thailand.

Working off the bike had its benefits. I was staying across the road from the retreat and while recording the voice overs for Kosta’s yoga videos and partaking in the daily yoga classes, Boris Lauser, master raw food chef (and the man who compiled the menu at Vikasa), was at the retreat conducting a raw food workshop.

And I’m not talking about blood-dripping steaks. Raw foods refer to vegetables, fruits and nuts that aren’t cooked. And if the need to steam or cook them arises, then it should be done at no more than 42 degrees so you don’t loose the nutrients that our body needs.

The benefits of a raw food diet are too numerous to list but the top ones (besides the nutritional value that your body gets) are that it’ll make you look younger, feel more productive, less tired throughout the day, does wonders for your skin tone and keeps you regular – on time every time – like an atomic clock.

We watched hungrily as he explained and demonstrated how to make a coconut and avocado mousse, blending it up in the mixer.

“We’ll let it sit in the fridge and have it for dessert,” he put the tray away and went on to explain a little information regarding tomatoes. “They contain lycopene which can only be accessed by breaking up the tomato in a blender,” he said. “Lycopene has been scientifically proven to fight cancer.”

Noted.

He went on to demonstrate how to make Chinese dumpling fillings and wrap it in rice paper. We wrapped our own and went on to make rice paper spring rolls filled with Julian-peeled cucumber and carrot wrapped in a lettuce leaf with an added dressing of almond paste.

Next he demonstrated how to make pasta from zucchini and carrots.

“You can cut them into thin strips so that they look like pasta,” he explained while putting a zucchini through the motions. “Drain the water that will come out of it, add the sauce and voila, pasta.”

And it tasted damn good too.P1060054

I had been living on the raw food diet since arriving at Vikasa. Every now and then the menu would have the added seafood or chicken but there was no red meat. And, I gotta say, I’ve never felt more alive (and been more regular) without eating red meat. I’ve always tried to implement a salad in every meal I have. Usually, I’ll dice up an onion, tomatoes and cucumber, dress it with olive oil, a dash of salt and grounded black pepper. I do love a good steak every now and then. I can live without chicken and with fish… well it depends on the fish.

After sampling our dumplings and spring rolls, we topped off the workshop with a serving of the previously-made coconut and avocado mousse sprinkled with shredded coconut and cinnamon.

I had to sit down and savoir the moment.

Although based in Berlin of his native Germany, Boris conducts raw food retreats and workshops in Bali and other exotic locations around the world like Koh Samui in Thailand. His website, balive.org, contains recipes and more information regarding when and where his workshops are conducted.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Conservation, Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

VIKASA YOGA RETREAT

P1060027Now how the hell am I supposed to get my body into that position? I thought. I looked down and watched as, somehow, my arms interlocked between my legs.

Well that’s a first, I thought.

“Now bring your right leg to the side while balancing on your hands and left leg,” instructed the instructor.

Yeah, right, I chuckled on the inside. There’s no way I’m gonna be able –

 

What the..? I stared at my right leg as it followed through with the command.

OK, I thought. Now the hell am I supposed to get out of this position?

“Now we go into vipasana and relax,” Konstantin ‘Kosta’ Miachin, the owner and founder of the Vikasa Yoga Retreat in Koh Samui ended the hour long session.

This was my favourite part of yoga. The part where after you’ve contortioned your body into impossible positions you get to lay down on your back, palms up, relax everything and just breathe, loosing yourself to the sounds of the nearby sea, lapping gently against the rocks on the beach. Because in yoga, it’s all about the journey that you take your body and mind through to reach that pinnacle moment of self-reflection within your own soul.

P1060051Escorted by the chiming sounds of Japanese bowls played by Kosta, your mind, body and soul embark on a journey that’ll have you feeling enlightened.

Kosta isn’t just the owner and founder of this magical place. He is also the creator of the Vikasa yoga method. I would say it is a power-based form of yoga, helping to strengthen your body and mind, stretching your ability of balance and centering one’s self while combining an essential diet of meditation and organically healthy food, which is another highlight to look forward too after an hour long session – morning and night.

I first reached Vikasa on Monday via taxi from the Nathon ferry dock on the western side of Koh Samui, a peaceful island whose name translates to ‘Safe Haven’. The retreat is located on the eastern side of this jungle paradise, in Tambool Maret where it is built on a cliffside above the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand.

Vikasa Yoga Retreat has a variety of yoga classes from Ashtanga to Hathay and the signature Vikasa yoga – the evolution of yoga.

P1060040But Vikasa isn’t just about the yoga. With the rocky beach at its feet, there’s no better place on the whole island to meditate whether it be from the balcony of your bungalow that’s facing the water to greet the rising sun every morning, or perched on a rock on the beach. Better yet, take part in one of the meditation sessions the place has to offer – for free.

Vikasa Yoga Retreat also combines the most important element to any budding yogi – nutritiously healthy, organic amazing food. With the help of world renowned raw chef master, Boris Lauser from Berlin, and the help of Cider Organic’s restaurant chef from Ubud, Bali, Kosta has helped create a balanced meal for brunch (served daily between 10:30-11:30) and dinner (19:30 – 20:30) including freshly squeezed tropical juice.P1060054

Fish and chicken are served on occasion and eggs are served with brunch but the majority of the food is purely raw vegetables. As a carnivore, I wasn’t sure what to expect but besides the meditation at the end of a good yoga session, my next favourite thing to look forward too was the amazing food being served as a self-serve buffet.

The view from the dining area – with options of bean bags or standard tables and chairs – is of the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand.

Vikasa Yoga Retreat also offers a 200-hour teaching course. Students of all ages congregate from all over the world to take part in the three-week intensive course, studying and practicing the art of Vikasa yoga.

With its friendly and always smiling accommodating staff, Vikasa Yoga Retreat is the place to relax and kick back – even if there are 109 steps to the yoga salas from the dining area. And although it’s still a young place, only open for a year, its growing reputation on the island and around the world as the yoga place to be has already got itself booked out for the upcoming high season.

P1050989And you don’t have to stay here just for yoga. You’re not forced to partake in any classes (although its all inclusive so why miss out?). There’s great swimming to be done off the rocks below and snorkeling (although there’s not much to see).

And whether you practice yoga daily, or just once every few months. Whether you’re a carnivore or a vegetarian, Vikasa Yoga Retreat has it all and is all inclusive when you book. There’s an inviting infinity pool and spa and for a little extra, you can get a variety of massages from Thai to Swedish, foot to full body.

But the most important thing to remember when at Vikasa is too simply relax and enjoy the serenity.

Om Shanti.

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Reviews, Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

ONE NIGHT, IN BANGKOK

DAY 1

My eyes cracked open.

This doesn’t feel like a bed, I thought getting out of the chair I was sleeping in. And this doesn’t look like a bedroom, the wheels in my head turning ever so slowly as I looked around the car park.

The attendant walked over, smiled and presented me with a bottle of water.

“Kharp-un-Krap,” I grinned. “And thanks for letting me sleep in your chair.” I assumed it was his.

I also assumed it must only be seven or eight in the morning as I looked at the time on my phone. It slapped me back with a reading of 13:00.

One.

PM.

I scratched my head. My backpack was by my feet and it had everything in it with a new addition – a book wrapped in plastic titled, ‘Gypsy Boy’ by Mike Walsh. And all my internal organs where still internal.

I don’t remember buying a book.

I don’t remember how I came to be in this car park.

I don’t remember how I ended up sleeping in a chair.

I don’t remember what happened last night after I parted ways with Maya and Daniel, good friends honeymooning in Bangkok. I do remember drinking local beer called Chang (6.4% although it has been tested at 12% on occasion). And I remember continuing the night with an American, Blayne, and his partner, Josie. But that’s it.

Now I’m in a car park in Bangkok, don’t know where.

And it’s one PM.

I smiled and grinned, thanked the car park attendant once again and hit the streets. As I walked along, enjoying the tipsy feeling that a night of drinking gives me (I don’t suffer from hangovers. I just wake up tipsy) I watched two tuk-tuk drivers playing checkers.

I continued walking and was stopped by a local who took the initiative to play tour guide and explained that, “Today is special Buddha holiday. All yellow tuk-tuk 20 Bhat. They take you to Standing Buddha and Golden Mountain Temple. You go, Mister. You enjoy special price on special day.”

“OK,” I grinned and hopped into the first yellow tuk-tuk I saw.

The driver grinned back and took me to the first stop, the Standing Buddha. As we rode along the streets in the three-wheeled motor I noticed on the ceiling the pictures of Thai girls covered in soap bubbles giving massages to one another.

“You like, Mister?” the driver grinned. “I take you to girl?”

“I like girls but I don’t pay for it,” I smiled back. “Just take me to the Standing Buddha. Then Khoa San Road.”

“No problem,” he revved off.

We arrived at the temple and my driver waited for me outside. I strolled around, noticing the small corners of worship within the temple. Some people were praying, others just wondered about. I came round to face the Standing Buddha, standing at 45 meters.

P1050614It made me wonder how, for a religion that preaches no need for materialism and wealth, everything was made from gold. And they had charity boxes for money donations everywhere (which I know every religion has. Maybe if they didn’t spend so much on pimping their places of worship, they wouldn’t have to ask for monetary donations).

The temple was a large area with statues of various characters and sizes, the majority being of Buddha. Satisfying my spiritual need, I returned to my tuk-tuk driver who had purchased peanuts and offered some to me.

“Thanks,” I grinned. “Khoa San Road?”

“Golden Mountain,” he said.

“Right, then Khoa San Road.”

He expertly shot us into traffic. “You want girl, Mister? Very sexy.”

“No, really, I’m fine but again, thanks for offering,” I leaned back and watched as we passed a large round-about with three tall arches in the middle.

Golden Mountain is named for the temple at the top of the hill. Walking in, I was greeted by the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac in the form of colourful statues. I walked along the road, stopping to look at the golden statues, sipping on the free water offered.

The 20 Bhat entry fee had me continue around the hill rather than go up it. Sure, it’s less than a dollar but I wasn’t paying to go into a place of worship. Not really my thing.

I headed back to my tuk-tuk.

“OK, Khoa San Road?” I asked as I hopped in, munching on some peanuts.

“One more stop,” he said. “Jewelry store. Special day, special prices. You no pay tax.”

“I don’t do jewelry,” I began but realised quickly I was in a discussion that I could never explain or win.

We pulled up outside a store. The door was held open by an official looking person who greeted me with a smile and waved me in.

“Hello, Mister,” she smiled. “Today special Buddha day. No tax today. Duty free prices only.”

“Yeah, I heard,” I smiled and looked into the glass stands. I walked around, figuring I may as well enjoy the air conditioning before returning to my means of transport.

“OK, Jeebs,” I sat back into the tuk-tuk. “Khoa San Road, please.”

“Wait, Mister. One more store,” he zipped us off.

Like I had a choice.

We rode around for about 20 minutes before stopping outside of a tailor shop. All tailor shops in Bangkok are run by Indian immigrants.

“Hello, sir, are you after a suit today?” the tailor looked at me with suspicion.

I don’t blame him. My beard was bushy, my hair curly and I was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and sandals. And I had woken up in a car park not two hours prior.

“No, I don’t wear suits,” I answered casually. “My tuk-tuk brought me here. I dunno why but here I am.”

“OK, sir, thank you for coming,” and he held the door open for me.

Jeebs seemed upset that I had returned so soon. “You go slow, Mister. Me get government coupon. Petrol.”

“You want me to spend at least 5 minutes in the shop so you get a petrol coupon from the government, right?” I verified with him.

He nodded, grinning at my finally understanding.

“Well, I’d like to go to Khoa San Road but that hasn’t played out too well, has it?” is what I should have said. I don’t know how, “Alright, next time,” came out but off we went.

To a tourist centre.

I walked in. A guy invited me to sit at his desk, hungry for the commission he thought I might be bringing him.

“So, what am I looking at here?” I asked in confusion.

“Package tours.”

I hate package tours. Too pass the 5-minute threshold that Jeebs needed for his government coupon, I asked, “I’m waiting for my friend to arrive next week. What’s good to do?”

“Come back with your friend,” he said, handing me his card. “Then we talk. Goodbye.”

“Can I look at the photos on the wall?” I asked.

“Come back with your friend, Mister. It’s better then.”

Ignoring the hint, I looked around at the photos on the wall, ooh-ing and ah-ing at each one before finally exiting the place.

“OK, Jeebs,” I said. “Khoa San Road, please.”

“One more stop,” he said and pulled into traffic. “You go slow, I get coupon. I take you Khoa San Road.”

“Fine,” I was fed up with him. And hoping it wouldn’t be another –

Tailor shop.

I sighed. How do I stick around for at least 5 minutes in a place where I stick out like an Evangelist at a science convention? A Indian opened the door before I had even hopped out of the tuk-tuk.

“Hello, sir. Are you after a suit?” he smiled with suspicious eyes.

I smiled back as I stepped into the air conditioned shop. I looked around at the rolls of material lining the wall. “Actually,” I began, “I’m a writer doing an article about how suits are tailor made here in Bangkok.” I turned to him with a $3 smile. “Would you be able to help me in my research?”

“So you don’t want a suit?” His suspicious smile turned into a gruff pan-face.

“No, not today,” I ignored his look. “As I said, I’m writing a piece on how suits are tailor-made and I need to research for my article. It’s free advertising for your shop really,” I raised my $3 smile to a $5 one.

He blinked twice before he said, “Don’t waste my time, Mister. If you don’t want a suit then please, leave my shop.”

“But it’ll be free advertising,” I played dumb.

“I didn’t ask for any advertising now get out,” he lead me to the door, holding it open.

I smiled 30 cents worth. “Thanks for your time.” I jumped to the tuk-tuk. “Was that enough?” I asked.

Jeebs grinned and nodded.

“Great, now please take me to Khoa San Road.”

Khoa San Road reminded me of Kuta, Bali. Full of bars, some advertising how they don’t check ID and have very strong cocktails, everyone was hustling for money.

“Sunglasses, Mister?”

“Thanks but I’m wearing a pair.”

“Souvenir, Mister?”

“I’m good, thanks.”

“Hat, Mister?”

“And hide my curls?”

“Scorpion, Mister?”

“I’m vegetarian but thanks.” (I’m not).

“Massage, Mister? Happy ending?”

“My endings are always happy.”

“Ping pong show, Mister?”

“No, thanks. How about tennis?”

“Suit, Mister?”

“Do I look like the kinda guy that wears suits?” I sighed.

Maybe I should have stayed with my tuk-tuk driver.

DAY 6

The Donwai Riverside Market is in the Nakhon Pathom province, just outside of the borders of Bangkok. My host, Nina, and I arrived just after noon to the shaded market pace. Every stall had fans running and although it seemed that all the 15 million people that make up the population of Bangkok were there that day, it was a comfortable temperature.

The majority of the stalls were selling food. Traditional Asian, Thai food. And they all had samples for tasting.

“Nothing I like better than free food,” I grinned as we were greeted by shopkeepers that were just happy if you had a taste. No pressure to buy anything.

I was warned, just as I was about to slam my head in a crossbeam, to be careful of the low hanging crossbeams. Some were padded with foam, from previous knock-outs. I smiled a ‘thank you’ as I sampled cakes, every farm animal that ever existed, chilli pastes that will provide a ‘fire-in-the-hole’ morning tomorrow, seafood, dry fish, salted eggs, black jelly, honey, pomegranate wine (5%) and pineapple wine (11% and which Nina bought two bottles of) and some clear liquor (40%) that had my knees shake a little. I even sampled a chilli paste made with a leaf insect.

The insect was cut into sections – head, body and tail. I avoided the body parts and tried the paste, which had a rim-burning action to it. But the shop keeper was not going to let this ‘falang’ go without some amusement at my expense.

“He wants you to try the insect,” Nina said.

I stared at the bug. The shopkeeper had chosen to present me with the middle section. There it sat on the spoon just waiting to be taken in by some foreigner stupid enough to fall for this trick.

I looked at the shopkeeper who was smiling. I looked at Nina who was worried. “Fuck it,” I said taking the spoon. “You only live once.” I chewed on the body and whatever was made of its insides was now on my tongue. And it wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t good enough for seconds but it wasn’t so bad.

But the chilli, with its ass-on-fire effect had me coughing and the shopkeeper in tears of laughter. “Ollay,” I said through clinched teeth, meaning ‘delicious’ in Thai. I stumbled off to find a stall with something sweet to sample, leaving the shopkeepers laughing.

We passed by a small Buddha temple where Nina stopped for a quick blessing.

“Let me show you something,” she said as I followed her in removing my sandals and sitting on the tiled floor, ankles behind me. “Take this,” she handed me a red cylinder box that had small, numbered pick-up-sticks in it. “You have to shake it until only one stick falls out. Then you see which number you got and get your fortune from the wall.” She pointed to the wall of printed notes with Thai, Chinese and English printed on each one.

I shook the box and eventually a stick fell out. “15,” I read out the number.

Nina grabbed the paper, tore off a leaf and handed it to me to read out. “You’ll succeeded in anything you do, especially commercial. If you’re expecting a baby, you surely will have a son. If you’re seeking a spouse, you’ll meet the right one. You’ll find the lost treasure you’re looking for as well as great fortune. For you who are sick will get well and healthy. As for other things and debtors, all is good. Whoever casts this number will live a happy life every night and day.”

I stared at Nina. “Pretty good fortune,” she said.

“Pretty good?” I blinked. “This is exactly what I’m seeking (more or less). Wow.” For once, a horoscopic prediction that actually gave me hope.

P1050660From the market we headed off to the National Buddhist Centre in Phutthamonthon. It was a vast area surrounded by a moat of water with perfectly maintained gardens, bonsai trees, hedges shaped like elephants, reindeer and other shapes. And of course, a giant statue of Buddha.

Nina bought two lily flowers and we sat on the step. She showed me how to fold the petals back until uncovering the flower within.

 

 

P1050665“This helps us meditate because we focus and concentrate on this action,” she explained.

When we were done, we handed the flowers to the people going up to place them under the giant Buddha.

The whole place was under water two years ago when the huge floods almost turned Bangkok into a beach.

“They had to cut down a lot of the trees here because the water killed them,” Nina explained.

Looking back at the huge Buddha statue I asked her, “Why is it that all Buddha statues are so huge?”

P1050653“So that every one who prayers can see it, no matter how far they are from the statue,” she put it rather simply.

That evening Nina cooked up some Tom Yum soup with a serving of rice, left over pork and chicken curry and some calamari that her mother had brought over. After dinner we watched Shaun of the Dead while sipping on pineapple wine. Then I jammed on the guitar thinking of my good fortune and the amazing people I’ve met on the way, excited for tomorrow’s adventures – hitch-hiking south to Koh Samui for my time at the Vikasa yoga retreat.

My fortune was right. I am happy every night and day.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

HIT THE ROAD, JACK

P1050441“What’s your name?” I asked from the back seat, squeezed in among our backpacks.

“Angel,” said Angel from somewhere in the front, I’m presuming from the driver’s side of the car.

Baz and I had just hitched a ride on the E1 highway that leads out of Kuala Lumapar to Butterworth and onwards to Thailand. We had spent 40 minutes at the toll booth with our thumbs out before the tenth car had stopped and managed to explain  to us that we were on the wrong road (which might explain why every driver of the nine previous cars offered to take us to the bus station).

Angel, a blessing not just by name, drove us to the nearest truck stop and no sooner had I rolled out of the back seat with all our packs when a truck driver offered to take us to Ipoh (pronounced, surprisingly, ‘E-po’), a 4-hour drive, 2-hours south of Butterworth.P1050451

We packed our gear onto the bunk behind the seats and climbed into the cabin of a 59-ton oil tanker. Dean, our driver,  demonstrated how 23 years of being a truck driver gave you the skills to use legs to steer the rig.

We managed to communicate with hand gestures as Dean’s English was just slightly better than that of George Dubya Bush. A few hours down the road we passed another hitcher, a local Malaysian with very dark skin.

“Negro no good,” Dean said bluntly. “Make trouble.”

I stared at him in disbelief. Not because of the racial slur, although that was enough to raise both eyebrows, but because Dean had darker skin than the man trying to hitch a ride.

“You’re kidding, right?” I asked, forgetting momentarily that his English was below certain White House levels.

He seemed to understand as he continued to explain that the fella would mean trouble purely based on his skin colour. We had been informed by a few locals that Malaysia was a very racist country, forcing the indigenous communities to convert to Islam or be killed.

Even in the 21st century these medieval threats were still being used and practiced.

Just before Ipoh, Dean dropped us off at another truck stop. We barely had written up a new sign and stuck out a thumb by the exit ramp when a sleek 3-door black Mercedes Kompressor pulled over and popped its boot.

No way, I thought as Baz conversed with the driver. “Come on, bro. He’s going to Alor Setar!” which was 40 minutes south of the Thai border – a 4-hour drive from where were.

We packed what we could into the small booth and I hopped into the back seat while Baz sat up front.

“I am Nagin,” Nagin introduced himself as we vice versed and shook hands. “I have a doctor’s appointment in Ipoh so if you don’t mind waiting, we will go Alor Setar from there.”

“No problem,” Baz said as we kicked back in the leather seats.

This car had it all. It even had a shoulder-tapping arm that pushed out the seatbelt and nudged Baz to click it in, making him jump.

We told Nagin of our journey and after we had lunch at the hospital canteen and he finished up his appointment we hit the road for the 4-hour drive to Alor Setar at 140 K’s an hour.

By the time we stopped for tea in a small town, Nagin had not only shouted us the tea and savoury roti but had invited us to crash at his house for the night.

“In the morning I will take you to Hat Yai (pronounced ‘Hat-i’), 40 minutes into Thailand. I need a holiday,” he offered.

Baz and I were taken aback.

“Thank you so much!” we both exclaimed.

We hit Alor Setar by 19:30 already dark. Nagin pulled into a local eatery where he shouted us dinner and we shared 13 beers between us. He further explained the racial backlash the Malaysian government was enforcing.

“I am second generation Malaysian from India but I’m still regarded Indo-Malay and defined as a second class citizen,” he said. “Too get into university, Malaysian students need only two A’s in Year 11 and their education is free. For my daughters -” who would be third generation Malaysians (but still classed as Indo-Malay) – “they need 8 A’s and I have to pay for their education.”

“How many A’s did they get?” Baz asked.

“12,” Nagin said proudly with a grin as more beers kept arriving, Carlsburgs in long neck bottles, two in each round.

After dinner, Nagin carefully drove us to his home where his mother-in-law and sister-in-law reside (he lives in Kuala Lumpar) where we shared three more beers and I brought out the guitar at his request. I stared in awe at the Hindu alter in his house. Nagin explained the meaning of the various Gods and the ceremonies conducted.

By 01:00 he and Baz shared the bed while I slept on a mattress on the floor.

Nagin provided us with blankets for the night (the aircon was at an nipple erecting temperature) and towels for the morning bucket shower. After we insisted on paying for his breakfast, we hit the road in his beat up Proton.

“It’s too risky to take the Mercedes to the border,” he explained. He parked and ordered a taxi. “You will come with me in the taxi to Hat Yai. I will pay, don’t worry about anything.”

Baz and I were blown away by this man’s generosity who, only 15 hours prior was a complete stranger as we crossed the border into Thailand – country number 5.

At a truck stop on the outskirts of Hat Yai, we parted ways. Nagin had given me an Indian white shirt that turned me Bollywood and in return for his generosity, on behalf of Baz and myself, I scarved him with a scarf I had received at the Sail Komodo gala dinner in Indonesia.

P1050499With grey-black clouds making their way like the ‘Nothing’ in The Never-ending Story, swallowing up everything blue, a Toyota Hilux stopped for us.

The driver, Jep, spoke little English but we managed to figure out that he was heading express to Baz’s stop, Surat Thani, arriving just as the sun set leaving Baz with 30 minutes to catch the ferry to Koh Phangang.

I continued with Jep all the way to Prachaup Khiri Khan, a further 4 hours up the road, just shy three hours of my final destination, Bangkok, where I was hoping to catch my cousin before she left for Chiang Mai.

After saying ‘goodbye’ to Baz who I wouldn’t be seeing until the full moon party mid-October, Jep drove on without stopping. I was lacking Thai Bhat and had 35 Malaysian Ringgits to my name. Jep was generous enough to shout me my first Thai meal, a pork noodle soup with crushed peanuts.

On the way we stopped by a roadside market where every stall was selling bananas. He bought a bunch and while he smoked a cigarette, I hang out in the elephant temple, covered with statues of elephants, royalty white and standard grey.

A few hours later, after I politely declined Jep’s offer to take me a bus or train terminal and pay for my ticket, we pulled into the truck stop just before Prachaup Khiri Khan. I bid him ‘farewell’ and he split his banana bunch, giving me half and throwing in a water bottle.

We shook hands and he asked that I contact him when I get to my couch host on Sunday.

I walked to the 7-11 where a local sitting outside ushered me over.

“Where you from?” he asked in the miniscule amount of English he spoke (still, it was better than George Dubya Bush).

I managed to explain that I was an Aussie, hitch hiking for the experience. He promptly got up and went to hassle the truck drivers resting. He came back empty-handed and offered to buy me dinner.

I patted my stomach. “Very full but thank you.”

He pointed to the empty lot that was being built as the place I could stash my gear and roll out my sleeping mattress (courtesy of Baz) and sleeping bag. I tried not to breathe in the cement dust and kept swiping at the little mozzies that were using my exposed arms as fueling docks.

I stirred to wake an hour later by the same local who placed a packet of butter bread in my hand. “Good luck,” he said.

“Kharp-Khun-krap,” I murmured sleepily as I tried to return to cloud 9.

P1050483I kept lapsing in and out sleep until the sun started breaking up the darkness. I washed my face in the bathroom and hit the exit ramp with my sign. Five minutes had barely passed when a Triton Ute pulled over.

“Where you go, Mister?” asked the passenger.

“Bangkok,” I pointed to my sign, grinning. “Where you go?”

“Bangkok but otherside,” he replied. He hopped out and showed me on a road map that they were going around the city to some other town but could drop me on the outskirts where I could grab a bus in.

“No problem,” I grinned, not believing my luck. “How far?”

“Three hours,” he said. “But cabin full. You mind sitting in tray?” he pointed to the back of the ute.

“Mai-pen-lye,” I shook his hand. “No problem.”

P1050513I threw my gear in and sat back, unsheathing my guitar and playing some songs at about 120 K’s an hour until I could smell rain.

About 50 K’s south of Bangkok we pulled into a rest stop. The passenger surprised me when he came back with a bag of food.

“Corn-flour pancake,” he said handing over a box of 12 along with a small water.

“Wow,” I said, taken aback. “Kharp-un-khap.”

The driver then appeared with a bag of rice and pork skewers. Thanking them again, I devoured the pork and used the skewers as chopsticks to eat the rice before polishing off the mini-pancakes that were so sweet even though they were with corn and the last two with spring onions.

An hour later I was dropped off at the bus stop. Thanking them vigorously, we took photos and bid ‘farewell’.

I headed into the 7-11 to ask which bus I needed to take to get to Kho San Road.

“68,” a customer helped out.

Thanking him, I headed off to await the bus. No sooner had I placed my pack on the ground than the 68 pulled up.

“Kho San Road?” I asked the ticket collector.

She shook her head. “140,” she said.

Oh. I headed to the 140 that had just pulled up behind the 68.

“Kho San Road?” I asked the ticket collector.

She shook her head. “76.”

Seems I was suffering a bout of de ja vu.

I waited on the sidewalk and the 76 pulled up. I managed to squeeze my gear through the tiny doors and sat behind an African national. The ticket collector came by.

“Kho San Road?” I asked, the bus already on the highway.

She shook her head. “68.”

What? “What?” I stared at her, perplexed.

“This bus does not go to Kho San Road,” the African national offered some assistance and translation. “You need the 68.”

“But,” and I ran through the numbers I was told. “Now you’re saying I need the 68?” He nodded. “And that’s for certain?” He nodded again. I shook his hand, thanked him and got off at the next stop.P1050525

Sure enough the 68 pulled up but didn’t come to a complete stop. With the vehicle still rolling and people alighting and jumping off like it was a regular thing to perform a movie stunt to use the public bus in Thailand, I managed to get on, confirm that this was the bus I needed and sat down, dozing off until the last stop at Kho San Road.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Thailand | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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