As a special surprise to make Tex and I feel more like home, Noi decided to make us her version of breakfast tacos. What we were served was a spicy mix of eggs, pork, and herbs wrapped in homemade Indian kerala bread... flaky yet chewy. What a way to start the morning. We finished up with some fresh fruit, and headed to the airport. Flick's dad gave me two bags of durian chips to enjoy on the plane.
We arrived at the airport early and walked around to people watch. We boarded the small plane filled to the brim heading to Krabi. After a quick hour flight, we landed at the tiny airport, found the taxi van that Flick's dad had arranged, and drove half-an-hour to Ao Nang.
The countryside was stunning... solid thick green with vertical cliffs dotting the landscape covered in vines and lone trees. This area is known for its rock climbing... something our three fat asses couldn't do if we were fleeing jungle tigers.
Ao Nang is a small tourist town on the southern Peninsula of Thailand, across the bay from the more famous Phuket. The town was situated on a narrow road along the beachfront with one side filled with souvenir shops and restaurants. The beach was a narrow strip of sand with deep green-blue water stretching out to sea, with tall, narrow lone islands of sheer rock that looked like they were dropped in from above. The weather was very hot and humid, but the constant sea breeze took most of the stifle out of the air as it swayed the local palms.
We arrived at our hotel, a very nice open-air hotel just off the main strip on the beachfront. We checked in, and Flick checked out our rooms... and was pissed! Turns out that his parents had arranged the rooms, and we were supposed to get sea-view rooms... instead we got pool-view rooms. Well!... that just won't do!! So we were dragged thru room after room until Flick was satisfied with our rooms. We originally were going to share rooms, but since it was the start of the monsoon season (and the end of the tourist high season) we went ahead an each took a nice room with a view of the outstretched sea. The rooms were nice except for the fact that your room key was welded on to the card that activated the power in the room... including the air conditioners. We all quickly broke the solder and left the rooms as cool as we could get.
Once we got settled in, we took a thirty second walk from the hotel to a scooter rental. Everyone in Thailand... and I mean everyone... drives scooters and motorcycles. Cars are extremely expensive, while scooters are cheap, easy to maintain, and incredibly customizable. We saw scooters that had sidecar attachments that were used as cabs, hauling vegetables, carrying other bikes, and best of all... restaurants.
Anyway... we rented three kick-ass high-end scooters (Yamaha Nuovo MX's... if you want to know) for the astronomical price of four dollars a day... seriously. Four dollars. How much fun is that?
We had to give Tex a rundown on how to ride a scooter, since he had never driven any two-wheeled motorized vehicle ever. So we just had him put on his helmet, and we took off down the road. They were so much fun... everyone was zipping around us on their bikes. I quickly got the feel of it and was soon gunning it full speed down the beach, leaving the others in my wake. Tex was going all of 30 km/hour... his shoulders and neck tensed so tight you could see his veins from three lengths back. He was horribly scared at first, both by the ease at which he could fall directly onto the pavement (he kept putting his foot down on the road to balance) and by riding on the left side of the road. We thought he finally got the hang of it until he took a right hand turn directly into oncoming traffic! Three riders and a small truck had to veer out of his way until he quickly leaned left on found the correct side of the road... damn tourists!
We rode for a while along the beach and into the town, checking for dive shops and restaurants to visit later. We stopped in for seafood at a place next to the hotel for some pad thai and pineapple rice. We rode our hogs further on until the beach ended. There, we took off our sandals and finally got to dig our toes into the sand. Near this area is a secluded cove where the local boats, called longtails, were harbored. Longtails are long, narrow boats with large car engines salvaged from some beater or another on a rotating gimbal. Attached to the engine block is a long pipe axle, about twenty feet long, with a propeller at the end. To steer the boat, the driver moves both the axle and engine along multiple axis... this was he can navigate the shallow beaches and fishing lines laid out along the coast.
Later, we stopped in to a scuba shop and booked our trip for the next day. All of us are avid, if not capable, scuba divers and really wanted to dive in these waters. Flick headed to the hotel to try out his new fins and snorkel, while Tex and I took off Easy Rider style in search of trouble and ice cream.
After our sundaes, Tex pulled away from the curb with a little too much gusto (and belly fat) and pulled ahead of me, screaming something about his tire. I look down, and see that his outer tire is completely pulled away from the rim. I pulled up and made him stop and walk the bike back to the store where they patched up the tire in no time.
After a rest, we pulled out of the hotel at night and headed to a local tourist place down the road for dinner. Ao Nang was beautiful at night... the garish lights of the disco bars and stalls of T-shirts plus the loud music and bustle of scooters back and forth... all across the road from the pitch-black serenity of the seemingly endless sea...
We pulled into the restaurant and let Flick order a huge menagerie of local dishes. We ate BBQ mussels, whole steamed fish, fried squid in chilies, and a seafood chowder served out of a coconut. The dim red lights of the establishment lent it an odd mood... odder still was the sideways glances I was stealing of our waitstaff. I swore I thought that waitress had an Adam's apple... and I'm pretty sure that cute waitress just adjusted her balls...
Ladyboys!! We had caught a few glimpses of some during our trip, but here was a single restaurant full of ladyboys! For those who don't know what I'm talking about, a ladyboy is an Asian man who because of his sexuality, and generally feminine frame, decide to live their lives as women... both in style and dress. They are, for the most part, accepted as part of southeast Asia culture... and they are awesome! There was one who was about six feet tall and looked a lot like my dad in lipstick and rouge.
From there, we scooted over to a nearby bar and ordered some drinks. But suddenly, something strange happened... something that had probably never happened to anyone in our ragtag bunch...
Girls started to hit on us... and good looking ones at that.
Now at first, we thought they were possibly prostitutes looked for a good time. But it turned out to be something different, as Flick explained to us. In Thailand, there is a certain bar etiquette. When men sit at a bar, good looking ladies are hired to work for the bar. They will come up and start talking and flirting with you... it's their job to keep you happy and in the bar! After a while, the girls pulled out games of Connect Four and challenged us in bloodthirsty duels to the death. Turns out Tex is a master Connect Four player. After vanquishing most of the bar girls, we had to retire the game. At this point, Flick explained that if you are enjoying the girls' company, and if they like hanging out with you, it is customary to ask if you can buy them a drink; since the girls make a commission on how many drinks you buy for them. We bought a round of mai tai's in naked lady glasses and proceeded to dominate game after game of Jenga.
But it was a good system... they provided the fun and flirtation that everyone wants in a bar, and you provided the occasional cheap drink. We had a blast for a few hours as they told stories of stupid tourists driving scooters into the sea and showing off their tattoos of charms and marijuana leafs. We would have stayed longer, but we had to get up early for scuba diving, and needed our rest. So we left the bar, promising to return, and headed back to the hotel.
We awoke early and ate breakfast at the buffet. I will never know why every other culture in the world classifies hot dogs as haute cuisine "sausages"... but they're not! When your sign says sausage omelets, I want Jimmy Dean... not Ballpark Franks in my eggs...
Our ride to the scuba dive was the back of a pickup truck outside of our hotel. We headed to the beach end where the longtails were pulled up onto the sand. Our gear was thrown into one, and we climbed in. The longtail pulled out of the harbor and into the open water for about ten minutes until we came to a large, two-story boat that was our dive boat. Climbing aboard were 15 others with their dive gear strapped down and wetsuits hanging up, waiting on us. As soon as we were aboard, the board roared to life and headed to the first dive site.
Upstairs, we met our dive master, who wasn't very good so his name isn't important. We went over our checklist and feasted on the local bananas (diving robs your body of potassium, leading to leg cramps... which is why you always eat bananas when diving). We headed downstairs where our dive master unpacked our rental gear and fitted us with the necessary weights and tanks. When all was ready, we all took our falls into the beautiful green-blue water right off of a vertical rock nestled in the middle of the sea... Kohsi Island. Actual translation... "island #4."
We emptied our BCDs, and headed down into the deep. In the first thirty seconds, I spotted a black banded sea snake... the most poisonous animal in the world! The visibility wasn't very good due to the swirling winds above and heavy plumes of plankton around us, but the dive was nice anyway. We spotted tons of neon green coral, lionfish, sea slugs, and vast schools of little barracuda. Watching a lionfish sail thru a school of barracuda reminded me of Star Wars... a lone Tie-Fighter cutting thru the rebel fighters. If that sounds odd, you have to remember that the regulators we use to breath are the sound-effect used for Darth Vader's breathing sounds... I always think of Star Wars when diving...
We dove for around 35 minutes (quick dive, but we're fat and use up air quickly) and climbed back aboard the boat. There we drank our fill of electrolytes and enjoyed a green curry over rice and more bananas. I started talking to some of the other people on board the boat. A group of twenty-something trust fund kids were spending the year on a conservation project counting corals and fish. They said it wasn't all fun though, tomorrow they had to fly to Cambodia and teach a class. "On what subject?" I asked. "Leadership" said the twenty-year-old that acted like he had never lead a cash register, much less had any experience on leadership.
On board were about six guys that worked for various dive shops around town; most of them were British or Swedes. I asked how they all got to work in Ao Nang, and the same story kept coming up. In a nutshell, all of them were either on vacation or working in the area... and just decided to stay. They all left their jobs, some their wives, and decided to live a simpler life here in Ao Nang. After their money ran out, it was either open a bar (which one guy said wouldn't be good for his alcoholism) or become dive masters. All these people, for some reason or another, had decided to stop following the rules of others, and would spend their lives enjoying life.
Let me be perfectly honest... I could do it. I know I could. Maybe not forever... but I could so be one of those people who disappear from the world to begin anew... I know I could. If I every go incommunicado... I'll be in Thailand.
After an hour's boat ride, we disembarked for our next dive site, Koh Talu... the stab hole. Two massive rocks perched in the sea with two long channels that cut between them (the stab holes) that we could dive thru. Unfortunately, right after we descended, I noticed a small air leak in my dive gauge. I tried to tighten it, and it became a massive leak. We kept going, but it shortened our dive by about ten minutes. Thankfully, we were able to see lobster, fragile coral fingers, a sea archer, and a rare spotted stingray. Very cool.
After surfacing, I kept swimming in the cool water until the other divers started to appear below me. We ate lunch aboard the boat of pancakes with fresh pineapple preserves. On the way back to shore, a summer storm came in and drenched the decks. But we stayed right on the edge of the storm... starboard was gray and pummeled with heavy rain, while port side was clear as day and sunny.
After dropping off our stuff at the hotel, we grabbed some noodles at one of the mobile restaurants I spoke of earlier. Let me set the scene. A scooter with a flimsy steel frame attached that has a cupboard, and a large cooking bowl with propane burner and tank attached. These were dotted everywhere we went. They would just pull up, and the lady on the bike would start cutting vegetables and heating the broth to cook the noodles. All these places were so good... never had sub-par noodles, ever. After lunch, we decided to split up for the day. Flick went about talking to the locals about places to eat, and rode his scooter all around town. Tex stayed on the strip and walked up and down looking for barkers that he could take down in a negotiation of best price for a Singha Beer T-shirt.
I got on my scooter and drove. I drove for hours, at least an hour out of town both ways. I found hidden beaches, little flea markets, beautiful temples and mosques, and simple scenes about rural Thai life. At one point I found myself driving up into the hills, and felt the temperature drop about fifteen degrees in two minutes. I gunned my Yamaha on a straightaway to find out the max speed... 101 km/hour, 104 km/hour down a hill with the wind at my back. I just let the wind blow thru my hair and filled my nostrils with the smells of the jungles, markets, and flowers that were around every corner. I am so buying myself a scooter wherever I live next. They're a death trap in Doha... but the next place, definitely.
I met up with Tex in town, and we headed to a scuba shop to fix his dive computer. Later, I went bargain shopping of my own in the souvenir shops. I saw Tex again, and we headed down an alleyway near our hotel. It was filled, both sides, with about twenty small bars, all empty. Suddenly, two girls came up behind us and wrapped their arms around our chests, pulling us into one for a drink. We obliged in a single beer, and headed to the hotel for dinner.
We met up with Flick, and went to a restaurant on the edge of town. Called Kruathara (After Tsunami), it was an amazing place ran by two aging midget sisters. We dug into piles of seafood: razorclams in chilies and noodles, BBQ conch, nameless fish, and bowls of mussels. Best part, we had baby conch that we pulled from the shells with small hooks and ate on the spot... so damn good. We followed it up with some tai tai ice cream and decided to go bar hopping.
We went into a store front on the main drag that opened up in the back into a secret circle of hoppin' bars! We walked around, ogling the exotic women dancing on the bars, calling out for us to come and join them. Many skipped the protocol all together and would dive into us, not letting go of our tender areas to get us to buy their overpriced drinks. Suddenly, the girls that had grabbed Tex and I earlier in the day saw us and convinced us to join them in their bar. Once again, we sat around playing Connect Four and Jenga (I think these are the only games in Thailand) while we watched barely dressed girls slank around strategically placed poles and mirrors... this was a good place to be.
We kept on bar hopping back to the alley by the hotel. This time, the groping was even more intense. It turns out that Thai women are turned on by folds of gut flesh and jiggling man-boobs... at least, that was what they were telling me. We walked the whole gauntlet of the alley only to finish up against a wall when Flick decides that the first bar was the best... so we had to walk all the way back thru the happy-handed women... shame. We sat down and challenged our ladies to Jenga while they wiped us down with cooling moist towelettes. Now that's service. Tex ended up getting lots of wasted attention because he whore his broken-down cowboy hat everywhere. It always ended up on some girls head, and we had to negotiate to get it back...
Later on, we ended up at the same bar from the previous night, where Flick and I held our own throughout the night. Tex left early... too much temptation for his weak constitution. I had a blast flirting with the bar ladies, and finished the night by showing off how petite they were by lifting some girls one-handed over my head. Hey!! They challenged me... and you never back down from a challenge with these women! A drunken scooter ride back to the hotel, and I was out like a light.
I wasn't hung over... but I was really tired. You never realize it at first, but scuba diving two hours makes you feel like you've ran a marathon the next day. That, plus the booze and heat, and I was really feeling rundown. We took it easy that morning, and I got up for an early morning scooter ride. The wind had really picked up, and massive storm clouds were coming into the shore.
Flick had arranged for us to take a longtail out to some of the secluded private beaches on one of the tiny islands offshore for snorkeling. We met up with a local who was going to join us, but found out that the surf was too rough for the small longtails to operate safely. Oh well... instead we headed out to find good hangover food.
And did we find it! Along a small stretch of road were about twenty of the scooter-restaurants selling a variety of meals including pad thai, noodles, fried pork, fresh fruits, and sweets. I ordered some simple pad thai and sat on a tiny plastic stool just off the road for lunch.
The best pad thai noodles... ever. Ate three plates. To this day, I can taste the citrus, herbs, and spice of that simple yet profound chicken pad thai. The best single dish I ate in Thailand... $1 roadside pad thai. On top of that, Flick treated us to one of his favorite dishes. Coconut milk steamed into little cups that form a scalding hot custard sprinkled with sugar on top... not even funny how good those were. Only ate about ten...
Afterwards, we all headed to the hotel pool for some relaxation and the hair of the dog. We had mai tai's in whole pineapples and rum from coconuts at the swim-up bar. It was here that we had an odd conversation. I was asking what one of the girl's names were from last night, and Flick answered with their names... followed by what their names meant. Now, my name has some ancient meaning from Arabic or Judaic that amounts to "son of the right hand"... ie, "favorite son." Most of western names have some old meaning that is derived from, or was taken from some odd, dead, language. But the meanings of Thai names are not so subtle.
One girl's name sounded like comb with a g-.. gomb. Flick said it means "shrimp." I asked if it was a pet-name, because she was tiny, she's called a shrimp. "No," Flick stated, "her name is shrimp." Now this got me going. "So if I go into a restaurant and order of plate of gomb... they will bring me a plate of shrimp?" Turns out yes. The translations of other people were fish, sunshine, and raindrop. This was astounding to me! With the exception of people who name their kids after flowers and celebrity kids, who has names like this?! I challenged Flick that, if following the Thai language rules, I could say a sentence like "Me and Weedwacker are meeting up with Towel and Ashtray to pick up Backhair and his girlfriend, Catfish." At this point, I got the bartender to laugh out loud. And don't get me started on the pronunciation issues we had with Mai/My/Mie/Muh-i...
Tex laid by the pool and read, Flick went driving for hours outside of town, and I went up onto the balcony and napped. Later, we ate dinner at a Korean style place where we cooked our own meats over hot coals on a modified Bundt pan... allowing the dripping to make a delicious soup broth.
W were all dead tired at this point. The scuba diving, the booze, the late nights... it had finally taken its toll. Flick headed back to the hotel to rest, while Tex and I drove around town playing with his fancy camera, trying to get some night action shots of Ao Nang. We headed out to the end of the beach for some quiet shots, and I enjoyed just listening to the waves lapping up onto the sand, while the town lights flickered beyond the treeline. After riding around for a little while more watching the people walk up and down the drag, and feeling the humid sea air against my face one last time, I headed to the hotel to read on the balcony with the ocean view nearby.
Hotel breakfast and packing to leave. We couldn't help ourselves, and had one last go with the scooters. We went to one of the overlooks I had found earlier, and paid way too much to gaze upon some simple fossils in the rocks. I took Tex up into the hills area, and we tried to get ourselves lost, only to find that we had completely circled Ao Nang without even realizing it. At the end of the trip, it started to rain... and that really fuckin' hurts on a scooter! It was like God decided to pelt us with BB's!
We paid for the hotel, $200 for three night with drinks, breakfast, and airport taxi... not too shabby. Then we reluctantly turned in our scooters, shedding quiet tears for our mighty aluminum and fiberglass steeds. I still miss mine...
We picked up a taxi van and quietly rode back to Krabi. We had to adjust some luggage around because Tex's bag was too heavy. But we waited for our plane in the tiny airport and had a quick, almost empty, flight back to Bangkok. The driver picked us up and took us back to Flick's house. Flick had a dentist appointment, and wanted to see some of his local friends, so Tex and I decided to spend the day relaxing and napping in some very strong air conditioning. We went and walked along the road near the house that is filled with little shops and food stalls. Along the way we ate noodle soup and picked up backs of sweet dried banana chips, chicken and liver satay on bamboo sticks, steamed rice buns, and more noodle soup. The afternoon was spent reading, sorting our laundry, checking our email, and downloading photos onto our laptops.
That evening, Flick's mom had prepared a simple dinner of noodles with chicken gravy and mixed fruit. It was the first time that we saw Flick's parents dressed down and relaxed in our company. His dad had to pick up his plate and quickly leave because his evening soaps were on, and he just couldn't miss his stories.
We all went to bed fairly early, knowing that we had a long day of sightseeing in Bangkok tomorrow.
Monday, June 15, 2009
For the record… before I even begin to tell you of my adventures through Thailand… when I left David Carradine in the hotel room, he was tied up and naked, but still breathing…
Whew… since that’s off my chest, I can begin regaling you about the ten days I spent with two friends traveling and eating our way thru Thailand.
Thailand is one of those places that everyone seems to go when their life needs a kick in the ass… lost my job, went to Thailand… wife left me, went to Thailand… wanted to try auto-erotic asphyxiation, went to Thai… Oops.
It seems that Thailand is a destination that allows people to leave themselves behind, and either come back a different person, or not come back at all. I once met someone in Houston who lived in Phuket for two years in his thirties. I asked if the move was for work, and he said “no… I just decided to stay.” I don’t know why people seem to feel that way about Thailand… why not Laos or Malaysia? I guess this was my chance to find out…
We arrived in Bangkok early morning after a seven-and-a-half hour night flight. The traveling party consisted of myself, my friend Tex (of the broken Jeep story posted a few months ago), and Flick, my karate teacher and a Bangkok transplant. We were picked up in a bitchin’ custom van by Flick’s dad. We greeted him with the customary hands together under the chin, slight bow, and the formal Thai greeting, which when sounded phonetically sounds like “Sour D-Cup.”
Flick’s dad’s driver took us from the airport thru Bangkok to Flick’s family’s house in a suburb in the middle of the city. Bangkok surprised me… I was thinking along the lines of pagoda style temples surrounded by waterways and low-slung buildings. Bangkok is not that city. It is huge, over ten million people that they can count, with high rises and sky scrapers for as far as the eye can see. In between the concrete towers were billboards the size of football fields looming over green tracts of land, with small canals meandering thru the city.
Flick’s house was amazing… a white-and-glass Falling Water. Extremely neo-modern design all bathed in egg-shell white and lit by huge open windows. Stunning. One problem though… we arrived just on the cusp of the rainy season, so the weather was really hot and humid… and it seems that most Thai people just don’t believe in air conditioning. We would have spent more time in the natural light of his kitchen, overlooking his father’s beloved koi pond, but it was too fucking hot in that house to step outside of our single air-conditioned bedroom! Thank god Flicks’s room had a built in massive air conditioner, or this trip may have ended real quick for Tex and I.
The house is located just behind a bustling street full of tucked away shops and restaurants. We put our things away, and went exploring. Tex had never been to a non-westernized country (non-Europe), so he was amazed at the variety of people and smells coming from the open doorways. I had told Flick that I was supposed to get my full beard trimmed before I left, but didn’t have time. So he suggested that I go with him to the haircutters he had been using since he was four. Sure, I said… they must be professional…
Mistake. Flick takes Tex and me inside, and explains in Thai that I want a trim and shave… or at least that’s what he said he told them. I lean back in the chair with my full Eric-the-Red beard intact, and Tex leans back next to me with his jaw line mini-beard (think the ugly Backstreet Boy) with goatee, wanting just a trim. My guy lathers my whole face up… I start to worry. I stop and motion to him that I just want a trim around the edges, gesticulating with my hands the area I want cut. He nods OK… and proceeds to take a razor straight down from my cheek to my jaw thru my thick and luxurious beard.
Damn. To make matters worse, I see him looking over at Tex’s face, and realize that he is copying his kicker-beard on me. Dammit. When he finishes, I look in the mirror at was once my own red badge of courage, and now it looks like I have a thin line of public hair leading from my jaw to my red Hitler-esque mustache. I guess I can’t complain. I paid the guy the equivalent of a dime for a shave… not realizing that Asian men don’t grow many beards unless they are masters of Kung Fu. I eased my pain with a Leo beer from the 7-11 and drank in the smells of the local noodle shops.
Flick’s maid, a cute Laotian named Noi, made us a breakfast of cooked rice and chicken porridge with a thousand year egg and fresh juice. If you want to know what a thousand year old egg tastes like, understand that it is a real egg that is fermented, then allowed to sit in ash and lime for several months… so leave it to your imagination. We each stole a nap, and awoke in the early afternoon. Flick’s mom had arranged for us to get some legit massages, so we took off.
Notice I wrote “legit." Thailand is known for its other massages… the ones that end in happy endings and money exchanges. Personally, I really wanted one of these massages… but considering I was traveling with a married man and someone with a girlfriend (and well yes… I have a girlfriend too… or at least I do until she finds out what I did on this trip…) we decided against it, for now.
We went to Let’s Relax, an upscale massage parlor in a high-rise overlooking the city. I snuggled up in a chair and allowed a middle-aged lady (oh please don’t offer me a happy ending!) to massage and scrape my feet for over an hour. While I giggled away the filing of my toes, my buddies decided to steal some extra sleep.
After the foot massage, we were taken to mats on the floor, sealed off from everyone else, and asked to change into some silken pants and shirts. The others didn’t have much of a problem with this request… but being a generally large man in a country full of Lilliputians, it took some work to pour myself into those pants. While we were getting ready for our next massage, I was jokingly showing off how tight the pants were when I ripped the entire crotch apart all the way down both legs. Not able to speak any Thai myself, I begged Flick to apologize for my huge thighs and offered to pay for the pants. Instead, I had to endure my massage with a towel over the rip as to not show off my wedding tackle to my massager.
I’m guessing she was pretty pissed off about the pants, because she proceeded to beat the living shit out of me for TWO HOURS! After the first fifteen minutes of near crying, I had Flick ask for a small towel that I rolled up and shoved into my mouth to prevent my screams/laughs/giggles from interrupting the other guests. It hurt so bad… but in a good way… but then it just hurt some more. I don’t know how massaging my bone marrow is supposed to help me, but she gave it her all. It ended with her beating me with a hot ball of herbs… can’t make this shit up.
After, we went to large, expensive mall where we were to dine at a famous Chinese restaurant. Flick’s mom had called ahead and arranged some of our dishes for us; including saving the dim sum that they serve at lunch. Besides the dim sum, we ate jellyfish salad, spring rolls, collard greens, Bangkok pheasant, and a whole roast suckling pig. For men that have not enjoyed the succulent deliciousness that is pork in many months, seeing a whole roast pig was heavenly. We only pulled off sections of the crispy skin to eat with strips of rice flour cake and sweet soy or plum sauce and cucumbers. Oh my God was that good!! After we had our fill of the skin, the cooks took the rest of the pork and made it into a crispy sweet and sour.
While reading this blog, you will notice that many of the experiences I will share will revolve around food… and for good reason. I love food… love it. I love food more than women… more than babies… more than dogs. I love eating what the locals eat, going to markets, and trying everything new on a menu. That in conjunction with the fact that we have limited dining options in Doha (and definitely no pork of any kind), made coming to Thailand, considered to be one of the top cuisines in the world, a major endeavor for me. At every meal we ate, I took a picture of the plates to remind myself later of the smells, textures, and spices I came across to share with you… and I plan to.
We walked around the mall, then across the street to the open markets gawking at the women. I don’t know if it is their tiny skirts, petite bodies, or exotic looks… or maybe just the fact that none of us has seen any leg since moving to Doha… but the Thai women are beautiful! I could not get enough of them…
We headed back home on the monorail (gotta' love cities with monorails). While on the train, I laughed at the names of the train stops… half were dirty phrases in English. Places like Mo Chit, Phloen Chit, and Hot Ho. I was waiting to get off at Steaming Crap or Fuck Your Mother station… but no luck.
When we got off, it came down… bucketfuls of torrential rain. It rained harder than I have seen in two years. Loved it. I bought a chocolate gelato to celebrate the clouds opening up on us. I ate my gelato while Flick negotiated to cabs for the final leg home. Back at his house, I finished the evening with a huge bag of wasabi pistachios for a late night snack.
When I awoke, I looked in the mirror and took a good, long look at the butchering Flick’s barber had done to my beard. One side was about a quarter inch think, the other side had a good two inches on it. I could not be photographed looking like this… so I borrowed Tex’s razor and shaved it off… leaving only an ugly goatee and some massive sideburns.
After coffee and tangerine juice, we loaded up the van with Flick’s mom, one of her friends and Noi, and headed to the open air food market in Bangkok, near the royal palace. A massive open roof under which were several football fields worth of cooking meats, spicy soups, and rack upon rack of possibly edible items that I had never seen before.
And I ate everything…
Huge slabs of smoked and grilled pork bellies. Sweet pork pieces on bamboo sticks with sticky rice. Dim sums, steamed rice buns filled with BBQ pork. Huge tables of fresh fish, pools of lobsters and crabs. Little balls of tapioca steamed with noodles and beef. Grilled cuttlefish. Fresh coconut milk with thin slices of the flesh melting away. Mealy fish sausages and pork and egg tacos. Raw spring rolls with herbs. Tapioca pearls in coconut milk. Chicken and beef satay with peanut and chili sauce…
Best part was that I finally got to eat the mythical fruit known as durian. Durian is known for one thing… its smell. It can only be described as rancid meat rubbed in sulfur, and then marinated in vomit inside of an old sock… it is really bad. But the fruit inside the noxious shell is incredible. It has the consistency and taste of thick banana custard! They said that if you eat too much it gives you mouth sores… fruit herpes. Flick’s mom said the normal way to eat durian is to finish it with sweet coconut rice and mangosteins… my other new favorite fruit... a deep purple husk with pearl white fruit inside… incredible.
We drove two hours northeast of Bangkok to a vacation house near the Khao Yai National Park (a World Heritage Site). On the way we saw large Buddha statues dotting the countryside. We pulled into some beautiful gardens with a large temple on the grounds. We were visiting a new temple that houses the largest statue of Luang Poo Suk, a famous monk that reached self-enlightenment.
Later, we went to dammed lake where there were about twenty lake-side restaurants lining the road. Men and women were standing out in the road trying to flag cars into their lots. We pulled into one (almost a shack) were they had ponds filled with blue prawns the size of large lobsters. Flick’s mom ordered us lunch and we were served split prawns, spicy wild boar, bony fishes, wild venison, and tempura fried morning glory… delicious food with a beautiful scene of a mountain lake next to us.
Next up was Flick’s house… another beautiful home in a setting overlooking the low mountains of the national park. Turns out Flick’s dad loves his koi, had yet another pond. The house sits on a small lake with a tiny plastic rowboat. I had give it a go… turns out I’m a natural water creature… skimming across the lily pads and the lotus blossoms.
Later went out with Flick for dinner. Went to a little dive place where his mom called ahead. All these little restaurants look like tin shacks, open air with no refrigeration. Ate another ten dishes… roasted pork, little fried whole fish we ate like potato chips, whole bony fish, friend collard green, rice, and their specialty, a whole fresh water just caught steamed fish. So damn good… and about six dollars for the lot.
That night we went to the national park to take a night spotlight trek. We drove thirty minutes into the park, swerving between piles of elephant shit up to the top visitor station on a pitch black road. Tickets for the spotlight tour were 50 baht each, but somehow we were suppose to fit ten people into the back of a tiny pickup truck, so we went ahead and bought all ten tickets for the four of us (driver came). After driving for forty minutes spotlighting nothing except for deer (deer… more deer… more deer), we came across a porcupine and even more deer… this time right next to the entrance of the visitor center.
Even though we weren’t seeing the wild tigers, Asiatic black bears, or herds of wild elephants, I was enjoying the cool night air… at least until it started to pour down buckets on us. Huh… rain in a rainforest… who knew? Tex wasn’t enjoying it as much… he was so gung ho about seeing wild beasts that he went ahead and bought himself a whole jungle trek outfit… bandana, khaki shirt and zipoff pants. Those plus his cowboy hat and large camera slung over his shoulder, he looked like Marlon Perkins’ assistant from National of Omaha Insurance Presents. Thankfully, our luck was about to change…
We kept driving, and suddenly saw an elephant below the road. Our guide said that was really rare to see an elephant in the park near the roads. Then, we saw another large one, with four babies in tow!! Our guide quickly circled the truck, saying that the elephants are known to charge when threatened. We pulled out the cameras and zoom lenses and started snapping. The two big ones circled the kids to protect them. Then the driver yelled out and swung the spotlight down into the valley. Another elephant, a mid-sized teen was spotted clamoring up the hill, and he joined in for pics. After ten minutes, the herd walked off, and we went back to the visitor center. I asked Tex how he was enjoying the trek now… “Much better” he grinned.
On the way back to the house we stopped into a roadside shop for a bowl of pork noodles. Went back to Flick’s to get dried off, have a beer, and relax. We finished the night eating an entire bushel of mangosteins and tangelos.
We woke early and ate breakfast outdoors… leftovers from our day in the open market… steamed buns, spring rolls, fried pork belly with tamarind paste and coffee. Flick really liked our guide from the night trek, and negotiated a price for him to give us a private trek thru the jungle. We headed back to the park early to beat the heat, and met up with our guide… let’s call him Jim.
While we were waiting to take off into the jungle, for the first time during our trip we saw westerners and Europeans in the park. We gave a lift to a Swedish couple who were spending a year traveling abroad… smelled like they had spent a year not bathing… damn he reeked! It was odd seeing Caucasians… Flick had taken us places only locals go, so we laughed when we pointed out the tourists… not realizing that everyone we had seen during the past three days were probably saying the same about us.
Looking around, I started seeing people wearing their pants tucked into their socks, and people with shorts wearing what looked like leg warmers. I asked Jim (any conversation from here on out with locals is being made with Flick translating… please assume Flick isn’t bullshitting me on what everyone said) what for… poisonous snakes? Millipedes? Dangerous plants? “No” he said… “Leeches.”
Leeches… ugh. Only thing I know about leeches is from the movie Stand by Me. They’re big, suck your blood, and one always attaches itself on your dick.
We started into the jungle from a small path. We were going to walk a four kilometer trek with some steps and paving stones in areas… jungle trekking for tourists. Let me make this clear though… this was not easy. It was non-stop ducking, weaving, jumping, balancing, and fending our way thru some incredibly nasty stuff… but it was amazing nonetheless…
Leafy green as far as you could see. Areas were absolutely thick with life; interwoven plants, bamboo, and trees, bugs of every kind running across our paths, mountain streams folding together into torrential rapids. We would walk thru thick plants towering over us, and then straight into a vale with no life on the ground… smothered because the overhead canopy was so thick it blotted out the sun. The sounds of gibbons and long-tailed macats hollering and barking overhead mingled with the chirping of bugs and lizards.
We trekked in single file, always on the lookout for wildlife… Jim told us stories about one time an entire party of rangers including Jim was resting when a bull elephant came into their camp… ten feet away from charging thru them, and they never heard a sound. He picked out pillbugs (rollie-pollies) that were the size of jawbreakers. He showed us elephant bugs, rare things that grow on the trunks of elephants then move to trees later in life. He also showed us tiger signs… since the park is a known tiger habitat. Several years earlier they had to track one down and kill it after it grabbed a child from the visitor area parking lot. Once they get a taste of human blood, they’re no longer afraid to hunt us.
Jim was really starting to freak me out.
On top of that, I was getting spooked out by the leeches. Leeches are attracted by heat and vibration, so as we walked over them, I could see two-inch long worms rising up out of the ground wildly swinging their heads around in the hopes of being able to attach themselves to us. Since I was normally in the rear of the pack, I couldn’t help but keep staring down as the earth leapt up and wriggled as the others passed ahead of me. Tex got one stuck into his shin; Flick got one near his dick (told ya!). I was lucky enough to keep flicking them off me before I felt a pinch.
We passed several secluded waterfalls and rapids, aware that a croc was seen leering nearby. We had to balance on fallen trees to get over streams, and scurry over rocks. I took a small fall while clamoring down some mossy rocks. Tex took two falls, one pretty bad. He fell on his ass then started to slide down the side of a steep hill… all the while protecting his Japanese tourist camera! Not a scratch on the camera though… although his ass was solid mud.
After two hours, we all started to get tired, both from the walking and the intense heat and humidity with the rising sun. Thankfully, our path popped out at a rest area where we broke out the water and stripped down to look for leeches. The park rangers had a little souvenir shop set up where we all bought some matching awesome tiger shorts…
After cleaning up a little and trying to cool off, Jim said we had a little more trekking to do… I didn’t know why since our driver was sleeping in the van right in front of us. Turns out the area where we came out was the entrance to the best waterfall in the park. If you’ve seen the movie The Beach, you may recognize it. We headed down about 100 of the steepest steps ever and climbed over some rocks to get to the most beautiful sight of the entire trek. Two huge waterfalls were cascading into a secluded pool, with ancient boulders and shade trees to sit under and watch. It would have been the perfect ending to the trek… but I had to climb back up those steps… Dammit.
As we left the park, we took some scenic overview pics, and got overly excited over two monkeys sitting atop some cars… you’ll understand the overly exited part later in the blog. We gave Jim a big tip (about a month’s salary) for not getting us killed, and headed back into town.
On the way, we spotted some elephants chained up outside of a resort hotel. Tex had said that he always wanted to take a jungle trek riding an elephant… and here were tame elephants. The driver swung around, and Flick talked with the hotel. We walked to the back of the hotel onto a ramp, and two full-size elephants came walking up the driveway.
Tex and Flick climbed aboard the bench on the first elephant, and I climbed aboard solo on the second. Our drivers headed down a narrow path and cut a swatch thru the dense jungle just behind the hotel. After a while, the elephant handlers jumped off and took our cameras while Tex and I slung down to sit on the elephants neck and slog thru a river. The ride was slow and relaxing, with the needle-like elephant hairs sticking up thru my pant legs.
We grabbed some basil fried rice on the way back to the house, and took quick showers to wash away the god-awful funk that permeated everything. Jungle trekking is not the most sanitary pursuits. We put all of our stinky clothes into a plastic bag, and noticed that Tex’s’ clothes still had leeches on them. Being the savvy chemists that we are, we nuked the leeches with some mentholated body powder and were tied together for the maids to wash later. We got into the van and headed back into Bangkok. On the way we picked up some sweet corn, bamboo shoots, and fresh hominy at road side markets to snack on the way home… because it wouldn’t be a Thailand vacation without snacking every two hours.
After a few hours of relaxing, we got a treat to meet Flick’s sisters and nieces. We joined the family for dinner including chicken consommé’ with feet and coxcomb, spicy blood pudding and bamboo shoots with noodles. For dessert, dragon fruit and durian chips plus birthday cake for a three-year-old’s birthday. The kids were too damn cute...
After dinner, we packed up for our next day trip to Krabi and Ao Nang...