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...