Ko Lanta…

In Ko Lanta now, a great change from Ao Nang and Railay…in a way it’s a shame that the place that once held such a huge place in my heart has changed and I wanted to remember it in a different way, but if it wasn’t for our desire to find something else, we wouldn’t have gone to Ko Lanta.  Hard to say what it will be like here in another five years but for now it’s our new Railay…what follows are some journal excerpts from the past little while…

(journal excerpt-November 16, 2011-Railay Beach, Thailand)-Our plans have changed a bit and we are leaving for Ko Lanta tomorrow.  Originally we were planning on going to the islands off Trang, particularly Ko Muk which is famous for its beautiful Emerald Cave (a cave you enter at low tide that opens up into what sounds like an amazing lagoon with crystal clear water) but it seems like a bit of a fuckaround to get to from here.  I know that that is how it is and how one gets to the more isolated, less touristy beach but the cost of all the transport from here to there has also dissuaded us for the moment.  From here we can get to Ko Lanta fairly easily as the package ticket we can buy here is under $15 for us to get all the way there.  We are really hoping to be free from all the Canadian 20-somethings and Russians as Ko Lanta is a much larger area with 9 or 10 beaches=more spread out.  I know its wrong to be irritated by whole nationalities, one of which I am a part but really I am just irritated by large groups of people from anywhere that impose themselves upon you and dominate a whole area without respect for the people around them.  The Canadian idiots came home at 4am again last night and had full on yelling conversation with each other on their veranda.  I think the German woman who is next to us and seems to be alone must have come out and told them to be quiet because today they apologized to her…anyway, I am excited to be going to a new beach tomorrow and even the challenge of finding a new place to stay doesn’t bother me-this is the only real Thai beach I’ve been to and I’m ready to check out some more…Ko Lanta!

(journal excerpt-November 19, 2011-Ko Lanta, Thailand)-We have spent two nights in Ko Lanta and so far it has been a refreshing change from Railay.  The poeple here are so much more laid back and friendly and there is a lost more space for the tourists to be spread out in.  We are in Kong Khlong Beach which is rocky and not the best for swimming but known more for its snorkelling and backpacker crowd.  Lots of Bhang Lassi’s and Mushroom Shakes to be had although I am abstaining! Our guesthouse is called Blue Andaman Lanta esport and has a nice swimming pool.  Our room is much larger, newer and cleaner than what we had in Railay and has Cable TV but it is also 100B more.  The price upgrade has been worth it.  We are right on the beach and we have free wifi in the restaurant.  The area we are in is not very developed compared to the other beaches but if you walk about 15 minutes there is a 7-11 and another convenience store is just 2 minutes away.  Rood is somewhat cheaper here than Railay, as well we’ve found a great family restaurant with the sweetest couple and baby we have been eating at since arriving.  We also met an older man from Georgia wo has been good company and he also travels often for months at a time so he has some good travelling stories, many from years and years back before backpacking was as common…

(November 20, 2011-Ko Lanta, Thailand)-Very strenuous day of laying by the pool and beach har har.  Took some laundry this morning…)

(November 24, 2011-Ko Lanta, Thailand)-We have been in Ko Lanta now for one week and it feels like we’ve been here forever.  Time has come to a standstill and we rarely know which day it is.  Unfortunately it has rained most of the time we have been here and when it rains there is very little to do, which is still better than a day back at home at work! We visit our little restaurant every day with Pen, Pon and Pheat (that’s Pete, not Feet) and M and I play with him while his parents help the customers and cook.  The other day after we ate dinner they had no more customers and Pen asked me if we’d like to go with them to the main village for a festival.  For 10 days there was a huge market with food stalls, a stage for bands and about a million people.  I didn’t buy anything but Pen and Pon bought several shirts for their baby and some toys for him which broke the next day.  Pen needed new shoes so bad that her flip-flops broke on the way to the festival grounds meaning she had to walk barefoot in the mud till she bought some new ones for 120B.  They are a sweet family and they really seem to have very little but it’s clear how much they love their Kid.  Pen is 26 and Pon only 22.  Pen told me when she found out she was pregnant she wasnt happy because she and Pon had hoped they would have had money for everything for a baby before they had one.  She wanted an abortion but Pon refused and now she said she feels bad when she thinks of that and sees Pheat.  They struggle, their restaurant being only one month old but its clear they are happier than most people I know.  As for our Georgia friend it looks like he is skipping Malaysia for now and moving on to Vietnam instead.  Malaysia is likely going to be wet and he has never been to Vietnam…so with the Rain we mostly swim a bit until it starts, read and write and talk to the people in the restaurant or Georgia.  So far I have read:

Dead Souls-Nikolai Gogol

Eating Animals-J. Safran Foer

The Marriage Plot-Jeffrey Eugenides

A Visit from the Goon Squad-Jennifer Egan

The Cats Table-Michael Ondaatje

Our next adventure will likely be to attempt to get to KL by my birthday in one week.  From here we will go to Satun and spend one night, and then one or two nights max in Langkawi (not our favourite place) and then on to KL.  Our Visa expires in about 8 or 9 days and its hard to believe we’ve been in Thailand almost one month.  I’m looking forward to being in another big city for my birthday and I’m also looking forward to those amazing 1$ indian thalis Malaysia is so famous for! Thanks for reading…

xo

 

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Railay Beach con’t…

November 12, 2011-(journal excerpt)-Last night I was saying that we havent had rain here in the evening like you often see and about 15 minutes later it started pouring continuing well into the night.  Usually after dinner we walk around the beach but we couldn’t do much without getting soaked so we went back to our room and watched a movie (terrible-The Adjustment Bureau) on the computer.  Today it is still cloudy which we don’t mind so much as we told ourselves we’d spend one day out of the sun to nurse our burns.  We spent a bit of time swimming in the pool instead of the coean where it is a bit more shaded and met an American couple just briefly as they were on their way to lunch.

Tomorrow we will get up earlier and go to Ao Nang and Krabi as a day trip to see about getting a voltage converter as we are worried about charging our new computer and blowing the battery like M just did with his razor for the second time. 

A lot has changed here-there seems to be almost a desire to move this place away from the backpacker haven it used to be towards the more upscale family oriented resort island.  A new resort has been built on the shabby east side where we stay and gone are the DVD’s for sale and the movies playing in the restaurant at night and even the bookstores are gone here.  The place is riddled with Russians, the retired and little kids with their parents.  I certainly don’t expect a place to never change-beautiful places inevitably get discovered and I have no more claim to this area than anyone else who is here, but as M says, he feels maybe a small piece of his love for this place dies each time he comes here and we wonder if anyplace is unspoiled anymore.  Maybe there are no more secret places and we don’t deserve to know about them anymore than anyone else.  We are also here to take, exploit and leave…

Today our place was descended upon by a massive family of monkeys-they ran all along the rooftops, rifling through the garbage cans and tipping them over, pulling out 1/2 full yoghurt containers and first eating with a spoon and then their hands by the dripping handful.  Some annoyingly loud newcomers to our bungalow strip started feeding them biscuits only to have the package ripped from his hand as the little fucker ran for the rooftop.  From the asshole monkeys, to the bitchy woman in the mini-mart to ourselves-we are all here to take from each other what we can get. 

November 10 was Loy Kratong-an important holiday for Thais and apparently the last major one until New Years.   Beautiful “Kratong” are constructed from plants and flowers-a base made of a sawed segment of some kind of tree and is covered in orchids, marigolds and banana leaves, intricately folded with candles and sticks of incense in the middle.  You can make these yourself or purchase one.  The owner adds a piece of fingernail and a hair and a few baht as an offering to the goddess spirits of the water.  Then the Kratong is held up to the owners heads while they make a wish or prayer and the Kratong is held up to the owners head and placed on the water to float away (after lighting the candles and incense, of course).  The sea was all lit up with Kratongs and people were also shooting off fireworks and lanterns that float through the sky by flame.  On Railay, the Kratong celebration seemed relatively small and subdued compared to what I imagine would be taking place in BKK on the Chao Praya where the residents must have a lot to say to the river spirits.  But it was still beautiful and we sat on a second story platform open bar with pillows under the full moon and tamarind trees to watch it all take place.

Earlier I watched a woman meticulously constructing her kratong and I wondered about the sense of importance this had for her or if it was just a tradition that one does without spiritual ceremony, like putting up a Xmas tree out of annual habit.  Or was the careful placement of each folded leaf imbued with her hopes and wish and maybe this was a really big deal?  To construct something so beautiful but transient reminded me of buddhist mandalas made of sand and the next morning when we saw a few orchids and other bits washed ashore I thought of all those hairs, fingernails and coins sinking to the bottom in the dark water while their owners lay dreaming of their dreams full of food and drink…

Railay Beach, Thailand

(Journal excerpt)

Apologies right off the bat for the lack of photos and formatting here. I am at some dodgy internet cafe in Thailand and nothing on this computer is working for me. I had prepared a bunch of photos on my memory stick to post here, but alas, it will not work. Hopefully at the next place. What follows below are some journal excerpts from the past few days…

“November 11, 2011-Railay Beach, Thailand-Okay so we flew and it was better and now we are on the beach and it is amazing of course. It has changed a lot since we have been here last. Ao Nang is more built up and there is a freaking Starbucks here now but the place is still beautiful and it is great to be here. We flew into Krabi Airport and hired the bus to take us into Ao Nang. Since it was night we decided to find a hotel in Ao Nang and go to Railay the next day. We went to the guesthouse we stayed in last time we were here, tired and hungry. We took the room almost immediately but it wasnt too long in the room, after dinner that we found a bed bug crawling on top of the blanket (surprising even for us as usually they don’t come out until its dark and you’re in bed-leading us to believe it was quite infested) but there wasnt much we could do about it but get in the bed and have a restless awful sleep as the office was already closed and it’s not like we would get our money back. We had previously contemplated staying in Ao Nang two nights but this solidified our original idea that we might as well move on. In the meantime, M’s electric razor conked out which is exactly what happened to him in Vietnam during our last trip and we still hadn’t learned to buy a voltage convertor..I’m pretty sure he shorted it out. The next day, M riddled with bites (Im okay for bed bug bites, they don’t usually like me but I did get a million flea bites in Bangkok the night before), we packed up and left. After a short boat ride we were back in Railay and it fixed all our problems. We are back at Diamond Cave and after one night in the slightly better 500B room, we moved back to our regular dumpy ghetto room with what might possible be the worst bed I’ve ever slept in, including that which I have found in Malaysia and India! But oh well-you sacrifice a lot when you travel for the natural beauty and beach-insect bites, bad bads and electronics not working properly etc.

The jungle here is amazing here and now that Ive seen a few Apichatpong movies, I cannot look at it the same way. Distant birds calling in the depths you cannot see and the imposing limestone cliffs that absorb everything-what we call common tropical houseplants are massive trees here-today I saw a palm frond the length of a house and the flowers are best of all-frangiapani, orchids and a million other fragrant things I cannot identify. I am in love with frangiapani at the moment. Speaking of flowers, I had a banana and honey pancake here and the honey tasted like jasmine-I think I need to buy some and drag it around with me…more later when I have a table-this is too difficult to write…”

and on to….where?

That’s right kids-we’re going to Bangkok.  Are we crazy? I don’t know, but our ticket was already going there-Korean Air seems to be making no concessions for the flooding and so we are on to Bangkok tonight.  Our last few days in Seoul have been great.  Yesterday I went to a Jimjilbang (Korean spa) which was nice and no comparison to the little one floor one I’ve been going to in Canada.  This was a 6 floor multiplex, complete with arcade, movie theatre, nail bar, concessions, at least 15 different kinds of hot and cold baths (indoor and outdoor) and saunas.  It was a bit confusing the first time and so not *completely* relaxing, but I think if I get a chance to go again, I’ll feel better.  It’s also more fun to go with a friend and since I was missing my jimjilbang partner, it didn’t quite feel right. You can read about the spa I chose here.  

The day before we went to Jogyesa, a beautiful buddhist temple in the city.  I will post photos of this soon, I just don’t have them at hand right now.  The temple was covered with chrysanthemum flowers of all shapes, sizes and colours.  There was chrysanthemum bonsai and even a giant elephant statue made from flowers.  Apparently it is only this certain time of year that these flowers are here and the english speaking help told me that they are considered purifying to the mind to gaze upon.  Inside the main temple are the three buddhas of avalokiteshvara, amitabha and sakyamuni (if I’m not mistaken) and a million lanterns and colours and paintings.  Very different from Japanese austere and dark temples I am more familiar with, this one obviously shows the artistic progression of buddhism from its origins in India, up through Tibet into China and down into Korea.  Several people have told me that this temple is not as beautiful as the one’s here in the countryside or as old, but I thought it was pretty nice! Photos soon…

So ya, back to the Bangkok situation.  I think we will get a better impression of how things are going there once we arrive.  We have no intention of staying there at the moment, but we may need to stay there a day or two.  Our plan is kind of loose at the moment.  We will either go back to the airport the next day, and fly out to Kuala Lumpur, or take the train to Krabi and go to the south of Thailand where we are away from the flooding and have been to several times before.  Then we can explore Bangkok further later on our way up to the north and into Chiang Mai, possibly after we leave Laos.  I am not used to travelling with such a loose plan and it totally goes against my overbearing, controlling nature 🙂 But I think it’s good for me and I’m learning to go with the flow.  Anyway, this is the last of our free internet and hot showers for a while.  Next post will be from…I don’t even know where!

Seoul…

Me being stupid-elevator-Seoul

Seoul is great so far.  We are really enjoying it.  We have been walking around everyday pretty much all day and the jet lag has been hard to shake off.  Does that get harder as you get older? I don’t know.  I don’t recall my mother or my in-laws being tired when visiting us in Japan-they were pretty much raring to go.  But last night I slept through the night so I know I’ll feel much better today.

Hello Kitty Cafe!

The weather here has been gorgeous and we’ve been wearing t-shirts and no jackets everyday.  It’s a lot more smoggy than I thought it would be and that took some getting used to but after the first couple of days, I didn’t notice it anymore.  It was hard not to think of Japan, coming here and to draw comparisons even though I really didn’t want to.  That is my main resource of Asian experience and being so close, I expected there to be some similarities.  Living in Japan, you hear about Korea taking cues from the Japanese in areas of fashion, music etc.  I’ve heard a few negative things about the people here that made me wonder what it would be like.  But I’m happy to say, I was very pleasantly surprised.  The people here are friendly and warm and in comparing Seoul to Tokyo, a bit more relaxed than Tokyoites.  They seem to take a bit more time for socializing at lunch time, laughing and having fun.  Fashion reigns supreme here but there is a bit more variation in the women here-there are girls here of all sizes and fashion to accommodate them!

Crazy nails!

I’m not saying people aren’t image/weight conscious here as they most certainly are, but just that you see a bit more individuality in the city here, or at least that’s my impression so far.  Living in a city is very different from being a tourist so I’m sure there is a lot to learn.  But so far we are really liking it here. 

We have been to Bukchon Hanok Village which I really enjoyed but because some of our company at the time was less than desirable, I think we are going back there today so we can check it out further.  It’s an amazing old village of hills and unique shops and cafes, independent designers and vintage stores.  I loved it.

The food has been great here and while you definitely do not see much vegetarian food on a menu, we were surprised to find strictly vegan restaurants and restaurants willing to accommodate our requests.

Rice, pancake, tofu soup and makolli (korean rice wine)

We spent time the day before yesterday in Myeongdong, a huge shopping district and Namdaemun, a massive open street market.  Yesterday we hung around our district a bit more, which is full of restaurants, shopping and bars.  Seoul has a VERY active nightlife and it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a weekday or weekend.  People here are out drinking and socializing EVERY night. 

You can check out my flickr set for more photos.  I would have uploaded more but that little bit is already 1/2 of my one month space allotment.  I think I need to change to another photo host that allows more space.  I realize this post is a bit convoluted and all over the place-hopefully that will get better with practice!