Monday, June 30, 2008

I swam in this...

Each of the 7 waterfalls at Erawan national park had pools which were heavily populated with a fish whose species I'm ignorant of. They nip you if you don't keep moving but it doesn't hurt, it seems most closely related to mild sexual harassment.

Star Wars Episode 0: The Bridge on the River Kwai

One of the nicest things we've done since arriving here has been rafting down the river kwai. They give you life jackets (I chose the hi-vis green one because the alternative was red and we were told not to wear that colour visiting the tigers; I thought not being mauled would improve the day significantly - not that there probably are any left in the wild, that theme park probably has a monopoly, like a drug dealer in a slum, sooner or later if all your mates are doing it you want a hit, and then there's no escape) and sit you on a raft. Those brave enough, and that includes me, can jump in a float down along side the empty raft. The water was cool (temperature not attitude), really pleasant to swim in. There wasn't a single sign of any hungry and aggressive looking animals and when I happened to conjecture to our group that swimming in this river might give us all some exotic disease the gondolier(?) took a cupped handful and drank it. There's nothing so pleasant and surreal as floating down a warm river surrounded by jungled hills and bathing elephants.

Later on we were taken to the famous bridge, which was weird for me since I don't know anything about it and haven't seen the film. ( I know, I know) Funnily enough everyone I asked, including Adam knew little or nothing about it and hadn't seen the movie either.

There was a constant stream of people walking across and I wonder how many were there for the actual history of the thing (which is the most noble scenario), because of the movie (ignoble but still better than option 3:), that they are aware that Obi Wan Kenobi was in another film set here and this is the titular bridge.

The Bridge, all together now (I'm so sick of saying it), Over The River Kwai.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

On the exploitation of Tiger/Snake/Elephant

I wouldn't say we're 'trapped' here, more like legally compelled to stay, so to run down the time (almost a week we hadn't anticipated) we hit locally cultural delicacies.

That amount of time in this town necessitates a few trips and below is the sad photographic evidence of my complicity in the exploitation of three fine specimens of deeply unfulfilled animal POWs. Tigers, snakes and elephants.

A tiger cub, full of the natural instinct and ferocity of a genuine, not-for-show tiger engages in a deadly battle with some blue plastic.

Queuing for a ride on an elephant I was slowly but almost fatally attacked by an albino burmese python. I took it rather well all things considered, I think he stopped trying to kill me because I was laughing so much that it cheapened the whole affair.

It is against the law in Thailand to drive with no hands... talk about a gangster.

To be honest I felt a little weird about what all those animals must do when we're not around, I'd like to think they're happy, and I suppose considering they don't know anything else that could be said to be true, but they seemed a little dead on the inside. The tigers in particular were so sedate that I wouldn't be surprised if it came out that in the morning they were given, along with what I hope is a lot of raw meat, a twenty minute drip of dopamine direct to the spinal column. While we were sitting there rubbing them (just looking isn't considered to be enjoying them enough, one must touch to get one's money's worth) I was wondering what it would take to get one really angry, if it was possible at all and to be honest, if I had walked up to the biggest one and kicked his almost sleeping head clean off the ground I doubt he would have reacted. Sad but true.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A bag of coke and two tickets to Kanchanaburi

So Bangkok was too much to take after two days. Adam well equipped with what might have been described in a more polite time as a 'dicky tummy,' was in no fit state to keep walking down streets with four lanes of RELENTLESS traffic, being accosted on one side by the alternating smells of freshly prepared pad thai and slowly decomposing (but for the moment still alive) dog.

They told us it would take two days per visa for each of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam - we later found out that all but the vietnam ones could be procured at the border - so we hand over out passports and escape to the west. Kanchanaburi looked great from the smoggy streets of Bangkok so after yet another (it's getting boring reading it I know - but living it is a very different story) deathwish cab ride that took 45 minutes (and cost roughly 2 euros) we arrive at Thonburi station.

They only operate 3rd class trains out there so we buy two third class tickets and when I see the train, windows open, slowly growling, looking like it and all it's inhabitants want to eat me I decide that I've had enough. I need a bag of coke. I know, I know I shouldn't have but things got on top of me. To be fair it wasn't hard to find, and was bigger than any I've ever seen. Quite cheap too. Pictured below.

Be honest, it's huge - and it only cost 24 cents!

The view from the train. Rural Thailand.

A note on the below: I was too giddy with excitement to think of what to do with this afterwards. The ice inside was probably tap water frozen so drinking was out of the question: I found a public toilet at the station, girled by a young Thai who was conked asleep so I pretty much stole a go to dump this down the sink. From purchase to disposal I was bent over laughing... The locals must hate people like me...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hospitality and the Deathwish Taxicabs

So having finally found our hostel after an agonizing walk, (a couple of miles at least through central Bangkok with a full rucksack in humidity that's verging on being under luke warm water) without seeing a single other backpacker and having had no sleep for the bones of 48 hours - we got a cab from the airport but when I said Sukhumvit Soi 38 he only heard the 8 (Soi 8 is very very far away from Soi 38 - I think soi means street incidentally) - we decided that we were too awake to bother trying to get some rest and got a taxi to the Khao san road.

It didn't look too far on the map and the hostel dude said it shouldn't cost more than 100 baht but to make sure and either agree that with the driver or argue with him until he put on the meter. Having had said argument and gotten good and deep on the wrong side of him in so soing he takes off. I won't waste time (especially with this hangover) trying to find colourful ways of expressing how dangerous that ride was, motorcyclists weaving around us at top speed to the point that I thought it was all a show being put on for us, a very near miss with another cab, thundering through a massive roundabout that was thick with cars at 65... That was bad enough but when we had been in the car about 25 minutes with no sign of getting anywhere but deeper into slums I started to get worried. I didn't want to look at Adam's face in case it betrayed a similar dismay. Freaking out is bad enough without someone else confirming that it's probably appropriate. Later on when we finally got to Khao San (it turns out he was probably just doing the 'scenic route' thing that cabbies everywhere pull) we would both exchanges relieved certanties that we were being driven to a squat where some hard men would relieve me of my money, credit cards, consciousness and possibly liver. It made the drink we eventually got that bit better though.

Khao San is mental, one long street where you can't take two steps without being offered a good deal on a 'ping pong' show. I didn't realise they were so into sport over here.

Couple of hours later and we're drunkish. I suggest heading back in the interests of surviving at least the first day but Adam's having none of it (and rightly so) so we walk down the road, whose masses being to dwindle and a few of whose shops and stalls are closing and fend off a couple more invitations to observe a woman perform a lascivous and salacious act of pseudo table tennis and we're grabbed by a quartet of thai girls who insist we go into the club they promote. I'm apalled at the age of the youngest one, who's no more than 12 and out on this street, and ask her age, she agrees to tell me if I agree to go into the club. What could I do? Having been physically and otherwise shoved in the door I ask her again. "42," she says and I'll give her this, she acts it.

Mai, Sum Laff, Was Da Stow Ree and Fern.

I won't go into specifics but thai girls like foreigners. Again trying not to descend into bad form by indulging in vulgar details I'll say this, the thought occured to us, having spoken broken english to a few people that it would be nice to see Bangkok from the point of view of a local. I say this thought occured but it was pretty much thrust upon us. So somehow, frankly langers, a minute later we're piled, two in the front, five in the back, into one of those deathwish taxicabs.

Soon after we're in the one room apartment in downtown Bangkok of a charming girl named Mai, the six or seven of us, Adam and I, Mai and her friends. Talk about a baptism of fire. Some first night...
The view from their balcony.

Edit: I only remember the names of the two on the far left and right in the photo above so the facetious act of attributing joke names was borne of necessity, not cultural insensitivity, I swear.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fear and Loathing 37,000 feet above Kabul

He who makes a beast of himself escapes the pain of being a man

-DR. Johnson

Okay so four hours in and I'm three whiskeys and two beers deep, can't sleep no matter what and it hits me that I'm going to be in Bangkok in a couple of hours. I look at the flight plan on the screen in front of me and we're hovering above Kabul, all the cities we're passing out seem like places you just don't go and it brings home the reality of what I've started. It's easy to say "I'm off travelling," but keeping the good humour that comes with planning when it actually starts is a little more difficult.

In an attempt to outrun the fear I order another whiskey - they have Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on the movie menu, a film I've seen at least 20 times but never once sober.

I can't speak the language, it could be a really dangerous city, I don't know where I'm going, it's going to be way too hot, I might get sunburned really terribly and have to go to hospital, what if I forget specify that I don't want ice in my drink and get dysentery- it's probably way too hot to be sick over there.

It's funny, watching Hunter Thompson attempt to check into a las vegas hotel suite under an assumed name with intent to commit capital fraud on a head full of acid actually chills me out a bit. I not going to be that bad at least... am I?

Notes on arrival:

1. I should have learned more Thai and not expected that bowing a little with my hands pressed together (called a wai, the equivalent of a handshake) with a stupid look on my face would intuit to everyone I was going to meet what I wanted.

2. Everyone who works on the front lines of tourism in Bangkok is out to get you. Just finding a taxi who isn't going to drive you whereever he feels like going and overcharging for it is a task that requires about as much effort as a days work. I'm unsure about whether this is an indictment of how hard I'm used to working or not but what I mean is: it's hard.

3. Everyone who drives a motorized vehicle in Bangkok has a death wish and gets up in the morning in the fervent hope of commiting ludic suicide. 100mph in lane 4 of 6 with more cars on the road than I've ever seen at rush hour at home and the taxi driver decides he wants to be on the far left: What does he do? He pulls the steering wheel down sharply with his left hand! That's all you need to do. I've taken four cab rides at the time of writing: I have no right to be alive.

4. Bangkok is huge.

Brenda Fricker

Okay so we get to london (trying to find our connection) and there's a woman at arrivals with a sign that says: BBC - Brenda Fricker.

The correct thing to do would have been to get to the gates quickly but the right mistake? Wait and see if she shows, twenty minutes later Mrs. Brown appears. Totally worth it.