Saturday, April 29, 2006

Marriott Rules!

We came back pretty late to the hotel last night, after wandering through the seedier parts of Bangkok in search of pirated t-shirts and such.

Sitting on the bed in the hotel room when we got back, was a card.

"Dear Mr. Soghoian, I understand that you have been feeling unwell during your stay at the Marriott. We hope you get well soon, and please accept this gift from us. Signed, Marriott General Manager"...

and under the card, was a large box of tasty chocolates.

In addition, they let us have a late-checkout, giving us over 24 hours in the hotel. What a deal!


I spent the rest of the day doing a bit of shopping on Khao San Road.. Honestly, I'm sick of buying stuff (and I bought so little). I just can't motivate myself to buy anything really - I have too much stuff back in the US, and there is just nothing I need that badly.

I'll be returning to the US with the same backpack that I arrived with.. no other suitcases...

I've spent most of the night here at a 24/7 internet cafe. In 20 mins, i'll catch a cab to the airport, putting me there at 4AM when checkin opens, and thus, insha'alla, I'll be rewarded with exit-row seats for my entire journey.

Fingers crossed. 20 hours of flying with no legroom will be awful otherwise.

Friday, April 28, 2006

In Bangkok

Bangkok traffic is awful.

Backtracking slightly - I arrived somewhat late to Chiang Mai airport, approx 25 minutes before the flight was due to leave. Had it not been for the fact the airplane was late, they surely would have told me to get lost.

Once I arrived in Bangkok...I hit the traffic. My flight arrived at 1PM, the airport bus showed up at 1:30PM, dropped me off at 2:30PM and the taxi for the final leg took another half hour.

However, it was worth the journey.

I got to the Marriott Bangkok Resort and Spa, went to the reception, was met by a lady with moist linen towels and fresh fruit juice, who checked me in.

Her: Sir, we have great news for you
Her:: We have upgraded you to a junior suite, and your wife has checked in early. She is waiting in the room for you.

My wife, eh?

One of my travel buddies from India (and later northern Thailand) had just come back from Laos, where I should have been. I told her about my awesome free night at a five star hotel, and offered to let her have the other double bed in the room - after all, with my foot, I can't really use the swimming pool, jacuzzi or sauna - so someone might as well enjoy it.

I was met at the door of the hotel suite by a Jumping-up-and-down excited Israel girl - going crazy over the fact that we have a huge room, a proper bathtub, a balcony (that is at least 20ft long), with a view over the river, and 2 beds covered from top to bottom in soft pillows.

It's the first time she's ever stayed in a hotel that costs more than 5 dollars a night :)

It seems that my trick worked quite well. I emailed Marriott a few days ago, told them that I had been travelling for 8 months, and this would be the first time that I'd seen my wife in all that time, and anything they could do to make the stay a bit nicer and more romantic would be much appreciated. Hence the suite upgrade.

The lady at the reception was rather shocked when I still insisted on 2 beds, even though I was supposed to be having a romantic rendevous with my long-lost-wife.

The even funnier thing, is that I've sent the same request to the Marriott in DC, where I'll be staying in 2 days - with a completely different wife.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Google Internship

The contract arrived by DHL international delivery today.

With a signed contract in hand, I assume it's fair to announce to the world (hah) that this summer, or rather, in just over 3 weeks, I'll start working at Google's HQ in Mountain View, California.

I learned a painful lesson last summer regarding how far Silicon Valley is from San Francisco (and thus anything fun), esp. for those without cars.

In spite of the availability of killer Indian food in Sunnyvale - I will not be moving back there. I'm currently in the process of craigslist-ing a summer sublet hopefully near to the panhandle/Haight street area of San Francisco.

As per prior reading on other blogs, I've gathered that Google doesn't like it when people discuss their jobs/internships on the internet, and so I doubt i'll be talking about the job again.

The one burning question for me - is going to be the quality of Google's food.

There is much hype spread around about the amazingness of the Google campus, the free food, etc..

However, last summer at Apple - was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for a vegetarian. After all, Steve Jobs, the CEO, is vegan.

We shall see if Google's food options beat those of Apple.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Shopping Fatigue and Gifts

Chiang Mai has a reputation as one of the best places to buy stuff in Thailand.

Given that I'm leaving here on the 28th, today was my last Sunday Market (the major shopping event)... and while I saw loads and loads of 'stuff' - clothing, jewellery, etc that would make perfect gifts for people and general purchases for myself, I just can't do it.

After 2 hours of strolling, I managed to buy 5 loofahs (25 cents total) and 20 floating bath candles. That's it.

I'd like to say that after 8 months of backpacking, that I'm so used to living out of my backpack that I'm now beyond the materialness of buying nice looking clothes. Everything I have is functional, and gets thrown/given away when it's not needed anymore (For example, now that i'm staying in Fancy hotels all the way till my departure from Thailand, I managed to even give away my travelling bedsheets, laundered of course, to a fellow backpacker).

However, a more realistic explaination is probably that I'm suffering from choice fatigue. The fact is that backpacking, especially by yourself, is an excercise in selfishness. Within the confines of the country you're in, you do essentially whatever you want. And with 8 months to work with, and a fairly healthy budget, I essentially had free choice from thousands of options (where to go, what to do, who to be with, what to eat, what to wear, how long to stay, blah blah blah).

Combined with the hundreds of possible things you can buy here, that maybe i'm suffering from choice-overload. I'm so used to contemplating major choices (which town next), that the choice between red and blue pants is too much - andso I don't buy anything.

However, this attitude, if extended to its logical conclusion, would mean that I'll
arrive back to the US gift-less. Which will probably make me an asshole.

Luckily, i've managed to paint myself into a lucky corner....

I'm booked on a flight with Air Asia on the 28th from Chiang Mai to Bangkok - a dirt cheap, no frills airline, that only allows a single checked-bag of 15kgs...

If I start buying gifts here in Chiang Mai, my bag will rapidly become overweight, and thus I'll have to pay through the nose.

Thus, I'll really only have that one day in Bangkok to buy a few gifts. Spiffy. No major shopping.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

All falling into place

Ok, things are crystalizing somewhat.

The current plan is so:

Stay here in Chiang Mai till the 28th.
Fly to Bangkok.
Checkin to the Marriott Bangkok Resort for one night (freebie, woo woo!) for a bit
of pampering.

The next day, check-into a complete 2 dollar hovel, as I'll just be using the shower there.

I leave on the morning of the 30th, and have to be at the Airport at 4AM (esp. if I want to guarantee exit row seats all the way on my 25+ hour journey - legroom is totally worth arriving an hour extra). Thus, there is no point in sleeping, esp. since i'll have all that wasted time on the airplane.. So the plan is to stay up all night on or around Khao San Road, nip to my cheap hotel for a shower at 3AM, and then go to the airport to checkin.

I arrive in DC on the night of April 30th, spend one night at a spiffy DC Marriott (again, thanks to free points) to visit a friend.

Leave DC the night of May 1, fly 45 mins down to Charlottesville, where I stay for 5 days and take care of lots of things (my taxes are still not done. Eek!)

May 6th, fly to Indianapolis, and go direct to Bloomington for a bit of apartment hunting. I've found a few people from who have kindly agreed to put me up for free.. Awesome eh?

May 11th, fly back to Charlottesville.

May 13th, fly to San Francisco.

May 16th. Begin summer job.

Eeek! So much to do, so little time.

I now have health insurance, thank goodness.... although, I doubt it covers much.
The biggest item on the to-do list is to now find a place to live in SF... i've been sending out a million craigslist emails per day. Hopefully something will come through. Hopefully, it won't be in the middle of a ghetto.

In the Groove

It's taken a while, but I think i'm getting into the groove of Chiang Mai.

Foodwise, i'm in heaven now - I've found one restaurant that has about 10 different types of fake-meat, and their khao soi (yellow noodles, oyster mushrooms, tofu/soy, red curry and coconut milk soup and lots and lots of spice) is out of this world. I've started making friends with the street-side fruit and iced-tea vendors, and the ice-cream carts that walk by my hotel now know that I like lots and lots of peanuts on my coconut-ice cream.

My time is spent mostly strolling, slowly (due to the foot). The only thing I can really do here is sit on the internet and take care of stuff (so much to do, so little time), eat, and go to the hospital... and so, i've spread things out.

My hotel is in one part of town, my restaurant is 15 minutes away, just next door to the statue of the 3 kings (a big square where you can chill out) and also next to a giant Buddha statue which the songtao (pickup-truck-taxi) drivers Wai (semi-bow) to as they drive me by...

I've found an amazing massage place, with a male massuse (an extreme rareity here), who is perfect at applying extreme force to my muscles (far too many of the massuses here are pretty young girls, who, while they provide for significant eye-candy, leave much to be desired in the actual massage) all for the cheap sum of 120 baht per hour.

The blues bar has been closed for the last two days, due to local elections, but I'll be heading there tonight, I hope....

I'm planning my departure from the city, which will be in about a week. I'll be visiting the Sunday market in a few days to stock up on clothes for myself (and a few select others), and then that'll be it.. goodbye Chiang Mai.

I've been meaning to visit a foreigner in a Prison... I may do it in Chiang Mai, or if that doesn't pan out, I'll visit the much fabled Bangkok Hilton right before I leave......

Internship news soon

The contract is on its way to Thailand by Fedex.

As soon as it's physically in my hand, i'll have more news to report.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Sweet Salvation

Travellers get jaded. You can generally pick someone out when they've been on the road for a while - mainly because they tend to not drum up conversation. In fact, the less time someone has been travelling, the more likely they are to strike up a chat (due to the fact that there is so much info they need to get).

And so, I go for days here without chatting to a single foreigner... Every once and a while, someone strikes up a chat, but I honestly stereotype, and if I think they're fresh off the boat, I lead the conversation into a brick wall.

So today - I actually struck up a conversation with an Israeli/American woman (after overhearing her talk to someone on the phone enough to realize she lived in Chiang Mai). We start chatting, she invites me to lunch, and brings me on the back of her motorbike.

I hit the motherload! She's a vegetarian, and sings blues in the evenings at a few bars around town...

For days, i've been suffering with the crappy foreigner-aimed vegetarian food (which is overpriced, and bland)... She took me to an awesome hole-in-the-wall vegan place aimed at buddhist chinese people. A choice of 8 different soy-based fake meat dishes, all for 20 baht (50 cents). Woo! I'll be going there every day.

She also told me the name of 2 bars in town that have live blues/jazz every night - which means I'll be able to fill my time here with something other than BBC News and CNN.

In theory, there is an entire street filled with reggae bars less than 4 mins walk from my hotel - the only problem is, the bands playing there do nothing but non-stop awful Bob Marley covers (not exactly my cup of tea) - and are essentially a meat market where foreigners go to pick each other up (as opposed to the bars on the main strip near the moat, where foreign men go to pick up Thai women).

I'm not drinking anymore (my alcohol consumption lasted all of two days), I hate bob marley covers, and I don't want to have a one night stand with a thai hooker or a drunken foreigner - thus, that scene is just not for me.

The blues thing should be good though. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing live Blues every night in pai - it was the highlight of Thailand so far... If I can find the same quality level here, I'll be in heaven.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Medicine 101

Open wounds (even those bandaged up), and public 5-day water fights do not mix well.

And so, when i went to the hospital this evening for my routine changing of dressings, I was told that my toe is re-infected... And that they had to cut me open, and remove the rest of the toenail.

So thats it. The entire nail is gone, my foot is yet again cut open, and there is no way in hell that i'll be able to go to the beach for a few days before I leave Thailand.

I'm essentially stuck in Chiang Mai until a day or two before I leave Thailand.


The Insurance company is quite nice, they're paying for everything - and contacted the hospital yesterday, so that they pick up the bills directly now. In theory, they'll be contacting my hotel soon to do the same...

But yeah, so i'm stuck here... and the doctor has now told me not to walk anywhere I don't absolutely have to. So i'll be hanging out at my hotel a lot for the next week or so.


On the upside - I am hoping to have my internship contract signed by next wednesday, fingers crossed.

Scantily Clad Foreigners

The water festival is wrapping up today.. thank goodness.

The first two-three days were fun... but today is the 5th day, and honestly, I'm happy its over. I've spent the better part of the last two days hiding in internet cafes, just to avoid having more water splashed on me. For a few hours each day, it's fine.. but esp. as the afternoon fades, it becomes pretty annoying.

I must have seen tens of thousands of people in the streets the past few days. The crowds were jam-packed, traffic at an almost standstill, and you could see an endless stream of buckets-on-a-string being thrown into the moat before they were hoisted up, thrown on someone, and then plunged back into the water again.

In the last few days, with all those people.. so many people - The only topless people I've seen have been foreign men. Thats right, during a period where everyone is joining in with the local festival (which constists of water fights and getting drunk), quite a few foreign men (and unfortunately, most with American accents) seem to think it's cool to strut around in their swimming trunks and bare chests.

I'm not sure what goes through their heads - the thousands of other drenched men are still wearing t-shirts.... Do they think they're the first people to realize that it might be a bit more comfy without a t-shirt wet stuck to their back?

You can see the reactions amongst the Thai hear the whispers, and the dirty looks...

And alas, we all get lumped into the same boat - damn farang.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Sexy Ride Home

Chiang Mai is actually a good city to be stuck in. Internet is dirt cheap here, fast, and I can use Skype to make free phone-calls back to the US.

What with the fact I still haven't signed a summer internship contract, I still don't have summer housing sorted out, and I'm still balancing abot $80k of 0% credit card debt - there are lots of things to take care of, and lots of phonecalls to make... And due to the timezone difference, I can really only get stuff done late at night (if I want to talk to people in the US).

And so, the other night, I finally left the internet cafe at 3AM.. and walked out to a completely empty street. I walked down to the main road, and there wasn't a tuk-tuk/rickshaw in sight.. What to do?

After 7 months on the road, in very safe countries, I've quite comfortable with the idea of hailing down a passing motorbike, and asking them for a ride...

Thus, the first person I saw, I waved down. It was a rather attractive young woman on a motorbike - her english wasn't that great, but good enough to understand where I wanted to go...

I started to make smalltalk...

Me: "So, are you a student"
Her: *laughing*, "No.."

The lightbulb in my head suddenly lit up.. Ding!.... She was a bargirl, on her way back to her bar/place of work after visiting a customer who was staying near my internet cafe.

We made a bit more smalltalk (she's from a poor village in the northeast, has been doing this for about 6 months, all her customers are foreigners, etc), before she dropped me off at my place... and refused any kind of cash for the ride home.

So, er, technically, I've now had a prostitute refuse payment for services rendered..

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Water... everywhere

It started a few days ago. I can't blame the kids really, I'm sure the waiting was killing them.

Before leaving Pai, I was having a tough time deciding between the expensive minivan and the government bus.

(Chris's law of luxury: Get the cheapest option possible... whenever you pay more for comfort, you will invariably be disapointed in the quality you receive. Stick with the crappy level, and you'll know ahead of time that you're paying for the bare minimum).

Anyway. I opted to go for the A/C, and took the Minivan. Oh was I glad. You see, about 6 times during the journey, we were ambushed by bucket-wielding children on the side of the road.. Had I opted for the government bus, their icky-and cold water would have passed through the open bus-windows and covered me... Saved by crappy A/C.

Over the past few days, I've seen a few kids with squirt guns in the streets, but thats been it.. However, today, it kicked into full gear.

Which made it a pretty bad day to move my bags from my ghetto-guest-house to my Insurance Provided A/C+TV+Hot Water Playboy Mansion. I offered my tuk-tuk driver an extra 10-baht if he could get me from point A to B without getting wet. He failed to earn his bonus.

In any case - I made it to my fab hotel - put my passports and major money in the hotel safe, changed into a pair of swimming trunks, wrapped my foot in 3 plastic bags (which later proved very successful at stopping the water from flowing away from my foot), and went outside to fight.

You see - I'd been told before by many people that Chiang Mai was THE city to be in Thailand for the New Year. No one could quite explain why though.

Now I know. Chiang Mai has an old city in the center (where the tourists are), that is surrounded by a moat. Which means, when you want to have a huge public water fight - there is a ready supply of water nearby. Dirty, icky water. In addition, the roads run directly past the moat, making it a perfect area to stand and ambush passing cars.

I decided against purchasing one of the many super-soaker clones they were selling, and opted for the much better (and cheaper) 10 baht plastic bucket + string. With this, I could hurl absolutely huge amounts of water at passing motorcyclists, rickshaw passengers, and anyone stupid enough to leave their car windows open.

And so, for 3-4 hours today, I stood at the side of the road near the Tai Pai gate - with about 5-10 other Thai kids, and pelted people as they drove by. Any passing farang (foreigners) got special treatment....

Quite a few pickup trucks passed us by, filled with kids, large plastic barrels/oil drums filled with water (and in some evil cases, ice-water). These toured the circuit, and essentially engaged in drive-by warfare with anyone standing by the moat.

The advantage that we had was of an endless supply of dirty moat water. The advantage they had was of ice-cold water, and the ability to drive away....

All in all, great fun. My foot got soaked, but that couldn't be helped.

And the best part is.. the new year hasn't even started yet. The 3 day waterfight/public drunken party starts tomorrow.


Monday, April 10, 2006


One of my friends in Baltimore has often said that I have a gift for turning shit into gold.... It may be true.

I went back to the Hospital yesterday, and got something in writing from my doctor
expressly advising me to not go to Laos, esp. not to tiny villages in the middle of nowhere while I have my open wound. He also gave me written instructions to stay in Chiang Mai and to come back to his hospital every day for the next two weeks.

The only problem is - Chiang Mai is THE place to be in Thailand for the water festival (which starts in a few days), and so, all of the cheap-guesthouses are booked up.

The only place to stay, I'm afraid, is in a 25 dollar a night luxury resort (compared to the 2 dollar a night hovels I've been staying in, 25 bucks in 5 star).

Which my insurance will pay for, probably.

They'll also cover my food costs while I'm here, transport to and from the hospital, and will pay to refund the money I paid for my Laos visa.

If I'm stuck here for a week or two (depending on recovery time), this could add up to a fair bit.

God bless travel insurance.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Economics of Drug Smuggling

When travelling through India (and to a much, much, much lesser extent in Thailand), you meet a lot of people who smuggle drugs.

The facts are simple:

There is lots of marijuana grown in the north of the country (esp. the Himchal region).

There are backpackers all over India, some rich, some poor.

Many backpackers want to smoke cannabis, and are willing to pay a good price for it.

Many backpackers are broke, and want to keep travelling.

This is perhaps an over-simplification, but in general, there are two types of person smuggling ganja:

1. Someone who is doing it for the money
2. Someone who is doing it because they are going somewhere where it will not be readily (and affordably) available.

I've seen lots of Israelis sneak a kg or two out of the Manali region by hiding it inside their Enfield Motorbike, I've seen people cutting up their shoes to hide it under the in-sole, I've heard a number of first hand accounts from women who've hidden it in areas that Indian policemen will never ever search (even if they'd love to try), and just recently, I met an Italian man on the Andamans who bragged that his bottom currently resembled a cauliflower, after having ingested and pooped out a large quantity of plastic-wrapped hashish.

Almost everyone you meet has their own patented and foolproof method of smuggling drugs. You hear all kinds of stories involving vasoline, shampoo, peanut butter, coffee grounds, and ghee (clarifed butter).

In Varanasi, I met up with some friends of mine who I had initially met at Paradise beach in Gokarna. A week after I left, the police held a semi-raid on the beach, and one of the Israelis was locked up. It took a few weeks and multiple kickbacks (to the extreme that his friends had to buy a computer-printer for the Police Station, so they could print out his release form) before he was released. And he was just caught for smoking, not for smuggling.

The logic behind it is simple I suppose. People believe their chance of getting caught is very low, and that if they get caught, they'll be able to bribe their way out of it. This is often the case (although, when they do meet the rare variety of honest Indian policeman, they're in for a very very nasty shock).

The economics of it are simple:

Step 1. Buy 1 KG of charas in the north of India at 10-20 rupees per gramme.
Step 2. Smuggle it to Goa.
Step 3. Sell it 100 rupees per gram to other backpackers.
Step 4. Profit (approx 80,000 rupees, or $1800)

Given that you can live in India for a good 4-5 months on that kind of money, it's easy to see the temptation for someone who has run out of money and faces the threat of a return home.

However, there is no such thing as a free lunch... and this kind of business is so dangerous that the Indian drug dealers don't even smuggle it themselves - they hire Nepali mules to bring it down from the mountains... They're not stupid, after all...

But the backpackers are. For a mere $2500 (when you include the cost of a ticket home), they're willing to risk spending a long time in an Indian prison.. when they could probably work as a waiter back home, and make that in a month....

Interesting enough, you hear very very few stories here in Thailand about backpackers smuggling drugs...or at least, people don't brag about it and offer to sell to you the way they do in India. Perhaps it has something to do with Thailand's much publicized extreme willingness to give foreigners the death penalty for that kind of thing.

On Sex Tourism

Churchill: Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?
Socialite: My goodness, Mr. Churchill... Well, I suppose... we would have to discuss terms, of course...
Churchill: Would you sleep with me for five pounds?
Socialite: Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!
Churchill: Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

One of the nice things about Pai, was that it was a sleepy town mostly visted by hippies and backpackers - not the type who tend to frequent sex workers.

Now that I'm back in a big city, I'm yet again surrounded by the sex industry... nearly empty bars with a few pretty women calling out to you as you walk by, and countless fat, balding, old white men with petite young thai girlfriends...

Just as in India, you find that backpackers are constantly talking about fecal matters - for the simple fact that everyone seems to have food poisoning at one point or another (and thus has a magic cure for it), backpackers here seem to spend a lot of time debating the merits and evils of the sex industry.

As gross as it is for me to see these fat old foreigners with tiny thai girlfriends, I find it difficult to judge the industry itself as being wrong.

The fact is, that I've seen people doing far worse jobs during my travels. I've seen poor Indian men up to their eyeballs in human waste, cleaning out the drains clogged by some stupid foreigner (who has yet to figure out that 3rd world plumbing and toilet paper do not mix well). These guys are probably exposed to every disgusting disease out there - no protective suits, just a loincloth, a pair of sandals, and a couple tools....

I've seen young kids sent from their homes in Bihar (the poorest state in India) to work at restaurants in other states, where they are beaten by management, not paid anything, and are forced to sleep on the floor at night.

Comparitively, sleeping with someone for money doesn't sound as bad...

Thus, I find it very difficult to harshly judge the women entering the industry - as someone remarked recently in a conversation, women, by their very gender, are literally sitting on a goldmine. It makes economic logic to take advantage of this.

Well? What about the fact that the women don't like sleeping with these ugly foreigners.

Equally, the women I pay 150 baht (3 dollars) per hour to give me a massage probably aren't crazy about massaging a stinky foreigner... And the guy at the train station carrying my bag on his head would probably rather not...except for the fact that they're all getting paid for it.

Earning money for doing something that you 'like' is a luxuary that many many people in the world do not have.....

The typical situation seems to be that an old guy goes to a bar, talks to a few thai girls, eventually picks one as his new 'girlfriend'. She'll tag along with him for the next few weeks, sleep in his room, be bought dinner/drinks and gifts, and before he leaves, will probably be given some kind of financial gift (she may tell a sob story about her poor mother in the village back home to encourage this). The guy gets sex, the women gets some money, some free food and drink, and maybe some outfits... It's not such a bad deal for her, really.

The Churchill quote I began this entry with, while funny, is both true, and quite fitting to this discussion. 5 million pounds to a British upper class woman can just as easily be 100 dollars to a poor girl from Burma or Cambodia working in the thai sex industry - in both cases, it's a relative huge amount of money.

It's worth noting a couple other things....

One of my friends told me that in Pattaya (a Thai beach resort famous for sex tourism), there is a street full of Nigerian male sex workers - who are there primarily for visiting Japanese women.... (clearly, the market will cater to unique tastes).


As sick as it is to see the old fat men - every once in a while, you see a very drunk one staggering home with what is most likely a lady-boy... and you can't but help smile thinking of the shock he's going to have in the morning.


I think Thailand is actually pretty good about STDs and HIV... You see condom machines everywhere, and sex is such a normal thing here, that I doubt there is any kind of stigma about going to a pharmacy and asking to buy condoms.

India is completely different - a sexually repressed country, where people are far too scared to ask for birth control at a chemist. In addition, from what I've been told, the condom is often about the same price as the sex act (a staggering thought in itself), and so there is a "race to the bottom" as the women compete with each other until eventually, they are forced to choose between no customer or no protection.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Crap, No Laos

In Chiang Mai.....

Went to the best hospital in town - where they cut me open again, have given me some very expensive meds,and told me that it's a bad idea to go to Laos with an open wound.

The plus side, is that I have medical insurance, and Chiang Mai is supposed to be the best place in thailand for the New Year's celebrations.. the downside is, no Laos... at least, not this trip.

My passport (and visa) are waiting for me at the border, so I now need to find a way to get it back... hmmm

Still. Internet is cheap here, it's a thriving student city - Icould be stuck in worse places.

Dear Prudence

Decided to delay the trip to Laos slight.

Taking the afternoon bus back to Chiang Mai - will go to a top notch hosptial there, have things eyed up, and then will head to the border the next morning/afternoon.

This means i'll be delayed by 2 days..

I really really really don't want to be on the road during the new year - as i'll get attacked and covered in water by everyone I see. It's not good. So by the 12th, I need to be sitting somewhere (hopefully a hammock) and not moving.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Health Problems or, Why I Hate America

I was planning to leave today.

Moved out of my guesthouse, collected my laundry, went to the post-office to get stamps, bought postcards.... The only errand left was to nip by the hospital, and have the doctor eye over my toe before I left.

That was the plan.

The toe is still infected... and possibly worse than it was before. Something about an infected nail bed, which didn't sound very pleasant. He suggested I have him remove the whole nail, which sounded even more unpleasant... so I opted for the less drastic cut me open, squeeze out some more icky stuff, and give me a load more antibiotics.

Realisticlly, I've had this thing for over 3 weeks now. Although, It's only in the last week that I've actually had professions looking at it. I repeatedly asked if there was any risk of my toe having to be cut off, and he said no...

Were I from any civilized western country (read: not the US), I would continue with my travels, and then have it taken care of when I get home.

However, I live in the US, and much worse - I'm not covered by health insurance right now. I'm planning to get a short term policy to cover me when I get back (until my Uni insurance starts in August)... but there is one major problem... "Pre-existing conditions".

Any insurance I get won't cover anything that already happened.. and you have to pay the first couple hundred out of pocket in any case.. so I'm going to be screwed.

So, what to do?

I want to go to Laos - but it's one of the poorest countries in the world. And it's not like i'm going to be hanging out in the capital. I'm off to a remote village in one of the world's poorest countries... So it's not particularly wise to go out there with an in-progress medical problem.

Logic would dictate that I stay in Thailand, (but leaving Pai, and heading to Chiang Mai), and take care of all this medical business while I still have 1. Travel Insurance, and 2. Cheap hospitals.

However... I really really really want to go to Laos. Really.

My plans are delayed somewhat anyway, as there was no bus to the border today. So I have to wait until tomorrow.

When I wake up tomorrow, we'll see how I feel. I may go to Laos, return to Bangkok early (2-3 days), go to a hospital there, and have them cut me open again before I get back on the plane....

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Laos Travel Plans

I think I know what's happening...

I need to be in Pai until tomorrow night... I've got an 8PM phone call with a potential summer employer.... After that, i'm a free man - and with my visa waiting for me (Insha' alla) at the border.

The problem, as always - is time. Not my departure to the states, but New Year.

April 13-16 is the Thai/Laos/Burmese new year... and a gigantic water-fight in the street. I'm expecting it to be like Holi in India, only much much much more water (and hopefully, less paint). I've been told that the city to experience this is in Luang Prabang.. however, this is a major tourist city, and I'd rather avoid this...

From a bit of googling, I found another backpacker who wrote on their blog:

"This meant that I could watch the big boat race in Nong Khiow that marked their start of the New Year 3 day festival. It was exactly like Henley boat race with village competing against village, 12 in all, and supporting teams would dance and sing their boats on. It was impossible not to get drawn into their celebrations and with a Laos wine in hand..."

This sounds lovely.

Plus, Nong Khiow is just an hour away from Muang Ngoi, an amazingly chill town that people have been telling me about - which is also one of the areas that the US bombed the living crap out of during the Vietnam war (making Laos the most bombed country in the history of the world) - The US, of course, still denies its involvement in Laos.

In any case. My plan:

Take a night bus tomorrow (Friday) night to the Thai/Laos northern border - April 7th

Hightail it as fast as possible to Muang Sing, right near the Laos/China/Burma border - take photos of people smacked out on opium, and maybe a few poppy fields.

Hightail it even faster and make sure i'll be in Nong Khiow for the 12th...
Watch the boat race on the 13th.

Spend the next week and a half chilling out in Muang Ngoi - stretched out in a hammock, and bathing in the river.

Hightail it from Luang Prabang back to Thailand for my 5 star hotel stay on the 28th of April.

Fly home on the 30th. Boooo.

Why Most Americans are Awesome

If you go to Florida during spring break season, you'll find the place flooded with American high school and college kids... They'll be there because they want to relax, and to have fun with their friends.

Likewise, if you backpack around India, you'll bump into thousands of Israelis - who are there, along with their friends, because it's the "normal" thing to do when you finish the army. When a typical Israeli youth tells their parents and friends they're going to India, there is not much surprise... It's almost a right of passage.

Similarly, there are loads of 18 year old brits floating around Thailand and Australia doing a "gap year" before university... it is such an established thing that there are specialist companies that cater to organizing your gap year abroad...

Which brings me to Americans... It is not "normal" for Americans to take a year off and travel around the 3rd world. The only exceptions are for Peace Corps and semester-abroad students... I've bumped into a few semester-abroad students (in India and Thailand), and by and large, they're just like the Israelis - there to get drunk and have a good time....

However, excluding the peace corps and semester abroad students, 90% of the Americans you meet when backpacking are really really cool - for the simple reason that, if they managed to leave America and take all this time off - they probably have a very cool story to tell. These people are not following a trend, are going to get strange questions from their friends/family ("Why do you want to go there? Isn't it dirty and poor?")....

Fair enough, I'm patting myself on the back with this description - but it's true.
It's a oft-repeated quote that only 25% of Americans have passports.... So one could also argue that lots of the boring ones stay at home.

I've met lots of nice Israelis.. but I've met loads and loads of annoying ones too.. 90% of them are in the same boat "Just finished the army, worked for 6 months, travelling in India now as long as my money lasts"... they're travelling the same circuit (specific towns, and even guest-houses that their friends went to before)... They're not in India to be in India, but more in India because it's one of the the cheapest places in the world to have an extended holiday.

It's gotten to the point where I don't even bother asking Israelis where they've been, what they do at home, etc...

The Americans all have different stories..... and it's very fun to find theirs out.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Back to the Bottle

Before coming to Thailand, the last bit of alcohol I had was in Diu, Gujurat - back at the beginning of January. It wasn't a difficult choice to make. India is not a drinking culture (especially in the north), and the people who do drink, do so purely to get drunk (a la Frat boys in the US). Bars are seedy places, the alcohol is horrible - and so, I quickly decided that I didn't need to drink anymore.

Thailand has a healthy drinking culture. Men and women do it, people seem to relax over a drink - and you don't see sketchy old men pissed in the street (most of the time).

The election happened 2 days ago, and so for the day before and the day of - alcohol was forbidden to be sold....

However, with that over....

They've been celebrating here in Pai for the last day or two. It's something to do with young men joining monkhood - there have been precessions in the street (costumes, dancing, music) - and it seems to be a general excuse for most of the townsfolk to have a bit of a dance, and get thoroughly pissed.

When in rome.

More India Friends/ Trampish clothing

Bumped into another person that I knew from India yesterday. I suppose everyone is travelling the same circuit, but it still surprises me.

She walked upto me in the Internet cafe, tapped me on the shoulder, and asked "I know you, right? We swam naked together in Gokarna..." - which narrowed her down to a group of about 50 people.....


Pai is a very very conservative town filled with lots of hippy foreigners. The other night, while getting a massage, the girl asked if I did yoga. I suddenly felt quite proud, thinking that my extreme flexibility must be obvious to her after she had contorted me into a few different shapes. But no. "All farang (foreigner) men do yoga, I think".

Which sort of sums up the kind of foriegners who come here.

There are a decent number of muslims here (a few of whom run amazing night-time pancake stands) - and so it's really awful to see foreigner girls walking around in revealing strappy-tops and minute shorts that barely cover their bottoms. I feel quite a bit of sympathy for the Thais who are forced to see this, and considerable disgust for the foreigners who completely ignore the local standards.

At least in India, you have pervy-guys trying to molest western girls (who they think, as per Hollywood, are whores) - and so any girl wearing such clothes will soon find herself felt up to the point where she'll put some longer clothes on.

The thais are far too polite for this - and so the girls will continue to offend them.

Minor Surgery/Weight Loss

A few weeks ago, I stubbed one of my toes, cutting it open slightly. I neglected to clean it, and trapsed around the streets of Port Blair (which, as all indian streets, were filthy and covered in human/animal waste)... and so it got infected.

After 2 weeks of mostly-every day cleaning it... I decided to give up and consult medical help. The infection wasn't going to go away by itself.

Thus, a visit to the Pai Hospital. The doctor confirmed the infection, recommended a very quick surgery - he cut it open, cleaned it out, and sent me on my way. The hospital was very nice, clean, and they spoke a surprising amount of english. The total bill - 800 baht, or about 20 dollars - not cheap compared to India's free hospitals, but damn cheap compared to the US.

While the nurses admitted me formally, they took my blood pressure and weight - the first time I've been weighed since I left the US... And, after 6 months of eating non stop in India - I'm really really surprised that I actually lost weight - about 30 pounds.

With only a few cases of food poisoning, and with the most delicious vegetarian food on earth - I'm very very surprised that I lost weight... but the evidence is there.

Monday, April 03, 2006


I've got a mobile # here in Thailand. While I only anticipate being here for a week or so, I'll put my number here in case anyone needs to reach me: +66 147 29 400

I'm pretty excited about Laos. The weather is really hot here, and so the idea of heading to the most northern point in Laos will hopefully mean that I'll sweat a bit less.

I read a newspaper report recently that bragged about the Lao government's amazing success in killing off opium production (as a result of US DEA aid). The area I'll be heading to is right next to the burmese and chinese borders (known as the Golden Triangle), and according to my trusty Lonely Planet, is one of the major opium growing/smuggling regions. We shall see if the newspaper reports tell the truth.

In my past experience, visiting drug-tourism areas can be great if you're not there to do drugs. They're so used to catering to tourists who only want to get high, that if you're not in the market for their drugs, the touts have nothing left to sell you - and tend to leave you alone... This is in sharp contrast to places where tourists go to buy local crafts, go trekking and see the temples - where you are constantly harassed non stop to buy buy buy and every invitation to have tea somehow involves you looking at silk or a carpet.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

End of Chiang Mai/Pai

Took care of all my business in Chiang Mai yesterday. 7 hours of internet use, lots of phone calls. I've sent my passport off to Bangkok to get a Lao visa (it'll be waiting for me at the northern thai/lao border, insha'lla).

It suddenly hit me this morning that I'm in a new country, have not made any friends yet, and so for the first time in a while, I can wander the streets of a place without any chance of meeting anyone I know.....

Until, that is, I walked down the street this morning and someone called out my name. It seems that 2 of my pals from the Andaman islands are here, and heading to Laos.. what a small world it is.

Anyhow. I'm in Pai now. I've got a nice enough guest-house, I've rented a motorbike (a tiny low powered one, more an excuse not to pedal, rather than a method of going fast). My plan is to chill out in Pai for a week or so, enjoy the luxuries that Thailand has to offer (daily massage, fruit, etc) before heading to Laos.

It's already a bit strange coming back to Pai - it was quite a bit sleepier the last time I was here... more yoga and pizza places now.

Just like on my last trip to Thailand, I've decided to reward myself for suffering through countless nights of crappy hotel rooms by cashing in some frequent flier miles, and booking myself into the Marriott 5 star river-side resort in Bangkok for my last night. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience last time, and it'll be a nice way to pamper myself before I endure the 30+ hour journey to fly back to Virginia.

Culture shock continued

There are some nice improvements here over India. Things are clean, tasty soy milk is available everywhere, and fruit vendors seem to be on most street corners selling pineapple at 25 cents a bag. Mmmm.

However, after eating a few bags of pineapple, and consuming a few bottles of soy milk, you're hit with a problem.... where's the toilet.

It's almost a joke in India that you can never find a public toilet. They just don't exist, for the simple reason that in India - the entire country is a public toilet. Men (and to a much lesser extent, women) simply piss on whatever wall is closest - even if that wall happens to belong to the local police station.

I've gotten so used to the Indian way of things - spitting everywhere, and peeing whenever I get the urge, that to come back to civilization is quite a shock.

Also - i've started to notice my own smell considerably more.

Ok, it's hot here. But it can't be that much hotter than India... but for some reason, I notice my own unpleasant scent much more than I did in the last 6 months. The only explaination I can come up with is that everyone else around me doesn't smell, a new experience in itself, and so I stand out.

I'm not yet at the point where i'm considering wearing deodorant again - but I think I'm going to have to adopt the thai habit of 2/3 showers a day.