Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Getting Around

So I woke up early (thanks Mister Rooster for obviating the need for an alarm clock) and hiked over to East Railay to catch a longtail boat. They wait until you have a full boat to leave, so I hung out near the mangroves for almost an hour before we had eight people. Once back in Krabi I took sometime to walk around--pretty simple city. Not very spectacular, but fun nonetheless to walk around the street markets. Caught a songthaew to Talat Kao, where the Krabi bus station is located. (I really don't understand why cities put their bus and train stations in different towns. If it's not in Krabi, don't call it the Krabi bus station.)

Now, the songthaew is a shared ride, so they just take you in the general direction; they don't make door-to-door deliveries. So they drop me off at what looks like just any other highway. The driver didn't speak English (I managed to get the fare correct through my extremely limited Thai) so I was SOL on getting any useful information out of him. So I just start walking around, until a very nice Thai notices that I seem to be walking toward the superhighway (not the right direction) and kindly steers me correctly. Turns out the correct way to walk to the bus station is through an abandoned dirt field. Obviously. Now, not having your bus station in the middle of the actual town is one thing, but having it behind a dirt field? Really? I could tell I was in the right place, however, when a sign on a building I was walking toward announced: "Welcome to Krabi. DON'T PANIC. WE SPEAK ENGLISH." Well, at least I'm not the only one who found the situation odd...

I walk in and buy my ticket no problem. This is the government bus system so it's cheap and no luxury. The 100 mile journey to Surat Thani took nearly 3 hours. I get to Surat Thani and check the guidebook, which basically says "don't get stuck here. it's lame. but there is decent pizza near the river." oooh, pizza. so I grab my stuff and hit up the Thai owned and operated pizzeria. Just the kind of food I was looking for. I get my garlic and tomato fix and then make my way back to the bus station to catch a local bus to the Surat Thani train station, which (again) is not actually in the town of Surat Thani, it's in the town of Phunphin (obviously).

Now, this bus ride was perhaps the inspiration for the original "clown car." I get there and the bus is full. I mean, FULL. All 30 seats are taken and there are maybe another dozen people standing shoulder to shoulder in the aisle. But they assure me I can fit so I hop on. Of course I'm the tall one in this crowd and I can't even stand up straight this bus is so small. Lucky for me there are mirrors on the ceiling so as to make it appear larger (which only confused the heck out of me when I kept bumping my head like a pinball machine). And here's the thing: as we get going, they stop to let more people on! The way the system works is there's a driver, and then someone else taking tickets. The ticket lady literally crawled (I kid you not), crawled over the seats to collect money from everyone. And how much did this 13km, 20 minute bus ride cost? 13 baht - or roughly $.40.

But I arrived to the train station unharmed and amused. Our 9 pm train was 2 hours late, so I was pretty ready to hit the hay when it finally rolled into the station. I climbed up onto my yoga mat (again the overnight train) and fell fast asleep. Arrived in Bangkok by mid-morning and spent the day milling around - Lumphini Park again, Wat Aran, Silom - before my 7:00 train last night. The train to Chiang Mai was a/c, but no yoga mat + platform. I don't know why, but they decided a/c stands for "absolutelyfrickinfrigidly cold" and I ended up using 3 of their hand-out towel/blankets to maintain a decent temperature through the night. But again, I made it and thanks to a doctor friend who gave me a few Lunesta for this very type of situation, I actually managed to get a couple hours of sleep.

It's been a long post, so congrats if you made it to the end. I'll report more on Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai (next stop) next time. Until then...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Railay Beaches

I left you last in the jungle. Since then I took a minibus to Krabi and then a longtail boat to the Railay beaches on the coast of the Andaman sea. I promised pictures as I last left the jungle, but had an unfortunate incident that left the memory card unreadable on my camera. I refuse to tempt fate by attempting to upload pictures again and potentially lose them all. I recognize this makes the blog less entertaining, but you'll all just have to wait until I get to a computer I actually trust. In the meantime, just google image search Ton Sai Beach Thailand and you'll see what I'm talking about.

I've been in Tonsai for four days now and it's been quite relaxing. I realized this is probably the longest I'll stay anywhere, so I've spent most of my time just chilling out. I've done a few day hikes around and plenty of beach/patio lounging. Railay has four beaches, one of which (Tonsai) is considerably more laid-back than the others. Tonsai is a rock climbing mecca, and I believe the World Championship is going to be held here next month. There are spectacular limestone cliffs that just drop straight into the ocean. I spent this morning sea-kayaking around some of the outlying islands, getting a dramatic view of the coastline (sorry for the picture tease here. you'll just have to wait). And like always, a few of my insights below:
  • Where there are roosters, you don't sleep much past 6:30. And it's not just a one-time crow that the sun is up. They've got no snooze button.
  • Speaking of poultry, I am now more convinced that ever that chickens are the dumbest animals ever. How else could you explain all the chickens that seem to congregate (they are not caged and roam freely) in what I've deemed "street food alley"? You think they'd get a clue when their buddy goes missing and there's a delicious smell of grilled chicken wafting through the air.
  • My gluts are going to be in fantastic shape at the end of this trip. If anyone is spending money on a personal trainer, just put it in a piggy bank and come to Thailand. My watch tan and Chacos tan also bode to be of epic comparison.
  • I'm starting to recognize the distinction between "touristy" and "commercialized." It's hard to argue that any of these places aren't touristy--there are Europeans and Americans everywhere--but there is a difference between the more rugged tourist areas (like Tonsai) and the large commercialized operations that look like they're straight out of Cancun.
  • There is absolutely no decent coffee here. There are even places that lure you in with promises of "real coffee" but they clearly don't know how to brew it correctly. Also, I'm not sure how I feel about my milk being served to me in a baby bottle. Something about dumping a baby bottle of milk into my coffee seems really unappealling...
  • I'm starting to crave a burger. With Gouda and bacon...oh man.

I've met some cool fellow peregrinators so far. There are many of us out there it seems. I'm headed tomorrow back to Surat Thani and then overnight train to Bangkok. I'll spend 12 hours in Bangkok before taking another overnight train north to Chiang Mai. From there I plan to make my way over to Laos before flying to Vietnam.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle

The last day in Bangkok was spent with my generous hostess, Mary Ann, and a friend of hers walking around Chatuchak Market, just north of the city. The market had thousands of small stalls, selling everything from wrestler figurines to bed sheets to endangered species (we stayed away from the latter). After a few hours, I parted ways and headed to the train station via Lumphini Park, which is quite beautiful.

My overnight train south was scheduled to leave at 18:20, but didn't roll out of the station until close to 19:00 (in case I was in doubt, I am now sure this is not Europe). The train took 11 hours and cost 498 baht ($16). I'll assume only 60 baht was for the overnight accommodation, which consisted of a something akin to a yoga mat on a fold down platform with no a/c. But I'm young and able to sleep just about anywhere, so it certainly sufficed. We arrived in Surat Thani around 6:00 am, where all the foreigners were immediately bombarded by travel agents asking "Where you going?" I don't think I've ever felt more popular. But I hadn't even had my coffee yet, so I cut to the chase with one of the first to approach me and worked out a minibus (think 15 passenger van, only with 18 people) to Khao Sok National Park.

Fortunately, I was wedged between a very small Thai girl and an Israeli man, Oren. Oren was also traveling by himself and we decided to pair up together for a hike once we got to the park. Our 15km round trip hike felt like 5 hours on a stairmaster and I knew it was rough when Oren, who like most Israelis has spent time in the military, compared it to his basic training. But we eventually found a gorgeous waterfall, where we relaxed for close to an hour before the trek back to town. Despite expecting to be too sore to crawl the next day, I actually woke up and went on another quick jaunt (this one only 8km) to another waterfall this morning. Now a few things about the trails/park:
  • There are "Caution: Slippery Route" signs every 100m. Seems like it'd be more efficient to just put up signs when it's NOT a slippery route.
  • The hike on the first day was curiously void of wildlife. I figured either there is actually enough space here for them to avoid wildlife (the park is the largest contiguous piece of land dedicated to wildlife conservation in the country) or they've all been rounded up for sale at Chatuchak. Fortunately, I saw more wildlife (including monkeys, lizards, birds) on the second day's hike.
  • When the trail signs say "Waterfall 300m ahead" they actually mean "Waterfall 300m straight up, the trail will be more like 1km."
I've had a rather peaceful time here so far (including awesome $2 padsee ew and a $6 hour-long massage), but am headed to Krabi tomorrow morning, and then hopefully catching a boat to the Railay beaches.

I'm having trouble uploading pictures from this computer, but will post them during my next entry. In the meantime, you can watch my actual progress by following the Google Map

View Peregrine Deviation: Adventure #1 in a larger map

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Land of Smiles

Yes, I made it. I never saw the sunset on March 16th, we just crossed some imaginary line and viola it was March 17th. I didn't have much luck finding an Irishman on the Minneapolis - Tokyo flight, but I did manage to sweet-talk the stewardess into giving me a free serving of scotch to celebrate good ole' St. Patrick. Yes, I know, scotch is from Scotland, but they didn't have Guinness, Jameson or Bailey's so I opted for the friendly Gaelic neighbor's drink of choice. I arrived in Bangkok close to midnight, walked through customs and immigration just fine, and caught a cab to Nonthaburi to stay with an incredibly gracious ex-pat friend of the family.

Rather than discuss in length my entire experience thus far (which I am sure would be boring to all of you other than my parents), I'll make the following observations:
  • The tourist hotspots all have signs that say, "Beware wily persons." I keep thinking I'm going to see run into Wil E. Coyote or some other devious cartoon character.
  • There are shrines and temples every few feet. These people love their gods and Buddha, especially if he's made out of gold. Although, I'd hate to be the guy who cleans up all the sacrificed flowers, incense, money, animal figurines and food. It'd be like being the person who actually opens Santa's mail at North Pole, Alaska. We all know Santa doesn't get the mail, but no one wants to be guy who does. My question is, who gets all the leftover wooden elephants?
  • It's hot and I don't see anyone sweating near as much as I am (except, of course, other farang walking around). I don't know if Thais just have internal a/c but I feel like I'm constantly at the end of an 80 minute rugby match in 90 degree weather (craving for pizza and beer present only sometimes).
  • For those of you who read international news, the Red Shirts are still tromping around town calling for the fall of government. Turns out, though, that Thais are pretty nonviolent people. So their call for the overthrow of government looked more like a St. Patty's Day Parade (substitute red for green) or Mardi Gras.
I've enjoyed the last few days walking around Bangkok, but have decided it's time to move on. I'm catching an overnight train south to Surat Thani, where I'm hoping on catching a minibus or some form of transport to Khao Sok National Park. I anticipate spending a couple of days there before moving on to the beach.

Case in point about the shrines.

Chinatown in Bangkok, where you can literally buy anything you could ever imagine.

Me and the reclining Buddha.

The Grand Palace.

Throw me some beads, mister!

Bangkok Cultural Arts Center had these murals outside calling for peace.

More photos can be found on my Picassa page: http://picasaweb.google.com/mmunford/PublicPhotos#

Monday, March 15, 2010

Eve of Departure

On the cusp of departure, I have Modest Mouse's The World At Large running through my head.

Ice-age heat wave, can't complain.
If the world's at large, why should I remain?
Walked away to another plan.
Gonna find another place, maybe one I can stand.
I move on to another day,
to a whole new town with a whole new way.
Went to the porch to have a thought.
Got to the door and again, I couldn't stop.
You don't know where and you don't know when.
But you still got your words and you got your friends.
Walk along to another day.

My pack is packed (and thankfully not full, so I have plenty of space for souvenirs along the way) and my checklist is complete. I depart *fingers crossed* at 6:15 am tomorrow morning (March 16th) and arrive 11:55 pm Wednesday (March 17th) evening. I'm all set to stay with my mom's college roommate's sister, who is an ex-pat living outside of Bangkok. Once I get the dust settled from my doosey of a flight, my plan is to make my way south to the beaches.

There's not much to say or explain at this point. Thanks to all who have fostered, listened to, and encouraged the adventure.

Here's to the untethered twenties. Next post will be from the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

Friday, March 12, 2010


T minus four days until departure.

I successfully loaded all my earthly belongings into a U-Haul trailer earlier this week and drove them to Mississippi. I learned during the 20-hour and 1,000 mile trek that there are no Chick-Fil-As in the 150 miles between Roanoke and Bristol and that no one who lives between Roanoke and Chattanooga has ever heard of Diane Rehm or Terry Gross. I filled in the gaps of NPR coverage with David Sedaris on tape. I busted out Pat Green's Carry On when I hit the Mississippi state line: Baby's just a little bit tired of the city / Billboards and bullshit got her down / Yeah, everybody gotta get away sometime / Forget about yourself for awhile...

My possessions currently sit in my parents' front living room, much to my mother's chagrin. After moving them 1,000 miles, another few feet into the attic and garage seems like an impossible task. Perhaps I'll get inspired from Jackson-boredom this weekend.

It's the final count-down for logistics and I feel pretty good about it. I got notice that I've been accepted for an independent Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance plan when my employer-subsidized plan runs out at the end of this month. I've also successfully applied for international coverage in case of an emergency. Other things on the check-list include putting together a med-kit (check), buying a pair of zip-off cargo pants (check), touching base with the family friend in Bangkok (two attempts made, but so far no response), and getting my finances in order (half-check).

My mom is off this weekend to have her "re-live college days in the Tennessee mountains" weekend so it's just me and Pops. There are a few of my friends around this weekend because of spring break, so hopefully I won't get too bored in the next few days. For now, it's just the count-down...