Friday, July 11, 2008

Why I Don't Use Sunscreen

I almost never use sunscreen. Then I burn. Then everyone harasses me..."Why didn't you use sunscreen?"..."You're going to get skin cancer!"...and the like. I get a burn at the start of summer, then it peels and fades to a tan, and I'm good for the rest of the year. Humans have been living under the sun for thousands of years. We need the sun to survive. Then the ozone hole appeared, and the sun was prortrayed as this galactic killer, that would strike you down with skin cancer. Of course, pharmaceutical companies pounced on this. I've never been a fan of drugs. Pharmaceutical companies are in business to make profits. Without a profit, they wouldn't be in business. Naturally, sunscreen makers are making massive profits from us by pointing to all the studies showing that the sun is BAD for us! Slather on that sunscreen, wear long sleeves clothing, get out of the sun during the midday! Bah!!! It's a total scare tactic, in my humble opinion! I don't trust pharmaceutical companies. I don't trust that they're looking out for my best interest. They are looking out for their shareholders and profits! I've never been a fan of sunscreen for various reason. It started with "gut instinct". Here they are: 1. The chemicals in the sunscreen can be good for us. 2. We *need* the sun. We've been living under the sun for thousands of years, and it hasn't done us any harm. 3. The body is an amazing piece of work and is capable of remarkable things without the help of drugs. Now, for some resources to back up my beliefs

  • Wikipedia has a great page on the sunscreen controversy.

  • Another interesting site that points to lots of various studies, including studies that show skyrocketing rise in melanoma in countries that have heavily promoted sunscreen.

  • Skin cancer rates have not increased for young men in the past 30 years, but have gone up dramatically in women. Lethal skin cancer rate rises in young women. Women, in my humble opinion, are much more likely to use sun screen and go to tanning salons.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Going Home

Up at 7:00. Had an ok sleep, but this guest house doesn't provide any sheets or blankets, so I used my silk sleeping sheet and two towels, but was a little cold with the A/C. So much for treating myself!

I went for breakfafst at 8:00, used internet and did some more shopping.

Not to be completely outdone by Coke, Pepsi has "sponsored" the road next to Koh San Road (the road with the Viengtai Hotel). It's plastered with Pepsi banners.

I stopped at a 7/11 to buy some Sangsom (nasty Thai whiskey). Erin and I want to drink buckets at Courtney and Chris's reception in May, so I needed to bring back some Sangom and Thai Red Bull (which is way stronger than the lame Canadian Red Bull). It was funny, because 7/11 isn't supposed to sell alcohol until after 5:00pm, so when I asked for it, she grabbed the bottles, and kept looking around to make sure no one (the law) was around, and hid them close to her, then quickly stuffed them inside a bag I already had. She was totally afraid of getting caught. I paid, and as I was walking out of 7/11, a cop was just coming in! We were probably 15 seconds away from being busted!

As I was walking back to my room, I walked by a restaurant, and a girl working in the restaurant had a bucket filled with water. As I walked by, she splashed a little bit on me, smiling. She's getting ready for Songkram. A short bit later, ran into another small Songkram parade, where they were handing out different pamphlets about Songkram.

Caught a noon mini-bus to the airport (150 baht). Checked my bags, and got through customs fairly quickly, and had lots of time before my flight. Went to Burger King and then had a dessert and a mocha at another place.

On the flight from Bangkok to Taipei, watched "I Am Legend". Frickin awesome movie!

Had a 2 hour layover in Taipei.

On the Taipei to Vancouver let, watched "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street", a really bizarre musical and very dark comedy starring Johnny Depp and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat).

In Vancouver, I had 1.5 hours to get to my Air Canada flight. But, it took over 1 hour to get my bag from the baggage claim, and then the line at the Air Canada check-in was soo long, by the time I actually made it, I had missed my flight. There were many others in the same boat as me. I wasn't concerned, it didn't matter to me. The lady booked me on a later flight, so I had over an hour before my new flight. When I was in Taipei, I realized that I have no way to get into my house. I don't have a key to my place, and I didn't know my roommates phone number. So, in Taipei, I used the internet, and sent my roommate an email, asking her leave my door unlocked. However, just as I hit send, the decided to cut the power to the internet computers, and I didn't think the email went. When I got Vancouver, I called my brother (Darren) and told him I needed to stay at his place. A while leater, used an internet station at the Vancouver airport and Nina (roommate) did get my email, and she will leave my door unlocked for me.

From Vancouver to Calgary, watched "Bob Saget: That Ain't Right", Bob Saget doing live stand-up comedy. Because of Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos, I thought he was a clean act, but was I mistaken. He's NASTY! This is dirty stuff, and was shocking to see. But very funny.

Got back to my house about 1:30. When I went to bed, I remember thinking how bizarre it was, last night I was sleeping in a guest house in Bangkok, and here I am now, in my own bed in Calgary. WOW. And two night previous to that, I was sleeping in a beach hut on Koh Tao.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Had a decent sleep on the boat. At one point, a local took up residence on the other side of me and squeezed in. He reeked, so I snuggled up closer to the Canadian girl next to me. She didn't seem to mind. I'd much rather sleep in a dirty bed on a boat, than trying to sleep in a chair on a bus.

Made it to Chumpon around 6:00, taken to the Fame Tours office, then 6 of us were driven in a mini-van to Bangkok, and arrived at Koh San Road around 1:00. Since it's my last night in Thailand, I decided to treat myself to an A/C room at Baan Sabai for 450 baht.

Did some shopping, walked around, had lunch, blah, blah, blah.

In the early afternoon, ran into a couple that were on the mini-bus with me, they were just going to get drunk somewhere. They asked me to join them (she had the hots for me), they'd be somewhere on Koh San Road. So I went to my room, had a shower, dropped off shopping stuff, then back to Koh San Road and looked for them, couldn't find them. Bought pad thai from a street vendor and walked around. Stopped at a street side pub and had a couple of beers.

When we got back to Bangkok, Koh San Road was all plastered with Coke paraphenelia, Coke banners strung all down Koh San Road, huge posters all over. My first reaction, was "WTF, how can Coke has sponsor a street?". Well, the Thai New Year is coming up (April 12-15, 2008), called Songkram. It's also known as the Water Festival. Coke must be a major sponsor. There was a small parade down Koh San Road, with drums, handing out pamphlets about Songkram. Songkram to Thai's is like Christmas or Thanksgiving for us, very much a family oriented affair, where everyone uses water to wash away bad luck from their friends and families. It apparently goes quite a bit beyond that, and turns into a big water fight, people splashing and throwing water on everyone around them. I totally wish I could've stayed for this festival.

Went to bed around 10:00.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Leaving Kok Tao

Crappy sleep. No fan, no wind coming in through the window, the mosquitos were relentless, even though I had a mosquito net up. Woke about 2:00am, itching all over. Climbed completely into my silk sleeping sheet and tried that. It kept mosquitos off, but the stifling heat inside the sheet with no air movement meant I sweated and sweated. After a while, moved out to my hammock on the verandah and covered myself with my sarong. Better, and there's a bit of a breeze being outside, but sleeping in a hammock is not comfortable. AFter a bit and a sore back, moved back inside and left my door wide open, pulled the sleeping sheet up to my waist and used the sarong to cover the upper part of my body. I found a bit of peace, as there was a very slight breeze coming through the door periodically, and the sarong is not as hot as the sleeping sheet.

Woke up around 7:30, packed, checked out and took my bag to the travel agent, then rented a motorbike.

Zipped out to the west end of the island, Tanote Bay and Au Lek. Beach at Tanote Bay sucked, Au Leuk is a private beach, but walked in anyway, and it appeared to suck too. Went to Sairee and walked around and had lunch.

But some funny t-shirts. I was going to buy more t-shirts back in Bangkok, but they have tons more here that I never saw in Bangkok.

Later in the day, went to another beach at Shark Bay. Along the road, I saw dozens and dozens of motorcycles parked all over. Curious, I checked it out and found out where all the tourists go....very nice beach.

I took the bike back at 6:30, and buddy that ran the motorbike place had gone home for the day, buddy #2, who sells the gasoline, told me. I told him I need to return the bike, and get my passport, as I have a boat to catch at 11:00. So he told me to come back in 30 minutes. Always trustful of the locals that they'll do the right thing and everything will work out, I took his word. I left the bike there, but kept the key, and headed off to use the internet and came back at 7:00. All the bikes were now behind the rain shield, and buddy #2, gasoline buddy, wasn't around either. A guy across the street, at the mini-mart told me to wait a few minutes, so I sat down. Sure enough, buddy #2, gasoline buddy, came along a few minutes later with my passport, and I paid for the bike. It's amazing how the locals always make things work out.

Walked back to the travel agent and got the 7:30 transfer to the pier and dropped my bag on the boat. The boat doesn't leave until 11:00. The boat is a dive, definately not designed for passengers, but they have a large area where they have built bunk beds out of wood. Along the floor of both sides, and on the upper bunk, are dirty, thin matresses with pillows and blankets. A few Thai people are already staking claims to matresses, but most of them are still available. I headed to a restaurant for pizza. Mai Haad, the town where the pier is, is pretty dark because there's still no power on the island. Some of the restaurants have generators. Back to the boat at 9:00, and three Canadian girls had taken up residence on the upper bunk, where the windows are and the ceiling fans are most effective. I took a spot beside the girls. We talked a bit (where are you from, etc.), then the girls moved their big backpacks up onto the bunk, building a wall between themselves and me. One of the girls remarked that they weren't actually building a wall between them and me, even if it looked like that! As the evening wore on, more and more people came in looking for bunks. The three girls with their backpacks were taking up well over half of the whole top bunk for themselves, leaving everyone else to squish together. Finally, they were told to get their backpacks down, and the girls closest to me asked me to move next to her, because she knew me better than anyone else. Haha. I moved over towards her and more people took up the space I just vacated.

In the middle of the night, I woke up and another local, was trying to squeeze in on the other side of me, as there was a bit of space between me and another guy. He reeked terribly, so I turned around and snuggled up to the Canadian girl to avoid the stench, which worked. And she didn't seem to mind.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Nothing Day

Up about 8:30, took my time getting up. It rained last night and it's still cloudy this morning. Walked to Chalok Baan and had a great American breakfast for way cheaper than what Moondance does. At Moondance, they have cheap bungalows, but try to get you on other things like expensive restaurant and charging more for laundry and stuff. Used the internet, browsed a book store and bought a night boat and bus ticket back to Bangkok for tomorrow night. Boohoo, it's almost over!

Back to the bungalow, Carolina was sunbathing, Fredericko wasn't around. I decided to go snorkeling, Carolina kept looking at me and smiling. She has the hots for me. As I was snorkeling, Carolina grabbed her snorkeling gear and swam out and waved at me under the water. We snorkeled together for a while, I took her over to where I saw a big fish earlier, but couldn't find it. We swam to shore a bit down from the our beach and talked a bit more. I asked her where Fredericko was, she said he was up at the hut reading, he's not a big sun person. Then more snorkeling, she would sometimes swim away from me, then come back to me, presumably because her b/f could see us. Haha. After we finished snorkeling, she went back to her towel, and I stayed in the shallow water a short distance away, soaking it up. It's so warm. She casually meandered over, and kept looking up at their bungalow, then sat down beside me and we talked some more. She's sooo hot, and I told her so.

It was around noonish or 1:00, getting super hot, she decided to get out of the sun for a bit, but we made a snorkeling date for later in the afternoon to go swim around a small point between Moondance and the next bungalow over, as we've seen lots of other people snorkeling around there.

I decided to go rock climbing on some of the huge boulders near our beach, and got up really high, then it started to rain, so had to get down before the rocks became all slippery.

Carolina and Fredericko took off for lunch, and I finished the book I was reading, "The Golden Compass", by Philip Pullman. It's book one of a trilogy. They made a movie of it late last year, and a week or two before the movie came out, the Catholic school board in Calgary announced that they were pulling the whole trilogy from all the schools libraries, because it was anti-Catholic, against the Church and promoting atheism of some such thing. Yet the book is quite old, came out in 1995 and has been in the libraries since then. I saw the movie, and didn't understand what all the fuss was about. However, the book ends quite differently than the movie, and I can now understand why the Catholic church is so upset!!! Very good read. Now, I need to find book two.

The power went out on the island of Koh Tao today. Only places that have generators have power. Moondance is not one of those places. I hope it comes back on soon, not having a fan is gonna suck.

Went to a restaurant, Taraporn, for supper, then browsed a store that sells everything, including books, and found book two of the trilogy, "The Subtle Knife".

Ran into Carolina and Fredericko, they were just sitting down to have a supper, so I joined them and had a beer. Carolina is very non-chalant with me when Fredericko is around, she doesn't give anything away. I then went to Bubaloo Bar for a couple, and when I was there, two girls came up to the bar and one of them ordered a Chang. I made a remark that Chang is bad, and the other girl backed me up on that. Then the bartender started talking about he loves Chang because of the way it makes him feel...drunk and hungover. Haha.

I then back to the bunglows, and still no power. Tonight is gonna suck.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Snorkelling Tour Around Koh Tao

Up at 7:00, got my laundry, then walked to Chalok Baan and had breakfast at a cafe, then waited for the snorkelling pickup at the travel agent.

I got to the AC Tours office and got my snorkelling equipment. This tour is run by Philip, an English guy who's been living on Koh Tao for more than a decade. There's about 24 of us on the tour, 15 or so tourists and a bunch of Thai's. Apparently it's a Thai holiday today, so the Thai's are out in full force. We got to the "big" boat and our first stop was Shark Bay to see black-tipped reef sharks. I saw a few of them, including one 5-6 feet. Then we made three other stops (Au Leuk, Mango Bay and another one I can't remember), then to Nangyuan Island, a national park. It's actually three separate islands connected by a sandy spit of white sand. Of course, there's a resort there, and a restaurant and stuff, and it's chock full of tourists, but still very spectacular. I climbed up to a viewpoint for a great view of the island and the sand spit. We also got lunch served to us after our second snorkelling stop, rice and chicken, plain, but tasty.

When we got to the AC Tours office and walked to the beach, there was a very friendly dog that liked to run out into the ocean, get all wet, then come back and rub against everyone or shake himself near everyone. Then he would run back out into the ocean, swim around, then roll around in the sand get covered in sand, then wanted to be friendly with us again. It was pretty funny. If he spotted a plastic bottle floating in the ocean, he's swim out and get it and bring it back to shore.

I didn't like the boat, however. It was too small, compared to all the other boats doing similar snorkelling trips around the island. This boat was just a single deck, and hard to maneuver around, not much space, because of the people. All the other snorkelling boats were quite a bit bigger, and had an upper sundeck on them as well. Oh well, next time I'll know.

Got back to the hut about 5:00, chatted with Carolina and Fredericko and wrote in journal.

Around 6:30, walked to Sairee beach and had a fish BBQ at one of the big restaurants that line the beach and watched a football (soccer) match with all the Brits in the restaurant. Of course, they all cheered or jeered when goals were scored.

Walked along the beach to see if any big parties were happening (no), but a number of mellow beach bars had customers. Then walked by Whitening, a bar we went to five years ago, where Anna (a Brit girl we were travelling with for a bit at the time) passed out on the sand. We had tried to wake her up to come back with us, but she wasn't interested, so we left her.

Walked back to the hut, stopped at Bubaloo for a couple of Singha's and watched an excellent fire show, then back to the hut about 11:30.

So Beautiful!

Up about 7:30, had breakfast around 8:00, gave them laundry, lounged, went to town (Chalok Baan), used internet, updated online journal. Checked out some snorkelling trips for tomorrow.

Back to the hut, read, and a guy and a girl came to the bungalows with their backpacks. I was on the van with them in Chumpon, when we were going to the boat. A while later, she was on the beach, sunbathing and swimming, and the guy was lounging in a hammock near the restaurant. She kept giving me the eyes and smiling, and I noticed her noticing me and she noticed me noticing her. She went for another swim, I decided to go and swim too, and when she saw me coming, she gave me a big smile. She went back to shore. She was sooooo beautiful. I had to go talk to her. Carolina is her name, from Argentina. I was hoping the guy was a just a friend, but alas, he's her boyfriend. We talked for quite a bit, and she invited me join them when they go to the main beach on the island, Sairee Beach, later in the day. I said "Sure, if you don't mind", and she's like, "Please, come with us. It's nice to have someone else to talk to, when you've been travelling with the same person for so long." Haha. His name is Fredericko.

I had lunch, then went to buy a ticket for a snorkelling trip for tomorrow, then back to the hut and around 3:00, the three of us walked to Sairee beach, my old stomping grounds 5 years ago. We went for a swim, walked around, I recognized a few places, Scuba Junction, where Court and I did our Advanced Open Water, and the massage place where I had my first (and only) Thai massage. We stopped at a beach bar for a couple of drinks, walked around, then Carolina had to go pee really bad, so she went in the ocean, then we went to a restaurant for supper. I recognized it, we ate there 5 years ago. As we walked, various other places looked familiar.

About 8:15, we walked back to the hut, stopped at Bubaloo Bar for another drink, then made it to bed about 10:00ish. I drank Changs again, because Carolina is a beer drinker, Fredericko is not, so Carolina and me split large Changs all night long. But didn't experience the Chang effect this time.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Koh Tao

Up at 5:30, laid in bed, got up at 5:45 and at 5:50, Suda knocked on my door, the van was here already. Me and two others went to the train station, waited for a while, but didn't pick anyone up, then we picked up more people from other guest houses, then off to the boat, which left at 7:00.

Uneventful boat trip, about 3 hours. On the boat, talked to one of the touts, told him I wanted to stay on one of the south beaches for cheap, he pointed out some cheap bungalows on my map. He told me to either take a boat taxi or get a regular taxi to Chalok Ban and then walk, about 20 minutes. Many of the bungalows on Koh Tao are associated with dive operations and only divers get to stay there.

Got off the boat and a taxi tout asked me where I wanted to go, I told him June Juea Beach, he pointed me to a water taxi guy. 300 baht for me alone, but he tried to find others going there too. Alas, no one else wanted to go there, so he did drop the price to 250 baht, though.

As we were coming to June Juea Beach, his motor made a funny noise and then conked out. He lifted it up and he had got a rope all tangled up in it. "Oooh!", he said. He used a long pole to push the boat to shore, I paid him, then he grabbed a bunch of tools from the bungalow and worked at getting the rope free from around his propeller.

I checked in to Moondance Bungalows, 200 baht a night. Simple hut with a bed and bath, right on the beach. The beach here is very secluded, sandy with big boulders on it.

Decided to try to walk to Chalok Baan Beach, and took a wrong turn. I ended up walking up the side of a mountain and down the other side in the blazing noon sun. I don't think I sweated so much in my entire life. Eventually made it to the main road quite a ways up from the beach, so had to walk back down to the actual beach front area. Koh Tao is very beautiful.

Had lunch, then found a proper path back to the bungalow, only a 20 minute walk. Doh! This path goes through a bunch of other bungalow operations before arriving at Moondance.

Along the way, stopped at Viewpoint Resort to inquire about bungalow pricing, as the map guide said it was budget. When I was there, ran into Sabrina, who was one of the dive masters on my Similan Islands boat. She was talking a little holiday with her parents, who came over from Germany. Viewpoint has bungalows for 250 baht, much closer to Chalok Baan, but they're full, and don't know if they'll be full tomorrow night. I have to come back tomorrow morning and find out.

Went back to bungalow, went for a swim, lounged in my hammock, wrote in journal. So hot today.

Two hot girls came along with a Thai guy and some camera's. He started doing a photoshoot of the girls. They must be models! My bungalow is the first one, and closest to the beach, perfectly situated. The other bungalows are further up the high ridge behind the beach. As they were taking pictures, posing on rocks and in the water, the photographer telling them what to do, I decided to go snorkelling. One of the girls was looking at me a bit, so when the photographer was off taking pictures of the other girls bum, I went and asked the other girl if she was a model. She laughed. She was travelling alone and she wanted to have some pictures of herself. They found this Thai guy who does it as a hobby. The photographer came back and politely told me to get lost, and that I can talk later.

Did some more snorkelling, never did get a chance to talk to her again.

Walked back to Chalok Baan, the main "town" in the south and used the internet, then went for supper at Ricky's, had a large Chang beer and burger, then went to Bubaloo Bar, a beach bar on the way back to my hut. Sat down and had a large Chang beer. Bar was dead, just a french girl and a Thai guy working. She said everyone was at Mae Haad, the main town and where the main pier is. There's apparently a big party there, a new bar has opened up. After a bit, a number of other people showed up, but they were all together, a diving group or something.

Feeling quite drunk for some reason, I headed back to the bungalows around 9:00 or 10:00, I don't even know. I laid in bed, and the whole room was spinning, like I'd been drinking all night long. I've experienced the Chang effect. I've been told that many locals don't drink Chang because there's not much quality control on them, and you nerver know what you're getting in it and it can screw you up. No more Changs for me!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Up at 6:30, laid in bed until 6:55, dressed and paid my bill and walked to the street to the catch blue taxi #6. One came a few minutes later. A man driving and a little girl, presumably his daughter, was sitting in the passenger seat. I said "Bus station?", and the little girl gave me two big thumbs up and said "Yeah!". Haha. I hopped in the back, and he meandered along numerous back streets, picking up and dropping off other passengers. After about 20 minutes, we made it to the bus terminal and the little girl turned to me and said "Bus station for you!" and pointed across the street to it. I paid the fare (11 baht!) and walked to the bus terminal and got a ticket for the next mini-van to Chumpon, leaving at 8:00.

Left at 8:00, and the van filled up quickly, a smelly older Thai lady next to me. I'm sure I didn't smell that great either, though, and it was a hot ride, as I was sitting on the side with the sun for most of the trip.

Got to Chumpon about 10:30 or 11:00, went to Suda Guest House, recommended by Let's Go. They were full, but she said she has another place close by, cheaper. Then she was thinking and said that she wants me to stay at her place, and decided to bump another couple to the other guest house. Haha. But, she told me, I could only stay one night.

I showered and went for lunch and decided to go to Koh Tao tomorrow, since I couldn't have the room for tomorrow night. I also inquired about a rain forest trek my book talked about, but because it's dry season, it's not happening. Booked ticket for the boat. I have to be up at 6:00am tomorrow morning.

Rented a motorbicycle and went out to Hat Thung Wua Laen to see the beach. Not great, but as I was walking along the beach, a Thai guy invited me over to have some beer with him and the rest of his family and/or friends. He had a 12 pack of large Chang beers, and him and two other guys and two women were sitting down on the mats, while all their kids were all playing in the ocean, having fun. None of them really spoke english (just some basics, where you from, where you go, etc.) and of course I didn't speak Thai, so not a lot was said. They had food laid out on the mats as well. It was fun, I stayed for about an hour, but had to start refusing more beer, because I had to drive back to Chumpon on the motorbike.

Got back to the guest house about 4:30 and went to Fame restaurant, a place totally catering to tourists and had an iced coffee and wrote in my journal. A girl sitting at the table next to me used a great pickup line on me: "Excuse me. Can I have your orchid?" I chuckled and said sure, and asked why. She wanted to draw it. She likes drawing flowers, especially orchids, and I had got one in my iced coffee. Megan is her name, she is from England, close to the Scottish border, so has a hint of a Scottish accent. We talked for quite a while, and decided to go to the night market. I first headed back to my room and had a shower, all sweaty from being in the sun, and then went back to the restaurant and we headed to the night market. Walked around, had a bite to eat, then back to the restaurant. She is catching the night boat to Koh Tao, she fell in love with Koh Tao and spent many weeks there. She then headed up north (Chaing Mai), but lasted only a week, and wanted to go back to Koh Tao.

Anyway, she suggested to me where to stay and told me about some of her hangouts, so we may run into each other. While she waited for her boat, she tried to teach me how to juggle and how to swing poi's

About 10:00, I headed back to my room, I have to get up really early and catch a 6:00am bus to the ferry.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ranong - Fishing Town

Woke up about 7:00, lounged and went for breakfast about 8:00. Didn't do much today, packed and read while we waited for the 1:30 boat back to Ranong. Paid our bills at the bungalows.

The boat came around about 2:00. Mrs. Lek gave each of us a big hug, she's so friendly.

We got back to Ranong about 3:15.

Ranong is totally a fishing village. As you come in along the river, there are hundreds and hundreds of fishing boats, and businesses and industries that cater to the fishing industry all have buildings along the river. Naturally, the whole town smells of fish.

I checked back into Blue Crab Resort, the same place we went when we were heading out to Koh Chang. I was able to get a cheapo room this time, 250 baht. Alexa and Katrin are taking a night bus to Bangkok, then going their separate ways as well. They met on the dive boat, didn't know each other before that.

We used the internet for a couple of hours, it's so cheap at this internet place, 15 baht for one hour. Normally you'd pay 40-60 baht for an hour in a more touristy place. All the local kids come and play Counterstrike or other games at this internet shop too, and they pound on the space bars while playing. None of the space bars work, and it's frustrating to keep having to backspace and smash the space bar to get spaces.

Katrin has been living and working in Bangkok for 3.5 years with Siemens. She was working on a project, but it's finished now, so her job is done. She's doing some travelling, then heading back to Germany. She speaks some Thai.

Alexa is in between studies. She was born in northern Italy, her dad is German, mom is Austrian, so she carries both Austrian and German passports, but makes Austria her home right now. In the summer months, she takes American kids around Europe. While I was travelling with her, she received the details on this summers travels with the kids, so was busy trying to book flights to the start of that trip.

After internet, we walked back to the Blue Crab, Alexa showered in my room, me and Katrin had a drink outside, Alexa joined us a bit later. About 6:00, went to a small restaurant and had supper. Shortly after 7:00, I walked with them to the taxi stand (bus stand) and saw them off.

I went back to the internet, hoping to find a computer with a space bar that worked, but couldn't. Back to the guest house and inquired about the bus to Chumpon. It's at 8:00 tomorrow morning, and he gave me instructions on how to get to the bus terminal. Pretty much go to the same taxi stand that Alexa and Katrin waited at and get blue taxi #6. Incidentally, a taxi here is really a bus, which isn't a bus, but a songthaew, a pickup with two rows of seats along the bed. Alexa told me the songthaew takes its time, so make sure I leave early.

I went back to my room, watched some Thai Animal Planet on the TV, then fell asleep.

And, hey, it's April Fools Day. Just wanted everyone to remember the ultimate April Fools joke I played 5 years ago, when I was travelling in Vietnam.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hanging out on Koh Chang

Slept in fits last night. Stormed all night, strong winds, thunder, rain. Woke up about 8:00am. Raining and cloudy this morning. Hung out in the bungalow, then went for breakfast about 9:00am. Had muesli, yoghurt and fruit salad. Mrs. Lek is famous on the island for her home made yoghurt, apparently. As we had breakfast, she was also kneading dough for some home made bread as well.

We laid around in the restaurant, they had to pull the rain/wind tarps down over the restaurant, as the wind was blowing all the rain all over the restaurant at us. About 11:00, the rain stopped and the clouds moved off.

Most of the afternoon involved reading and swimming. The air was quite cool after the storms, and the water was very warm. Had lunch around noon. I had a chicken and cheese sandwich with her home made bread.

About 4:00, Katrin and I had a refreshing beer.

The shower water is soooo cold here!

Many customers at this bungalow are regulars, they come every year for weeks or months at a time. Mrs. Lek showed us a memory book one of her customers made for her and her husband, with pictures from 1998 to present, seeing how things have changed over the past 10 years. Mr. Moo (Mrs. Lek's husband) has a lot more grey hair. Then Mrs. Lek taught us how to play a board game; a square board with 4 holes, one in each corner. You have to knock your discs into the holds before your opponent.

After 7:00, we had supper, then read and talked until 9:00-ish, and went to bungalows.

Electricity here is from generators....the island is not on the countries power grid. So, the bungalows only has electricity from about 6:30pm-10:30pm.

There's also nothing to do on the island. I don't know how these people that come here for weeks or months stand it. I'd go crazy.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Koh Chang

Up at 7:30, showered, and met girls in the bungalow restaurant at 8:00am. We walked to the pier, 2 minutes from the bungalow, about 9:00, and bought a ticket to Koh Chang. The long tail boat leaves at 9:30, and takes about 1.5 hours. On the boat, one of the local women started talking to Alexa, telling her she had a bungalow on the island. We got off with her, at what we thought was the main beach, and checked out her bungalows, but they only had expensive ones left. We walked down the beach to Sunset Bungalows. I took a bungalow for 200 baht, Alexa and Katrin took one for 300 baht. There's is on the beach, mine is perhaps 20 metres back in the trees. The whole bungalow operation is set amongst cashewnut trees, and shaded really well. Very nice.

We had lunch and a beer,then walked along the beach and around the headland to another small beach. Along the way, we stopped for a shake at Air Bar. Then we walked back, a long walk, and got back about 5:00pm.

Alexa and I had a beer and talked, then showered and generally hung out.

The lady who runs the bungalow, Mrs. Lek, is awesome. She's sooo friendly and funny.

We had supper, and storm clouds started rolling in. After supper, we sat on the beach and watched the light show, but no thunder and no rain, just lightning all over the sky.

Went to bed with the low rumble of distant thunder.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Similan Islands Diving Trip, Day 5

Woke up on my own about 6:10, at 6:30 Stefano and his bell came along. I had an amazing sleep!

Toast and tea, then the first dive at Koh Bon. Saw a big leopard shark, 5-6 feet long. Awesome.

After the dive, had breakfast, then boated to Boon Sung Wreck. This was a dredger "ship"...not a ship in the traditional sense, it had no engine, the dredger was towed around by other boats, dredging the ocean bottom for tin. In strong winds, it overturned and sank in the mid 1980's, and sat on the bottom floor upside down. In 2004, the tsunami tore it apart, so it's no longer in one piece.

It was cool, wreck dives are always more interesting because they're different. And the fish like it very much too, tons and tons of fish swimming around it.

This was our last dive. After the dive, we packed and motored back to the pier in Khao Lak. I bought Tom's DVD of the trip. Expensive, but what the hell, it's very good.

We got back to the SDS office about 3:00, Katrin and I exchanged photos, while Alexa found out about buses to Ranong. One will be coming through town about 3:50, 160 baht.

I used internet for a bit, then met the girls at the bus stop. The bus came. It's an A/C bus, but all the seats were taken, so we had to stand for a while. After about 20 minutes, people started getting off, and we got seats.

Got to Ranong about 7:30 and took a songthaew taxi to the Blue Crab Guest House. Alexa knew about this guest house, it's right beside the pier where the boat to Koh Chang will leave from. Alexa and Katrin got a room and I got a room, we showered, then went to the internet (15 baht/hour at an internet place close!), then went back to a restaurant for supper, but they were done with food. We didn't eat supper that night, and went to bed.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Similan Islands Diving Trip, Day 4

Got woken up at 6:30 by Stefano and his bell, "Good Morning, Good Morning", in an annoyingly friendly Italian accent. I was soooooo tired. Had toast and tea, then the morning briefing. We're diving Richelieu Rock, one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. IMHO, it wasn't amazing, but probably because tons of other boats and divers. 11 boats, including our own, were here. Visibility wasn't all that awesome. I did have 57 minutes bottom time, however. 60 minutes is the max.

After the dive, had breakfast. Because of my 57 minutes dive time, I was one of the last ones there and got the shit sausages.

The second dive was at the same location. Saw a huge school of barracuda. Awesome.

Had lunch, then I crashed, laying on the bench in the lunch area for 2-3 hours. When I woke up, Amy (?), another dive master, and Seth's wife, laughed and said "Good morning" to me. She was just writing up the dive briefing for dive three, at Ta Chai Plateau.

Cool diving here, lots of huge boulders, very strong current, it was hard to swim against it. Everyone was holding on to the mooring rope, and being horizontal from the strong current. Afterwards, an Aussie guy on the our boat remarked that there were a bunch of Japanese divers from another boat hanging on to our mooring rope for dear life, their eyes super wide.

After the dive, had a snack, then took the dinghy to a beautiful white coral sand beach on Koh Ta Chai. There was a small black-tipped reef shark swimming around near shore.

I backed out of the night dive tonight, I'm completely exhausted. Andrea, Don and Katrin are not doing it either, so I feel better with my decision. Alexa (German/Austrian/Italian girl) and Katrin invited me to go up to Ranong and Koh Chang with them after the dive trip.

Lounged around while the others did their night dive, and had an awesome supper. After supper, we watched the first part of Tom's video he's doing of the trip. Tom is the official videographer for the company, and he does a hi-def DVD of all the trips, which you can buy afterwards for 3000 baht.

To bed about 9:45.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Similan Islands Diving Trip, Day 3

Stefano woke us up at 6:00am with a big bell. I got up, had a morning snack, toast and tea, and got ready for the first dive at Elephant Head Rock.

After first dive, had breakfast, then went to a beautiful coral sand beach for an hour, hiked up to a viewpoint. Elena remarked that I looked like a dive flag. I was well tanned, but had a white stripe running diagonally across my Khao Lak, I was walking on the beach with a bag slung over my shoulder. Elena, Gennardo (Italian guy, friend of Elena's) and me swam back to the boat instead of waiting for the dinghy.

Second dive site was called North Point.

We then boated over to Koh Bon for our third dive, not part of the Similan Islands, but still part of the national park. On the way there, someone spotted a large manta ray swimming off to one side of the boat. Cool. Koh Bon is supposed to be one of the top dive sites in Thailand, and our best chance at seeing manta rays while diving. The manta rays come in to "cleaning stations" on the reef to let other fish clean them. Think of it as an underwater carwash.

Third dive was very impressive and didn't disappoint! We saw lots and lots of fish, and near the end, Seth started dinging his metal rod over and over and over, continually. Either there was an emergency or something awesome was near. Seth made the manta ray sign, and started swimming away from the reef, then stopped and pointed. And there it was, maybe 20 metres away, as it swam past, back out to the ocean. It was so smooth and elegant as it "flew" along. I guessed it's size at 2.5-3 metres, which other corroborated later. It was the highlight of the trip, because it's not that common to see them.

There was another site to see at this dive site as well. At Koh Bon, the current is very strong. Typically, you would start the dive at one end of the dive site and let the current take you...easier than swimming against the current! At the end of the site is a large ridge. You can take cover behind the ridge to protect yourself from the current, but many divers hang on to the top of the ridge right in the current. While humourous to look at, it's not very good for the corals.

After the dive, we had an afternoon snack of banana fritters, pomello (fruit) and wontons.

After that, went to the top deck and laid on a mat as the sun set. Earlier, I had told Seth that I was going to do the night dive, but as I lay there, I didn't really feel like doing it. I was sooo pooped, and didn't really feel like getting wet again. Before the briefing, I told Seth I wasn't going. Katrin and Andrea were doing it, but Don wasn't. Seth gave me a hard time about backing out. As I sat downstairs, though, and was no longer in a horizontal position, I kinda felt like doing it again, so told Seth so. He was happy.

Night dive was good. I saw a huge snail (the shell perhaps 10 inches in diameter) ever so slowly moving across the ocean floor. Katrin saw me looking at it, and she later argued that it wasn't moving. I asked Seth, he said they do have very large snails here. We also saw a bat fish and lots of big crabs, their red eyes reflecing back the torch light.

Before the night dive, the Thai crew went fishing before supper and caught a trevally. They made sushi out of it as an appetizer before supper. Supper was good, and had a frozen beer after supper.

After supper, we watched a video Gerald (another dive master) made of weird and wonderful creatures of the sea.

About 10:30, decided to try and sleep on the upper deck. Bruce and Stefano were up there too, but it started to rain, just spit a bit. Stefano was the first to grab his blanket and pillow and go below. Shortly after, the rain stopped, but about 10 minutes later, another sprinkling, at which time I went back to my bunk.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Similan Islands Diving Trip, Day 2

Up about 6:15, before wakeup call, had toast and tea, then we had our first dive briefing, and first dive about 8:00. This dive site is called Barracuda Point. Katrin bailed almost immediately. I was super anxious and stressed, this was my first deep dive (30 metres) in 5 years. As we went down, the current was very strong, I felt pressure on my lungs, and I felt like I wasn't getting enough oxygen, and my buddy wasn't there. As we got deeper, I was on the verge of calling it quits and going back up. Mind over matter, mind over matter. It seemed to take forever to get down, and I don't really remember any of it, I was too self absorbed, wondering if I should ascend. When we finally reached the bottom, 30 metres, we found a sandy spot, and Seth did a couple of exercises with Don and Andrea. They were doing their Advanced Open Water course, so Seth would be quizzing them off and on for the first few dives. As they did their exercises, I was able to relax a bit, and start breathing more normally and get my heart beat down. Mind over matter. Now I felt better. Problem #2: I was so stressed and breathing so heavily, my oxygen went down much quicker than expected. As the dive went on, I got down to 50 bar (the limit, when you should ascend) way before everyone else. So that we wouldn't have to cut the dive short because of me, I breathed on Seth's secondary regulator for awhile, saving my oxygen for our safety stop.

After the first dive, Seth moved me to a bigger tank. We had breakfast, then had the opportunity to go ashore to a beautiful sandy white beach with a resort. You can rent tents too, but I couldn't find out how much.

We did our second dive around 11:30. Katrin made it down this time, after a bit of a struggle. I fared much better. The second dive site was called East of Eden.

After second dive, we had lunch. There are two cooks on board, cooking fresh meals for us three times daily.

Third dive happened mid afternoon, called West of Eden. Very nice dive.

After third dive, had snacks. I was a pig, so hungry, and gobbled everything up. Diving uses so much energy, you burn so many calories, it's important to eat and drink lots.

A bunch of us rested on the upper deck as the sun set. All of a sudden Elana, hot Italian girl, started yelling dolphins, dolphins. Every jumped, and about 200 metres from the boat, a large pod of dolphins were swimming along, some even jumping out of the water.

We did our night dive about 7:30, and I was quite anxious. My only other night dive was 5 years ago, and I remember it being quite scary, because you can't anything, except where your torch is pointing. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. We saw quite a few lobsters and a big red crab. The night dive at the same dive site as dive 3, West of Eden.

Had supper after the night dive, and then hung out. I went to the upper deck about 9:30 to find all the dive masters sharing a joint. LOL.

Went to bed about 10:00, after almost everyone else had gone to bed.

Incidentally, during the dives, we see lots and lots of fishes and corals and stuff. Much of it is fairly typically, so I'm only going to remark about exciting things I see on the dives.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Similan Islands Diving Trip, Day 1

Up about 8:00, motorbiked to Police Boat 813. This police boat was swept more than 1.5km inland during the tsunami, and it's in the same spot where the tsunami wave left it, as a memorial. Wow.

Took my big backpack to the dive centre and got fitted for my dive attire. Then checked out of Happy Lagoon. Walked around town, and stopped for a shake at a cafe, and a huge storm rolled in around 2:30. Lots of thunder and lightning and wind. Stayed at cafe and had two grilled cheese sandwiches. Storm lasted over an hour. After the storm, headed back to the dive centre and waited.

Got taken to the boat about 6:30 and met everyone. We had an introduction from Stefano, a funny Italian dive master. He introduced all the other dive masters and the Thai staff. My dive master is Seth, from the US. Katrin, from Germany, is my dive buddy. An older couple from the US, Andrea and Don, are also diving with us. There's another guy on the boat, Bruce, he's done this trip on this boat 18 times now, and this is his 10th time in a row.

After the introductions and rules, we had supper, the the boat left, about 9:00, I think. We would wake up at our first dive site. I stayed upstairs and talked and went to bed about 10:30, one of the last ones.

Seeing the Sights in Khao Lak

Up about 9:00, I had another great sleep last night. Walked around town looking for breakfast, nothing happening in town yet, even at 9:30 am. Almost all the shops still closed, none of the restaurants open, and only a handful of tourists walking around. Went back to the Happy Lagoon restaurant for an expensive American breakfast, but it ended up being huge. I didn't need to eat again until later in the afternoon.

Walked back to town and rented a motorbike for 200 baht for 24 hours. Motorbike rentals are sooo cheap in Thailand, it's awesome.

Headed north of town and first stopped at the Tsunami Memorial Sculpture. Not really impressive, just a bunch of metal bars sticking out of the ground, designed by some dude who designs furniture. But I guess it's the thought that counts.

Then turned off to see Khuh Khak beach. Amazing beach, only one resort on the whole beach, the beach was almost deserted, just a few people sunbathing or swimming. There were huge waves crashing into the shore, so I decided to do some body surfing. One wave I surfed brought me right down into the sand on my stomach, and pushed me, on my stomach, along the sand. It hurt like hell, like someone was rubbing very coarse sand paper on my stomach really hard. When I finally stopped, I expected to see my stomach all scraped and maybe bleeding a bit, but it wasn't. However, my stomach was still hurting hours after that experience.

As I was leaving the beach, I stopped to take pictures of what looked like it was a very nice restaurant not too long ago, now broken and busted and abondoned, presumably a casualty of the tsunami. The tsunami wave was 10 metres high in this area.

Then headed up to Leam Pakarang (Pakarang Cape). Nothing here, just me and sand and palm trees. You can see resorts on either side, a kilometre away.

Then on to Sai Rung waterfall. It's dry season, so not too much water coming down. Some local kids were swimming in the waterfall, they wanted me to take their picture.

Turned around and headed south and stopped at Chong Fa waterfall. Very nice and picturesque. Went for a dip in the pool of the lower waterfall, then hiked up to the upper waterfall.

After that, stopped at the Tsunami International Museum. Just a small "museum" that has displays about the tsunami, how it happened, how it affected lives and the environment, the worlds response to the trategy, etc. Kind of a tear jerker.

Headed back to the room, and had pizza at a pizza/pasta place near my bungalow.

Then headed south of town to see Ton Pling waterfall and the pedestrian suspension bridge that goes nowhere.

Then stopped at Small Sanda Beach, a small national park that's, well, a small and sandy beach in a small bay, surrounded by rocky butresses on either side. Very nice. I went for quick swim. Because it's a national park, there's a 100 baht entrance fee, but because it was 4:00 in the afternoon, she let me in for free.

Then stopped at the Tsunami Volunteer Centre. It was the HQ for the volunteer efforts after the tsunami. Not too much there, a few locals.

Back to the room, showered and walked downtown, had a beer at Ska Bar, an outdoor bar downtown along the highway. Walked up to a bookstore and bought a new book. The new book was cheaper than the used book he had for sale. Go figure.

After being here for a few days, I don't care for Khao Lak. It has every amenity you could want, but it's too resort friendly, and there's nothing at all on the beach for average backpacker dude like me. And because the main highway runs right through the centre of town, it's crazy busy, with everything from motorbikes to big transport trucks rolling on through.

In the evening, sat on my verandah and wrote in my journal, chatted with an old lady in the room next to me for a bit.

Then went to the Happy Lagoon pub and had a couple of beers. As I sat there, I conducted a very scientific survey, and counted the groups of people that passed by and put them into three categories. 31 of the groups were families, 40 of the groups were old people and 14 were younger. And even many of the younger ones were iffy, almost all couples, maybe married, holding hands. That's what Khao Lak is like. :-)

Went to bed sometime after 10:00.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Relaxing Beach Day

Up about 8:00, slept awesome. Walked over to Happy Lagoon Bungalows and took a look at the 600 baht rooms. I took one in the 6 unit motel style building, with a verandah out front. This room is even bigger than the one at Sri Guest House.

On the walk back to Sri to get my backpack, I stopped at a cafe for breakfast, then packed and checked out and took my stuff to my new place.

Went to the internet and e-mailed Sunrise Divers telling them where I am staying, so I can get a pickup for the dive trip on the 25th. Then I did a search for my dive boat name (Dolphin Queen) and found out that the company that runs that boat is literally right beside Happy Lagoon. They're called Similan Diving Safaris. I stopped in, they had my name on the list, so I filled out all the paperwork and got all my questions answered. I also asked about underwater camera's, I'm thinking I'll want one. They have a regular film camera, and also an underwater digital camera designed for diving, it has a plastic houseing around it. Most "underwater" digital cameras are more designed for snorkelling, and not for diving depths. Alternatively, I can rent a camera on board the boat for 1500/day and I can also buy a DVD of the trip for 3000 baht. Presumably I could find other people on the boat to split the cost of a DVD and we could just make copies of the DVD.

After that, went to the beach and swam, layed (laid?) around, had lunch at a beach restaurant, swam, laid (layed?) around.

About 2:0, headed back to the room and showered. There was a white cat sleeping on my verandah underneath one of the chairs. After I got out of the shower, she had moved up onto one of the chairs. I patted her, and she became my new best friend, and wouldn't leave me alone. I ignored her and wrote in my journal.

Thunderstorm rolled in later in the afternoon, cool lightning and thunder.

Went to Happy Lagoon restaurant for supper.

There are soooo many families in Khao Lak. Families with infants, families with kids, families with teenagers, it's crazy. And 80% of the kids have blonde hair. Someone told me that there's a direct flight from Sweden (I think, might have been Denmark) to Krabi. That would explain all the blonde's in the area. And there's a lot of older people staying in the beach resorts.

Khao Lak is like the Cancun of Thailand. Huge resorts with big restaurants, swimming pools, bars, and all the other amenities provided so their guests don't even need to leave the resorts. I've not really seen this in any other place in Thailand.

Still super tired from two nights ago, and went to bed about 9:00.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Onto Khao Lak

Up at 6:45. Soooo tired. Not enough sleep. Laid in bed for a bit, had a quick shower. I'm moving pretty slowly. I'm not hung over, really, I may still be a bit drunk, but just mostly tired. As I was packing, my van came early to pick me up, 7:15. Finished packing and hopped in.

The van picked up a bunch of other tourists and a few locals. One other couple is going to Khao Lak, the rest to the airport in Krabi.

The ferry from Koh Lanta Noi to the mainland was very busy, we had a long wait before we could get on. The people going to the airport in Krabi thought they were going to miss their flight.

We got to Krabi, dropped their airport people off with an hour or more to spare, then on to the tour company. We had about 10 minutes to grab something to eat and get loaded into another van for the ride to Khao Lak. While at the tour company, buddy asked me if I had a place to stay in Khao Lak yet, I said no, he sold me a place called Sri Guest House. As I have no nothing about Khao Lak (it's not in my Let's Go travel book), I took it for one night, then get my bearings and see what else is available.

Once again, the area around Krabi astounds me. It's very quite spectacular, limestone mountains coming straight up out of the ground, lush, green jungle all around. I could live in Krabi, it has such natural beauty.

The drive to Khao Lak is quite nice. We drove through this area of mountains and valleys, the road twisting and turning through the thick jungle. I started talking to the couple that were on the van from Koh Lanta with me, they did a Similan Islands dive trip a number of years ago and loved it. They said I'd get to see lots of amazing things, including huge manta rays, like 5-6 metres in diameter. Cool!

I tried to sleep on the van, but it was useless.

Got to Khao Lak about 2:00, and I asked around for directions to Sri Guest House and made the 300 metre walk along the highway to it. My room is very nice, sparkling clean, huge, but location is not ideal. I'll see what I can find this afternoon for tomorow.

I walked to the nearest restaurant for lunch, very expensive Italian place. Very good, but expensive.

Khao Lak is a large area, but when people say Khao Lak, they usually are referring to the main town where most of the accomodations are. The highway runs right through the middle of the town, and almost all the shops and restaurants and guest houses run along the highway, so it's quite stretched out.

I went in search of a map for Khao Lak, but most of the tour agents were all out. Finally I found one and go my bearings. After a thunderstorm rolled through, about 4:00, I walked down to the beach, about a 20 minute walk from Sri Guest House.

Walked north on the beach, there's nothing but high-end resorts that have beach front property here. Pretty much what I had read on the internet about Khao Lak. The beaches are very lovely and the view around to the mountains in behind is quite nice.

Walked back to Sri Guest House along the highway, used internet, and found that Happy Lagoon Bungalows is relatively cheap, it says 500 baht for fan room. And it's a short 100 metre walk to the beach. I walked by Happy Lagoon on the way to the beach, and remember looking at it thinking that that place looks expensive!

I walked to Happy Lagoon, their fan rooms are 600 baht now, but heck, I'll pay an extra 100 baht ($3) to be closer to everything. I'll move there tomorrow.

About 8:30 headed out to find something to eat, then back to my room and was in bed by 9:30.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Party Like it's 1999

Up about 8:00, went for a swim in the ocean. Refreshing.

Had breakfast at the bungalows and rented a motorbike for the day. Went to town to look around, it's soo busy. So many tourists in town, shopping, eating, having a shake or latte.

Stopped at a tour company and asked how much transport to Khao Lak was. 650 baht. Tried another tour agent. 700 baht. Went back to the first one to buy, but he wasn't around, so went to another one. 600 baht. Bought it from her. Pick up at my bungalow will be tomorrow at 7:30am. Mulled around downtown for quite a while and had an iced coffee at a cafe.

After a bit, headed south on the island and went to the Viewpoint Restaurant that has great views to the east of the island and the islands beyond. Court and I were here 5 years ago, and the only different now is the restaurant is crawling with tourists. Tons of them, unbelievable.

Headed further south to the waterfall. The paved road turned into a dirt road as you head south, very dusty, rutted and potholed. Took my time, I didn't want to crash!

Got to the waterfall parking lot and it was about a 45 minute jungle hike along and in the stream to the waterfall. Dry season right now, so not much of a waterfall, more of just a trickle coming down, but you can stand under it for a minute or two and get refreshed. The jungle trek is super nice, lush green jungle. Hiked up past the waterfall to see what I could see, nothing of interest, so hiked back to the motorbike. It's strange, we hiked to the waterfall 5 years ago, but I remember virtually nothing of it. Nothing seemed familiar to me.

Drove further south to check out the beaches. Koh Lanta has so many beaches. Went for a dip in Khlong Jak Bay, the beach and water was super nice there.

Headed back to the bungalow and got back about 4:30 and showered.

It seems there's way more tourists off the beaches than on the beaches here in Koh Lanta. How strange.

Motorbiked back into town to use internet for a while, then back to the bungalow after dark.

Walked to the same restaurant I went to last night and had their 150 baht fish BBQ again.

Walked down the beach and had a drink at a pub donig a fire show. At this bar, they have a distance sign post showing the distances to various cities around the world. While I was there, the bartender asked me where I was from, I told him Canada, he grabbed a distance sign from behind the bar that said Halifax, Canada, 14xxx kilometres (can't remember exact number). Another guy at the bar remarked that he didn't know there was a Halifax in Canada, now he knows of three Halifaxes in the world. A Brit bartender working there said he knows of four, Britain, Canada, the US and New Zealand all have places named Halifax.

Lightning all over the horizon tonight. Nothing over Koh Lanta though, but made for great watching over the ocean, sitting in a beach bar.

Moved up the beach some more and stopped at a pub with lots of women sitting around in pairs, having a drink and chatting. I decided to get a drink and sit by myself and wait for any of the girls in the pub to chat me up. I chose a strategic spot in the bow of a boat. It didn't take long for my devious plan to work! After 5 minutes, a girl from the stern of the boat came over and asked, in a British accent, if I was by myself, I said yes. She then asked me if I'd like to come and sit in with her and her friend. I accepted. They were both travelling alone, but had met on a snorkelling trip or something. Another guy joined for a bit, then he left, then two other chicks that the girls knew came along and sat with us. They had also met the guy and the other girls on the snorkelling trip. Anyway, the night turned into some mayhem, with lots of alcohol, card playing, dancing and more alcohol. We closed the place down at 3:15am. Yikes! I have to get up in a few hours for my van to Khao Lak.

My impressions of Koh Lanta 5 years later. It's still cool in my books. It's very busy, but the island is very large and spread out, so it's not crowded. The beach I was on was a backpacker beach, so had a cool vibe to it. Long Beach, is no longer the laid back, backpacker beach it was, it's definately more upscale now.

I think I got kinda screwed with my accomodation. The girls I partied with were at places right on the beach and paying the same as I was. Bugger! There's something to be said for not booking in advance, but just dealing with it when you get there. If I was staying longer, I would've moved to where the girls were staying probably.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Koh Lanta

Up about 7:45, showered and had breakfast.

As I was waiting for my ferry pickup to get to Koh lanta, I did some research on Khao Lak, where my Similan Islands dive trip leaves from. Khao Lak is the area north of Phuket island, on the mainland. Khao Lak took the brunt of the tsunami wave, in some parts, the wave swept over 4km inland! (Think about that for a minute!) The confirmed death total for Thailand from the tsunami was 5395. 4225 of those deaths were in Khao Lak.

My ferry pickup came about 10:15, and got to the pier about 10:30. I stood around with a dumb look on my face (something I pull of quite easily), and one of the tourist office girls asked me where I was going. I told her Koh Lanta, she asked me if I had accomodation yet, I told her no, but I want something cheap. She pulled out a brochure for Arena Bungalows, 400 baht/night, just south of Long Beach, about half way down the island. They are beach bungalows with a fan and private bath, so I took it.

I waited around for the boat to leave at 11:30. Boat came and we arrived at the pier in Saladan (the main town on Koh Lanta) a few hours later. The Arena Bungalows dude was waiting, holding up a sign for his bungalows, so I hopped in the brand new Isuzu truck with him, and we headed off.

Wow, the town is soooo busy now, I can't believe it. Packed full of people and vehicles. And the town has expanded way down the main highway for more than a kilometre. In fact, the whole drive, there were so many buildings, shops, hotels, restaurants, etc., all the way down. None of that existed 5 years ago! And there's so many tourists milling around everywhere.

On the drive down, I told the driver i was on Koh Lanta 5 years ago, and stayed at Lanta Sand Resort. As we passed it, he pointed it out. It's now the Lanta Sand Resort and Spa. I told him I paid 500 baht/night 5 years ago, he laughed and said "no more", meaning I would never get it for that price now.

Got to Arena bungalows. It's ok, but not on the beach. It's about a minute walk to the beach. It's stuck behind a smallish, but obviously expensive, motel with a swimming pool. The beach along here is nice, white sand, but the water isn't suitable for swimming, cus it's mostly rocks all over. I decided to walk up to Long Beach to see the Lanta Sand Resort and Deep Forest Bungalows, where I stayed 5 years ago.

On the walk up, I had to cross two small beaches. On one of them, someone had written in the sand "Exhibitionist Bay, March 20". The beach was almost empty, except at the other end, someone was sitting on a log. As I got closer, I could see that it was an older man, and he was buck naked. At the back edge of the beach, was a little shelter with a tarp over it and a dog laying under the shelter. As I walked by the guy (behind him, I didn't want to make eye contact, nor see him from the front), he said "Hi" to me. I grunted Hi back and kept walking, not looking at him. Now I know why someone had named it Exhibitionist Bay, obviously a joke because of buddy. After I passed him, another guy had just climbed over the headland, heading in the opposite direction as me. When I got to the end of the beach, the old, naked guy had started a conversation with this other guy. lol.

Made my way up to the Lanta Sand Resort. The bungalows look newer, and there's more of them, but it looks pretty much the same as when I was there. I asked at reception how much they were, she said 3000 baht ($100 CDN....5 years ago, less than $20 CDN!) Then walked to Deep Forest Bungalows, which was right beside Lanta Sand Resort. It's simply deserted now, the sign is laying on the ground, the huts are all falling down and caving in. And garbage piled up everywhere.

On the walk back to Arena, stopped at a restaurant for a late lunch.

As I walked past exhibitionist bay, the old naked guy was dragging driftwood down the beach toward his shelter. He's obviously living on the beach with the dog. When I got to the spot where someone had put Exhibitionist Bay, March 20 into the sand, he had wiped it out with his foot, obviously he didn't think it was funny.

Got back to Arena, showered, had a Coke and wrote in journal. This place is run bu a Muslim man and woman (she covers her head), there's no beer for sale here. There are a number of beach bars nearby, however.

About 6:30, walked to the beach, saw the sunset, pretty nice (most beaches on Koh Lanta face west, making for great sunsets). Walked down the beach, scoping out the restaurants and beach bars south of Arena. Had a beer at one place, then had supper at another restaurant that had a bbq happening. I got a BBQ fish fillet, baked potatoe, salad, fruit salad and Chang beer for 150 baht. Can't go wrong with that! It was awesome.

Not too much happening, along the beach, few of the beach bars and restaurants have customers, it seems to be pretty low key.

Went to bed sometime after 10:00.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Back in Krabi

Got to Surat Thani about 5:10am, then had to wait until 8:00am for the bus to Krabi. I slept off and on all night.

As I waited, met up with two girls, one from the U.S. (Kristie) and the other from Denmark (Christina).

The bus to Krabi wasn't even half full. I got two full seats to myself.

We got to Krabi about 10:30, and me and the girls walked to Chan Cha Lay Guest House, Courtney and mine's old haunt 5 years ago. Kristie had a reservation at B & B Guest House, but she didn't know where it was, so her and Christina also took a room at the Chan Cha Lay. 250 baht/night.

I got laundry done, and booked a boat to Koh Lanta for tomorrow. Then me, Kristie and Christina had lunch and then went to Wat Tham Sua, where the Tiger Cave is. Supposedly, a large tiger once lived in the cave, now it's a Buddhist temple and monastery. I didn't quite get why the tiger cave was so special, there's nothing behind the bars, except a place where people throw money, and presumably make a wish. We then walked along a jungle path to see some cool caves, and I took a side jungle path to seea "big tree". Didn't see the "big tree", or maybe I did, but couldn't pick it out from all the other big trees. I did, however, find a turtle hanging out on the hiking path. He retreated into his shell when I came along.

About 2:15, we caught a ongthaew back to Krabi, we stopped at a bakery and I bought a brownie. I haven't really had anything like this since coming here. We went back to the guest houe, I wrote in my journal and used internet for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile the girls went to their room and crashed. I went to a restaurant/pub and had a couple of beers, then after 6:00, went to the restaurant the girls wanted to eat at, and had supper with them. I had a grilled cheese sandwich with fries, it was so delicious, I had a second one. As we were eating, a rain shower came in.

After supper and the rain, we walked to the night shopping market, but it wasn't happening tonight, so we walked to the night food market, I had handmade ice cream (coconut and chocolate) and Kristy had a banana and Nutella pancake.

We walked around a while more, then back to the guest house. I read the Bangkok Post, and started falling asleep, and went to bed about 9:00, so tired.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Breaking Up

Up about 8:30, showered, packed, checked out and walked to the Thai Cozy House and dad checked in. I got a bus ticket for a night bus to Krabi (700 baht), it leaves at 5:30 this afternoon. Dad used the internet, and he found out he has two inurance options. Most inurance companies won't provide insurance once you started travelling, but he can get insurance from the Co-operators, back charged to when his other insurance ended (March 7). They just need him to call Co-operators in Canada and talk to them in his own voice, to make sure he's not in a vegetable. The other option, suggested by GMS, was that he buy special insurance here in Thailand, and they told him the type he needs. He's going to evaluate the options and also wait on whether he can get a quick flight back to Canada.

We had breakfast at Thai Cozy House.

After visiting Myanmar (or Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam), it feels so good to get back to Thailand. Those other countries make Thailand feel like a fully developed country!!! It seriously feels like coming "home".

After breakfast, dad and I went on a journey to find the Eva Airways office (the airline he flew). We took the river boat to the Skytrain, then the Skytrain to where it intersects with the subway, then took the subway to the general area where the office should be. It's in a tower called "Green Tower", so we came up out of the subway and looked around for a tower that was green. No green towers here.

At all entrances to the subways, Bangkok has officers doing security, checking bags a people go in. So dad asked the officer for help. He wasn't quite sure where Green Tower was, but he radioed someone else and then told us to turn left once we got to the street. He also suggested getting a taxi, apparently it's still a fair distance. Incidentally, the subway in Bangkok is awesome. Just like a subway you'd find in any first world city (London, Sydney, etc.), it's super clean, high tech, and the tracks are enclosed by glass, so no one can accidentally (or on purpose) fall onto the tracks. When the train comes, doors in the glass open up in the same spot a the doors on the train. Very modern, very impressive.

We got to the street and started walking in the direction the officer told us. We walked for 5 minutes and couldn't see anything that could be it, and it was hot, so we waved down a taxi. He wasn't sure where it was either, but he called the Eva Airways office in his cell phone to get directions. Once he knew, it was a failry short drive to Green Tower, which is indeed a tall tower, with much green on it. We could've walked it, but it would have taken a while.

Went inside Eva Airways office, and dad explained the situation, and she checked all the flights through to the end of March, but everything is booked solid. She has put him on standby for the next two flights, and he is to call her at 5:00 on the day before the flights. There's a flight tomorrow, so he is supposed to call her today at 5:00 to see if he can get a seat. She has his request flagged as an emergency, so that preumably puts him at or near the front of the queue.

We caught a taxi back to the subway, then subway->Skytrain->boat->guest house about 3:30. I used the internet, trying to get caught up on all my journal entries, and reading all the emails I ignored because of the crappy internet in Myanmar.

At 5:00, went up to dads room and showered and then dad and I waited downstairs for my bus pickup. Buddy came shortly after 5:30, took a minibus to a small park beside a major road, where me and a whole bunch of other backpackers waited for an hour for the big bus to come. When we got there, there were already two busses there and a bunch of taxi's. One of the busses was loading up other backpackers for a trip somewhere else, and a traffic cop came along. Both busses suddenly vanished, and the traffic cop gave tickets to the taxi'. LOL. I don't think the busses are supposed to be using this park as a bus depot! After the traffic cop left, the bus that was loading up backpacker returned a short time later, and loaded up the rest of the backpackers.

I feel bad for dad, leaving him in Bangkok. But what am I to do? I can't sit around Bangkok with him, while he waits for flights back to Canada. He is used to Bangkok now, and knows how to get around, and he has everything he needs, a tv, fridge, internet, bed, free breakfasts, but still. I would have felt better if I even knew that he did have a confirmed flight, but for all he and I know, he might be sitting in Bangkok for another 10 days before he can finally get out!

Anyway, our bus came at 6:15, and left about 7:00pm. The busses hear at like limo's compared to Myanmar! No more complaints when I have to take a night bus in Thailand.

They tried to play a movie on the bus, but there was something wrong with the video system. I tried to stay awake as long as I could, then started to get sleepy around 10:30......

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Back to Bangkok!

Considering the seat, I did get ome sleep on the bus. Dad said that it was the worst night of his life!

We got to Yangon about 7:00am, then got a shared taxi to the airport for $5. Now, we have a 12 hour wait until our flight leaves! Before going through security, we walked across the street from the airport and had breakfast at an open air restaurant, then we headed back to the airport and went through security. Unfortunately, we couldn't check our bag until after 5:00pm, so we sat around most of the day with our packs, me reading and dad doing crosswords. Every once in a while, we'd get up to walk around a bit, but it was a long day.

Lots of men at the airport chew on betel, and they spit it in the garbage cans in the airport.

The baggage check for our flight opened up about 5:45. We checked our bags and hurried through customs, then to the airport departure area, expecting to find a restaurant, we were so hungry. Nothing, no food, no shops, nothing. Not much of an international airport.

The flight left early, about 7:45. Nice new aircraft, only about 3/4 full. We even got a meal served to us, chicken sandwich, it was very good.

We arrived in Bangkok, and went through customs. Customs wasn't nearly as crazy this time as it was when we first got to Bangkok. Really no lineup to speak of this time, so we passed through quickly. We got our bags, and took a public metered taxi to Koh San Road. We walked to Thai Cozy House, and they were full. We didn't make a reservation. When we were there, they suggested another place, 5 minutes walk away, so we followed buddy to it. Not a very good deal, no TV or fridge, no breakfast for 900 baht. But it's 11:00pm at night, and we don't much feel like walking around trying to find another place.

Dad ued the internet and found out he has no medical coverage, and my Gram in Nova Scotia is not doing too well, so he is going to try to get back to Canada early.

We went to McDonalds for supper. As we walked down Koh San Road, someone had a baby elephant on Koh San Road. Great, the one and only time when I didn't bring my camera!

After McDonalds, we walked back to Thai Cozy House so dad could book a room for himself for tomorrow night. I'm going to head down to Krabi tomorrow night.

To bed about 12:30.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Night bus to Yangon

Up about 8:00. Dad got up early to eat and go use internet to try and get back to Canada early.

I soaked in bed, got up, showered and had breakfast about 9:00, then back to room and read and waited for dad. Power went out as I was waiting, so dad will probably be back fairly soon. He returned a short time later, and about 20 minutes, the power came back on. He packed his bag and just as he was going to head back to the internet, the power went off again. He waited, and about 10 minutes later, it was back on. He quickly headed to the internet.

About 11:30, I checked us out, took our bags downstairs and waited downstairs for him. He returned about noon.

We decided to walk down some of the back streets of town to see what we could see. The houses here are not too bad. Just bamboo housing, but seem in good shape, and fairly large. We eventually got lost and found ourselves at the local market, where locals sell fish, veggies, eggs, cloth, household items, etc. The market is HUGE. One of the fabric shops saw us coming and ran up to us with Myanmar local dress that guys wear, called a sarong. They dressed both of us up in sarongs and white button up shirts, and I took a picture of dad. Of course, they wanted to sell, dad asked how much for his outfit, they came up with a price of $23 for sarong and shirt. Too high, they dropped to $18. Dad said he just wanted the sarong, not the shirt, they said $12. Dad offered $10, and a deal was struck. I told them I didn't want to buy, but ended up buying a t-shirt with the Burmese alphabet for $2. The market was awesome, highly recommended.

We walked some more, were lost, so took a trishaw back to the guest house about 1:30. Want to San Kabar Italian restaurant for lunch.

Back to the guest house, about 2:40 and waited for the bus.

I think my diahhroea is done. Yay!

Bus came at 3:15 and we were off.

The roads here in Myanmar are terrible, like Laos or Cambodia. Riding through the countryside, we came across a part of Myanmar with hundreds of oil wells.

The bus stopped for supper about 8:00pm. Dad and me not very hungry, and had oranges. I'm also afraid to eat in case I do still have diahhroea.

We had the worst seats on the bus, raised up from the previous seats, so our feet couldn't touch the floor, they just dangled. And because we were so high up, we didn't have much room when the people in front decided to lower the back of their seat. And, we couldn't stretch our feet out underneath the seats in front of us.

The bus played Myanmar music videos (with karaoke lyrics) and then a Myanmar comedy movie. The music in Myanmar is quite modern, including rap and hip/hop artists, but much of it is love songs of various sorts. Not sure what they're singing about.

Stopped for a toilet break shortly after midnight.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Mount Popa

Up at 7:00, quick shower, breakfast and waited for mini-van to pick us up at 8:00. I took another Imodium today, after yesterdays episodes.

After picking us up, we picked up three Israeli's and started to Mount Popa.

Stopped at a "sugar factory", where they take palm tree oil and make liquid sugar out of it, and make candy and alcohol. It's just run by a family, and housed under some bamboo, not so much a factory, but a home brew system. They even have a distillery there. Also had a five section stove where they boil the palm oil, gradually heating it to a rapid boil to make candy or something. I didn't quite understand the whole flow of the operation, but it was very fascinating.

As we got closer to Mt. Popa, we climbed into the higher elevations and the air got cooler.

Mt. Popa looks cool from a distance, but hiking to the top is very uninteresting. Not really worth it, can't see much, and ther's no grand temple at the top. We left early, and met up with the Israeli's, who were quite disappointed too. As we were waiting for our taxi dude, dad and me stopped at a restaurant, and I ordered some tea. It came, and it was black, like tar. I filld it with sugar, and drank most of it, then I broke out in a sweat and started feeling nauseous. I ran to the toilet and the tea came back up. So much for that!

Incidentally, the Israeli guys had just come back from Laos. One of them was saying how expensive it is now, it cost them more to travel in Laos than Thailand. (Incidentally, more recently, I read in Lonely Planet that the US has lifted a trade embargo that it had for Laos since 1970, and Laos is now a "normal trading partner" with the US. This probably has something to do with why it suddenly got expensive.)

We got back to the guest house about 1:00 and went to an Italian place for lunch, I had ravioli and dad had lasagna. Very good.

Back to room, government power was out, so no A/C, and they haven't turned their generator on, so no fan. Dad slept and I did crossword puzzles, wrote in journal and read.

About 6:30, took a trishaw to Restaurant Row for $1, used internet, I paid for my Similan Islands diving trip, then we went to Aroma 2 restaurant for Indian food. It's voted as one of the best 5 restaurants in Myanmar. We ate traditional style, off of a banana leaf!

We walked back to the hotel, got their about 9:00, I wrote in my journal some more, read and went to bed after 10:00. Dad keeps crashing early, I think the heat gets to him, because it is frickin hot here in Myanmar.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Temples and Temples....and more Temples!

Up about 8:00, had breakfast on the 2nd floor eating area, overlooking the street.

After breakfast, Ms. Cho, the guest house lady, gave us a map of the best temples and paya's and we rented pedal bicycles (1-speed, like the locals use, for 1000 kyat for the day) and started off. We stopped at the internet first, used it for about an hour. There's some half decent internet here, when the power is on. Then we started down the road to see the temples.

The first one we stopped at was very nice, appeared quite old, you could climb up high and look all over. The number of payas and temples dotting the landscape in Bagan is mind boggling. Hundreds and hundreds for as far as the eye can see.

A local was selling sand paintings at the temple, dad and I each bought one. We went to another temple nearby, just a monk was praying there. After that, we biked to the artists village, just a short distance away. When we showed up, all the village kids came running, and they enjoyed seeing themselves on the digital cameras and video.

As we headed back to the main road, I noticed dad's rear tire was almost flat, we were 2km out, so dad had to peddle an almost flat bike back to the guest house. At the guest house, dad got a new bike, we went to a travel agent and booked a night bus from Bagan to Yangon for Sunday night.

After getting our bus ticket, we went for lunch, then headed out to see more temples.

I had my first bowel movement in 2.5 days, a big splurge, after the Imodium wore off. Travellers diahhroea sucks.

Tourism is way down, lots of locals trying, begging for us to buy something. Dad bought a print from some guy who stopped us on the highway and showed his wares right on the edge of the road. I ended up buying another sand painting from another guy, but we had to say no to many, including lots of kids.

One temple we went in to, the kids were annoying, and wouldn't leave dad alone. He finally had to get rude at them, and they finally left him alone.

On the way back from the temples, dad, in all his glory, would pass me on his bicycle, acting just like he was a local. It was kind of funny.

We stopped at a big resort in Old Bagan for water. Dad asked the price, $120/night. The cost for a botle of water here is $1.20, most places sell it for 30 cents. I had a diahhroea emergency, and asked for the toilet, and had another good splurge. Dad used the toilet too, I could hear him beside me, and he let out this huge fart. Then he said, "Oh god, was that it?" He had been holding this poop for an hour, waiting for a toilet, and it was nothing more than a big fart.

We made our way back to the guest house, showered, then went for food about 7:00pm. Had another good diahhroea there. Can't eat much feeling like this either, which sucks. Dad ordered just french fries for super.

After supper, we went to the travel place and asked about a shared taxi to Mount Popa. They knew 3 people who wanted to go as wel, so they went to get them, and we arranged it for tomorrow. It leaves at 8:00am for a half day trip.

Used internet, updated a couple of journal entries, then back to the guest house and to bed sometime after 10:00.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Off to Bagan

Up shortly after 5:00, packd and got to taxi pier. Got on the boat about 6:30, and it left at 6:45.

Talk about a nice ride. This is infinitely nicer than taking a bus.

The boat runs down the Ayeyarwady River. The river is quite wide and the land around the river is pretty much flat. There is lots of activity on the river, it's a major commercial river, big boats and lots of small boats and local fishing boats. The shoreline is very boring. There's a big group of German tourists on the boat, most older. There's also a few backpacker-types on board.

The boat had a kitchen on board, so dad and I had breakfast about 10:15.

For most of the rest of the journey, I read or watched the activity on the river and shore. As we went past villages, all the kids on the shore would start yelling and waving their arms at us. Also, a lot of local boats waved at us as we went by.

The boat can't just steam down the river. It has to weave down the river, back and forth, because of sand bars. It's low water, but the captains have a pretty good idea where to go. Every once in a while, when crossing a low area, two other crew members would move to the front of the boat and stick long bamboo poles into the water to gauge the water depth, and signal to the captain.

Got to Bagan about 5:00, took a horse cart to our guest house of choice, May Kha Lar Guest House. Along the way, it stopped at the government checkpoint, where all tourists are required to pay a $10 fee to get into the Bagan Archeological Area. The guest house was nice, $12/night, includes A/C if the government power is working, which it was when we arrived. I showered, then we walked to Restaurant Road (or Row), where many of the restaurants live. Had supper at a place called "A Little Bit of Bagan", dad had a chicken burger and fries. He keeps ordering chicken burger and fries (or just fries) wherever we go. I had pasta.

As we were eating, the government power went off. Power grid in Myanmar is very flakey, much like it was in Laos. No internet tonight!

After supper, we walked along Restaurant Road, and stopped to talk to the proprietor of Aroma 2 (Aroma 1 is in Inle Lake). He was telling us how there's no tourists here at all, usually his restaurant is full, and nowadays there's hardly anyone there.

Ever since we left Yangon, dad has been happier than a lark. He doesn't want to leave now!

Nyaung U, the town where we stay in Bagan, is small, easy to walk around. Other forms of transport around the town are horse cart of trishaw.

We got back to the guest house at 8:00, I wrote in journal and read and went to bd about 10:00. Dad crashed earlier.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ahh, Mandalay...much nicer!

I only slept in shot fits all night, so didn't get much sleep. The bus stopped for morning coffee about 6:30. My eyelids were so heavy, I was soo tired.

Got to the bus station near Mandalay about 9:00 or 9:30. We had decided to stay at Royal Guest House (was in my Lonely Planet), and a guy with a Royal Guest House sign was standing outside the bus waving it around (other guest houses had people waving signs to). When we got off, we asked him how much the rooms were, he said $10/night, private bathroom, so we went there. We had to pay 6000 kyat for the taxi. We checked the room, it looked good, there were a few other tourists around the guest house as well, so we took it.

The taxi dude also sold us a $15 afternoon tour for the both of us to see the Mandalay sights. He was going to pick us up at 3:00.

We came up with a plan. We'll leave for Bagan tomorrow, stay for two days, then go to Inle Lake for 1-2 days, then back to Yangon for Monday, when we fly out.

After checking in to the guest house, we walked to find the BBB Restaurant, everything on their menu is western. We had breakfast there, then tried internet, and it wasn't working. No surprise there.

As we were walking to the restaurant, we were walking along a quiet side road, a car pulled up beside us, and it was Rita and her husband. We were surprised to see them, and she us. She asked us where we were going, we told her and gave her the address, her and her husband talked for a few seconds, and said it would be the next street, turn left. Dad noticed a HUGE stack of bills (money) they had in their car, at least 10 inches thick. They had a very nice, new car too. They appear to be pretty well off.

While we had breakfast, we decided that there wasn't enough time to do Bagan and Inle Lake, so we'll spend two nights here and two nights in Bagan, then take a night bus from Bagan back to Yangon on Sunday night.

We walked back to the guest house, along the outside edge of Mandalay Fort, which is an old palace surrounded by a big wall and a huge moat. Each side of the moat is 2 miles long.

On the walk back from the restaurant, a guy pulled over on a bike and wanted to know if I had anything at all to sell, he wanted to buy something from me. I told him sorry, I didn't have anything!

Also on the walk back, a number of kids saw dad's camera and surrounded him. Dad took it out, and they all lined up nice and quiet for their picture. Dad took their picture and some video of them, and showed it to them. They were very exicted to see themselves.

So far we're liking Mandalay, it's not nearly as busy as Yangon, much slower pace here.

One thing we noticed is the lack of motorbikes on Yangon. There were none. Not sure why. But motorbikes are out in full force here in Mandalay. And pedal bikes too.

Back at the room, showered, went to pay for a second night at the guest house and to book a boat to Bagan for Friday, but there is no boat on Friday! If we want to take a boat to Bagan, we have to go tomorrow, as the next boat isn't until Sunday. So, we decided to just spend one night in Mandalay and take the boat to Bagan tomorrow. It's $27 for the boat, compared to only $7 for a bus. The bus isn't even an A/C bus, and it's a 10 hour bus ride. No thanks! We'll pay more and take the boat.

Dad did some laundry and dried it on the roof top of the guest house (they have a little area there).

The buildings aren't as rundown here as they were in Yangon, more renovating taking place. And the infrastructure (roads and sidewalks) are in much better shape here.

We hung out on the rooftop terrace, then about 2:45 went downstairs to meet our tour taxi..

First we went to a stone carving place, very interesting. Then to a handicraft shop. No pressure to buy. Then to Mahamuni Paya. The Buddha here was cast in the first century AD or 554 BC, they don't know. Lots of men were recovering the Buddha in hold leaf.

Next, we went to the shop where they make the gold leaf. This is crazy. Men and women pound hammers and wood for hour after hour to flatten out the gold, making it tissue paper thin. Now there's hard labour!

Then to Shwenandaw Kyaung, an old wooden monastery. Then saw Sandamani Paya and Kuthodaw Paya, each with hundreds of white stupas. Kuthodaw has 729 marble slabs hanging under each stupa, inscribed with the entire 15 books of the Tripitaka. Outside of Kuthodaw Paya, a boy was selling paintings and a girl was selling packs of small postcard-size paintings. They were awesome, and I took pity and bought a painting from the boy for 1000 kyat. Dad did the same. The girl then sent us on a guilt trip, saying she was very sad, why didn't we buy anything from her. I felt bad, but we left.

We then continued on to Mandalay Palace and Fort, and took pictures from the outside.

He then dropped us off at the foot of Mandalay Hill, and we walked up over 1000 stairs to get to the top, with big and small Buddha's along the way. There were two MASSIVE Buddha's along the path, they blew me away. After we made it back down from Mandalay Hill, the little girl who was at Kuthodaw Paya was there, trying to hawk her wares again. She saw us and came running. I asked dad if he would split on a set of her postcard-size paintings, he said yes. Her face lit up when we bought from her, and she was sooo happy. There's hardly any tourists here, and it hurts the locals that rely on that so much.

That was the end of the tour, so we had our taxi guy drop us off at the BBB Restaurant for supper, I had a good steak. After supper, we hit an internet, and it was working!! Yay!

Back to the guest house, I decided to take a trishaw (a bicycle with two seats on one side, one passenger faces forward, the other passenger faces backwards) to the Moustache Brothers. They are a comedy troupe who are now banned from public performances by the government. The leader of the troupe, Par Par Lay, has been arrested 3 times. His last arrest was Sept. 25, 2007, during the protest. Earlier, he had spent 5 years in prison, and was only released after pressure from Hollywood actors. Nowadays, they perform out of their home, and only to tourists, slamming the government and showing traditional Burmese dance and dress. Anyway, I think the Moustache Brothers was the hilight of my trip. The show was 8000 kyat, and I paid 3000 kyat for the trishaw there and back.

One of the other members of the Moustache Brothers, Lu Maw, his wife is the cover girl on an old Italian versions of the Lonely Planet.

One of the things the Moustache Brothers talked about was what the best job in Myanmar was. It's a traffic cop. Why? Corruption! They can stop anyone, threaten them and make them pay 1000 kyat to make the ticket "go away". The traffic cop, of course, pockets all the money. At the end of the day, the traffic cop has a wad of kyat in his wallet.

On the trishaw ride back from the Moustache Brothers, I was talking to my driver. He's 44 years old, he's been a trishaw bicycle driver for over 24 years, since before he got married when he was 20. He has 3 kids, a daughter 15, and two sons, 19 and 21. Trishaw drivers work in rotation, he was stationed outside the Royal Guest House. I was his first fare all day. He told me most tourists want to take taxi's, so there's not much work for him anymore. Next year, he hopes to drive a taxi. To do that, he needs to pay a deposit of either $200 or $400 (can't remember) and he has to pay 4000 kyat every day, regardless of whether he has any paying customers. He also has to buy all his own fuel. He has a very tough life, but is making an honest living and not begging. Super nice guy.

To bed about 10:30.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Yangon -> Mandalay

Up around 8:00-ish, showered, went for breakfast, then used internet, slow but workable. Got to update one journal enry.

Hotel is trying so hard to be a big time, nic hotel, but it's rundown, decaying, and the workers are soooo anoying, trying to be friendly and catering to everything. They try to tell us we should rest because it's hot out. Everytime we leave the hotel, they ask where we are going. It's ANNOYING!!! Leave us alone, hotel! As well, this hotel is useless when trying to get information on busses or trains or sights to see around Yangon.

We checked out at 11:30, and hung out in the lobby of the hotel, me reading and dad doing crosswords. About 1:15, we went for lunch at Cafe Aroma. Dad ordered pizza, didn't finish it, so had it put in a box. When we left the cafe, a kid started begging for the leftovers. He didn't give it to him, instead gave it to a starving mother with her infant son a short distance away.

As we were walking to the cafe, some guy was sitting on a concrete block along the sidewalk. As I passed, he said "Give me one dollar!". I looked at him and said "NO!". At another point, some vendor woman said "Hello!" to me as I walked by. I said "Hello" back. She said, "I love you!". I turned around and smiled at her, she laughed.

I've been having some diahhroea recently, so took an immodium this afternoon for the bus trip.

Surprising number of Christian and Catholic churches here. Must be from the British colonial days.

About 2:30, walked to the bus office. He told us to come at 3:00, and it was only a 5 minute walk, but dad was getting impatient and concerned that everything would leave without us. He has a little bit (ok, a lot) of his father in him! We got the bus ticket office at 2:35 and then waited for an hour, then got into the back of a songthaew for a 45 minute ride to the bus depot.

The bus depot is craziness!! There must've been a hundred busses, maybe more, all over, all waiting for passengers. Very lively, lots of people selling snacks, fruit, local newspapers and everything else someone might need for a bus trip. It was pretty awesome. We didn't see any other tourists at all. When we got off the songthaew, the bus company dude showed us where to go and which bus to get one.

As we waited for our bus to open it's doors, a local woman started talking to us in good english. She's from Myanmar, but she now lives in Bangkok, and does things with gems. She was quite helpful for the rest of the bus trip. Rita was her name, she was travelling to Mandalay with her mother.

At 5:00, the bus doors opened, and everyone got on, and it left about 5:30. The seats are tiny, and sitting beside dad is kind of annoying. He's easily to big for the seat, so half of his stomach and arms are in my seat, and I'm squished against the window.

At about 7:30, the bus stopped for supper at some very local restaurant. Rita helped us out with the restaurant, telling us what was what and how much everything was. The meat here is very local, a lot of fat and cartilage and bone on the chicken or pork when you order something.

The bus played Burmese music video's (complete with karaoke lyrics) and some Myanmar comedy shows. Everyone was laughing except us.

At 11:30, the bus stopped for no apparent reason for 1.5 hours. The locals on the bus where getting restless, throwing what I assume were insults at the drivers, trying to get on the move again. According to my Lonely Planet, bus drivers do this sometimes.

It was quite an uncomfortable ride.