Sunday, February 21, 2010

Won't you take me to, Phuket Town?

Sorry once again for being out of touch for better than a week, but we were busy lounging on Hat Sai Ree beach on Ko Tao (yes, that is Colin's knee in the photo, and that was our view). It's a scuba diving mecca (unfortunately, neither of us dives and were both waaayyy too busy reading under our favorite tree on the beach to bother getting certified) in the Gulf of Thailand. The water is a clear teal color- so clear that we could see the tan lines on our feet when standing in five feet of water. Our bungalow was about 75 feet from the water's edge with a nice "veranda," upon which we sat and watched the birds and the boats while eating our breakfast from the 7-11 (they are ubiquitous in Thailand and have cheap cereal and yogurt, which is of great value when staying in a bungalow on the beach- you HAVE to be able prioritize, you know..). When we felt the need, we took walks around the island, to the southern end and the east coast (which was UP and over the mountainous middle of the island- boy, am I out of shape...). In our original itinerary, our time in the islands was supposed to be spent figuring out what to do next, and we actually did some thinking (until our brains overheated and it got too difficult, then we got back in the water to cool our heads). It is really hard to make decisions about our futures when we have virtually no obligations! We may now have a plan for the next year or two (stay tuned for further developments, since our plans change more than the weather) that involves being out of the US when "Pol Pot" Palin is nominated as the presidential candidate representing the Teabaggers. (How can you NOT see the similarities when she and her ilk seem to think all educated city-dwellers are elitist and evil?!?!?!).
Yesterday we took the bus to Phuket (get your minds out of the gutter, it's pronounced poo-get) to see what islands on the west coast in the Andaman Sea look like. It's a big, affluent island province with lots of rubber and palm plantations and big, fancy resorts (we are not staying in one of those, though). We will be renting a motorbike for a couple of days to explore the island's beaches and do some snorkelling. Hopefully we'll also be able to locate our friend Bernie from George Town while we're here; he emailed me with the location of the beach near the police station where he likes to sit between specific hours of the afternoon (he's a character). We may still be here when our bowling partner Alan and his wife, Maggie arrive as well. Who knows, it may just turn into a big, happy reunion!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bangkok, round two

Well, we've been in Bangkok for five days now, and I will say I didn't give it a fair chance on the first visit. The bus ride here was quite comfortable (on a VIP bus with blasting cold aircon, cushy, reclining seats, and lunch! of course, everything is better with food included), and arriving with at least somewhat of an idea where we were going helped as well. There are many spectacular sights in the city, and we've tried to take in a bunch of them. One day, we went to see Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace grounds. Wat Phra Kaew is the home of the Emerald Buddha, probably the most sacred Buddha image in Thailand. It's not very big (about 26 inches high) but it's carved from a single piece of jade (not actually emerald). It's placed high up on an altar in the temple, and many people make pilgrimages here to see it. The building itself is really impressive in its over-the-top-ness; there's an abundance of mirrored mosaic tiles in primary colors and LOTS of gold. All of the doors and shutters are wood inlaid with intricate mother of pearl designs. We also went to Wat Pho, which is the oldest temple in Bangkok and home of the largest reclining Buddha (46 meters long!). The feet were the most amazing part, with the 108 auspicious virtues of the Buddha also inlaid in mother of pearl along with whorls on his toes (I think he may have needed corrective arches though, because the feet were as flat as could be).
Another day we walked to Dusit Park to see Vimanmek Palace, one of the homes of the former King, Rama V (the current one is Rama IX). It's a 72-room home built of golden teak with NO NAILS! It is a really beautiful building; Colin once again commented how good it is to be king. The other buildings on the grounds have exhibits on silk production, amazingly intricat bamboo and fern basketry, gold and silver traditions. There was also an exhibition of the "Masterpieces," created in honor of many different occasions in the monarchs' lives. It was all a bit more than our tastes could handle (Colin said if he was king, his first decree would be, "enough with the gold, already"). Today we went to the Jim Thompson House, which is actually six old teak houses put together, filled with antiques and artwork. Jim Thompson was the man who introduced Thai silk to the western world after WWII. They came to prominence after being featured in the movie, "The King and I," which our guide had never seen, since it's still banned in Thailand. Thompson disappeared in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia in 1967. No one knows what happened to him, but an astrologer warned him that his 61st year would be a bad one for someone born in the year of the horse, and he was 61 when he disappeared. Our guide warned Colin against traveling to Malaysia when he is 61 (he's also a horse...I'm a monkey, whoever would have guessed that). We don't have many photos of any of these places because cameras were forbidden within all of the buildings.
Enough about the cultural stuff. Bangkok has a seamy city, and we have seen some of that in our visit as well. We wandered Khao San Road, which is the tourist "ghetto" and didn't find it to our liking, although if anyone is in need of a diploma from Oxford or the London School of Economics and would rather blow the college fund on a trip to Thailand, you can buy one on Khao San Road (along with fake dreadlocks and an assortment of ugly t-shirts). Last night we had dinner at a Japanese steakhouse in Patpong, the seedy district favored by American GIs on R&R visits during the Vietnam War and now a night market and tourist trap. The restaurant looked (and smelled) like it hasn't changed since it opened 50+ years ago, and the food was terrific (you know us, it's all about the food).
Tomorrow we will take the train back to Chumpon and will hop a ferry to the island of Ko Tao (renowned for the snorkelling and diving), or maybe we'll go to Phuket to find our new friend from George Town, Bernie. We haven't decided, so we'll let you know when we get there!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Decisions, indecision...

We've spent the past two weeks debating whether to continue traveling in Malaysia or to take the ferry to Sumatra for a few weeks. Each and every itinerary of the approximately 23 we came up with had its strong points, and after all that hemming and hawing, we decided to go to... THAILAND! Our original intent was to spend some time in peninsular Thailand in order to see some of the islands and do a little snorkeling, but because of the high frustration we experienced in Bangkok trying to get to the south, we bypassed everything we wanted to see in the southern half of the country. And on top of it, virtually everyone we've spoken with has told us that Bangkok is a really interesting city to spend a few days. Since we didn't give it a fair chance, we're going to head in that direction tomorrow and work our way back down the peninsula to Malaysia again, stopping off along the way when and where the fancy strikes us. We really enjoyed our extented time in George Town and most definitely will return to see other parts of the country (and maybe stop back in G-Town for just one more banana leaf lunch. Oh, and one more banana roti and a dim sum dinner also... okay, maybe we shouldn't go back for fear of never leaving!)

Now that we've ended our stasis, be looking for more photos and blog posts. I'll try to overcome my sluggy habits and put more frequent updates on here!