Friday, December 30, 2011

Siem Reap, Cambodia

  As a reward for our arduous journey thus far Victoria, Jeanette, Sierra and myself spent our first  night in a rather nice hotel in Siem Reap. Siem Reap is famous for its ancient temples. In fact, there are over 200 temples surrounding the city. Based on my photo albums I think I've seen at least six or seven of the most popular attractions. The best way to visit the ruins is to rent a tuk tuk driver each day who can take you exactly where you need to go. It's always a gamble because you never know how reliable your driver will be. Honestly, we could not have hired a nicer man to transport us around the city. Mr. Tea (tee-eh) provided a cooler of bottled water for us every day and always checked on us to see if we were comfortable. He understood more English than he could speak and wore a smile on his face at all times. We paid him $28 each day ($7 per person) for three days. In order to gain admissions to the temples we bought 3-day passes for $40. Although we had access for three days we spent two full days touring and our final day at Angkor Wat for sunrise. 

  Every temple we explored was unique in its own way. In Thailand I feel that many temples are indistinguishable due to traditional architectural design and common religious statues therein. They are all well maintained and perfectly preserved. For me, exploring each new temple in Cambodia seemed to fuel my curiosity and anticipation of what was in store. I was eager to take photos of the intricate bas relief carvings on the walls or the abandoned piles of rubble that have littered the ground for thousands of years. The fact that the temples have virtually been untouched over centuries is fascinating. Nature began to reclaim the stones as vibrant lichens and winding tree roots crept over the walls. Maybe Westerners find these temples particularly captivating because there is nothing truly ancient in America. I couldn't fathom how young America is until I traveled to Italy and Asia. When I read a description of a temple and learned that it was built in the 9th or 12th century I couldn't really comprehend the age of the stones until I wandered inside and saw them for myself. I think all that history is hard to understand, but exploring the mysteries of every temple helped me imagine just how ancient the buildings are. 

  My favorite temples were Bayon (the temple with the stone faces) and Ta Phrom (where Tomb Raider) was filmed. Bayon is exposed in a clearing of trees and encircled by a dirt road for the tuk tuks. From the front steps it's unclear what makes this temple so special. It seems rather small in both height and area, plus the surface appears featureless and eroded. As I approached the temple all the faces seemed to emerge from the towers above. Unable to get a proper view of them from the first floor, I climbed the staircase inside and found myself surrounded by what looked like fifty faces jutting out of the four sides of every tower. I could see each individual stone used to construct the temple. I felt as if I was in a giant jigsaw puzzle. No matter how many photos I took of the place I could never be satisfied. 
Ta Phrom really took the cake as my favorite temple. Aside from feeling like I was on the set of the Tomb Raider film, exploring these ruins was breathtaking. I basically wandered aimlessly, my mouth hanging open in awe, without a care of getting lost. I guess I was lost in awe. The temple looked like it had slowly grown out of the earth thousands of years ago. You can see in my photos how the trees virtually climbed on top of the walls and spread their roots reaching down to the ground. 
Song of the Day:
  This song comes from the downtempo instrumental DJ known as Bonobo. I found him one day by rummaging Itunes for artists similar to Thievery Corporation. Many of his songs have appeared on American television shows from Gossip Girl to House. I've utilized his relaxing and groovy tracks for my DJing gigs at Phra Nakorn. 

Bonobo - 'Change Down'

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The King and I

  I think some current event updates are in order. This weekend was totally awesome. I spent a few days around the Grand Palace, which is just up the street from the school. Pictures will be posted shortly. Monday was the King's birthday, so the area around the palace was lavishly decorated with lights, tents and pictures of him. The road through the park was lined with tent vendors selling things like food, wooden carvings of home appliances and reed sitting mats.  My friends and I spent a few afternoons relaxing and throwing a frisbee in the massive field outside the palace wall. I love the winter season here. Winter weather here is an ideal American summer. It's hot every day, but not unbearably hot and humid like the previous seasons, plus it's cool in the morning and evening. It seems like the seasons change so quickly. It's obviously warm and tropical all the time, but the rain suddenly turned off after rainy season and now the decreasing humidity makes the heat more comfortable. The weather this weekend was perfect for my rooftop gig and the King's birthday celebration. 

  On Sunday I played my first DJ gig in Thailand at Phra Nakorn bar. For those who aren't familiar with the bar, it's conveniently hidden around the corner from Khao San. The place is made up of four levels: a cozy restaurant on the first floor, an art gallery on the second floor, a vintage-themed third floor with a bar and pool table, and finally an open rooftop crowded with small white tables adorned with oil lamps, flanked by a bar on each side. Phra Nakorn has quickly become my favorite bar in Thailand. Eclectic music styles, the inviting atmosphere of each floor and the strongest Long Island iced-teas around all create a recipe for a great night. What led to my gig was my innate curiosity about the music on the roof. Whenever I song catches my ear I always ask the DJ or person near the computer to tell me the artist and song. I've done this a few times at Phra Nakorn; enough to introduce myself to the bar tender. Maybe about two weeks ago I started talking to the bartender, Oct, and his friend, Prince about the possibility of playing music one night on the roof. Guest DJ's (a.k.a. Farangs) are only allowed to play on Sunday nights. Lucky for me, this past Sunday happened to be a full house! Since Monday was the King's 84th birthday, thousands of Thai people poured into the streets and bars to celebrate all weekend. 
  On the way to the bar I went to the street to summon a cab, but attracted a motorbike driver instead. Rather than take a cab through the traffic I decided to hop on the guy's bike even though I couldn't properly explain where I was going. I was nervous to weave in between cars with my computer on my back. When I got closer to the bar, the adjacent street was absolutely packed with people gathering to enjoy the holiday decorations. My motorbike driver drove onto the sidewalk to get out of the traffic. The ride took about twenty minutes and then what felt like another ten just to cross the street. When I arrived on the roof I greeted my Thai friends (Prince and Ock) who work at the bar. I was nervous about my playlist at first because the music was super soft and mellow when I first got there, which made me self-conscious about my louder songs. All that trepidation was so unnecessary! I was just nervous about everything working out. It turned out that my two Thai friends and I all have similar music taste and our selections blended together nicely. To my surprise they were familiar with The Postal Service and The Drums among other bands. I wish I could've played only my songs the whole time, but it was fun to introduce new songs to the Thai guys and learn some new things from them. I was so happy that I could play anything I wanted and that the Thai people liked my selections. Almost all of the Loyola teachers were there to hear me play. How flattering! I could tell everyone had a great time. Prince offered me another chance to play music this Sunday, but I'm going to Avicii/Armin! I'd like to play every Sunday if possible. 

  On Monday night I went with a few friends to the Grand Palace for the big celebration. There were thousands upon thousands of people filling the streets. It was breathtaking when we first arrived - to see lights hanging in all the trees and the glowing golden palace in the distance as hundreds of paper lanterns floated up into the sky. I felt so privileged to be a part of this peaceful cultural celebration. As we neared the white wall of the palace there were images projected along the entire thing. I saw it transform from a giant moving piano into an art gallery of paintings. Once inside the palace we found a spot in the courtyard to sit and chat. It was funny to laugh at all the silly Asian people posing for pictures in front of the golden pagodas. There were plenty of Thai people throwing up the peace sign in a photo and making a goofy face. Later on our walk home we stopped to send off a lantern of our own. 

Song of the Day: Same Same but Different
  "Get a drink, have a good time now. Welcome to paradise." This original song cleared away any initial doubts I had about my playlist when I looked across the bar and saw a Thai man at his table nodding his head to the beat. The track, Since I Left You, is The Avalanches' most recognized hit. The remix properly retains the melody of the original and jumps the tempo to a tropical dance party. After all these years I can still remember the first time I saw the music video. A seemingly uncoordinated and bulky man unexpectedly dances gracefully with a super hot chick. I find the ambiguous plot quite compelling. Maybe it teaches us all to bravely act on those fleeting once-in-a-lifetime opportunities before they fade away...

The Avalanches - 'Since I Left You'

The Avalanches - 'Since I Left You' (Kama Qu Remix)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Part 2: Cambodia (Poi Pet)

  I've been a bad blogger. Shame on me. It's tough to be diligent when I haven't been in a classroom for almost two months. My daily routine consists of waking up (eventually) followed by breakfast (sometime) and then wasting hours in the common room thinking about what to do with my day. I have such a hard life, right? It's definitely a relaxing lifestyle, but when every day is the same it's impossible to be satisfied with nothing to do. Living from paycheck to paycheck is exhausting and stressful. Now I know how to stretch a baht to a stingy degree. I can't tutor to make extra spending money, so I try to be frugal when possible. Buying a 2,500B Armin/Avicii ticket is a necessary exception. Over these two months I've learned two essential lessons while living the Thai lifestyle: patience and tolerance. The patience to wait for work and the tolerance to endure the extra time. I'm not the only one who is frustrated by our situation here. Without a sense of purpose it's hard to be motivated to do anything productive. The first day of school is finally within sight and many of us are anxious to have a busy schedule again. However, I'm expecting the first week back to be extremely difficult adapting to work mode. I've enjoyed my extended vacation, yet I feel the need for some daily work routine. Fortunately I've had the opportunity to work on textbook questions to make some extra money. 

  Now, for the recap of Cambodia. We set out from a Bangkok bus station for a six hour ride to the eastern border of Thailand and Cambodia. Upon reaching the border bus stop my friends and I were immediately harassed by tuk tuk drivers who pester you for a drive to the immigration office. Foreign travelers beware: the edges of both countries are infested with scammers and the sketchiest of people. Anyone who goes out of their way to 'help' you in a friendly manner is most likely taking advantage of you. At first I refused the offer from the tuk tuk driver, fully aware of the prevalence of these scams. I'll blame the girls for caving in to the driver's persistence. It wasn't more than five minutes before we figured out that we were getting ripped off. The strategy is simple. The driver ropes you into a short ride to the immigration office to get your VISA, but the truth is that the place is not even an official building at all. It's run by a group of scammers posing as immigration officers, distributing imitation documents and charging 2-3 times the normal amount for the VISA. We had a bad feeling about the whole ordeal, so two of the girls walked to the border checkpoint to inquire about the price of the documents. They reported back that we fell for the trap, so we immediately bailed and walked to the border checkpoint. That was a close one. 
  Getting into Cambodia was a straight-forward process from the official checkpoint. Show your passport, pay the entrance fee, scan your fingerprints and before you know it you're wandering through the wild west cesspool of scams that is Poi Pet. This place is notorious for hassling foreigners to an infuriating degree. All at once, everyone wants to take you somewhere, show you something or sell you anything that you could possibly want. It's like flies buzzing around your head that you can't swat away. A young Cambodian man wanted to take us to a bus station for a ride to Siem Reap (our destination for temples galore). Since we narrowly avoided the VISA scam, we decided to bail on him and do things our way. For some reason there were no taxis in sight. The only ones in existence seemed to be green Toyota Carolas with fake taxi stickers slapped on the driver and passenger doors. We were relieved to get our first cab until he pulled into a garage five minutes later to remove the broken air-conditioning unit. I didn't want to stick around while he made repairs, nor drive three hours without A/C. Moments later we bailed on him too and left him in the garage. He was reluctant to open the trunk for us to remove our bags. As we walked the dusty dirt road away from the border in search of a real cab, doubt eclipsed any hope of trusting anyone. I soon noticed that the same cab was slowly hovering behind us like a hungry street dog. I didn't care if he had actually fixed the cab. I just wanted our plans to work out. The ominous grey sky was turning dark and I could taste the dry dirt road as cars flew by. We were hungry, angry and stressed. Finally, we found refuge at a hotel that called a reliable cab for us. It was a miserable introduction to Cambodia, but we put that behind us as soon as we piled into the cab. 
  It was a cramped three hour taxi ride to Siem Reap. I was just happy we made it out of Poi Pet before dark. We arrived at Siem Reap sometime around 11pm. It's a small market-based city that proved great for shopping and dining. The only downside is being constantly bothered by the locals. "Hello handsome man! You hungry? You want tuk-tuk? You want massage?" (repeat). I almost bought a shirt with these three phrases: "No tuk-tuk, No massage, No thank you". I was so happy when we reached our safe and quiet hotel room. It was a rough day of traveling. I promise that the rest of Cambodia was more enjoyable! 

Song of the Day: 
  Yes, it's Wednesday, which usually means Same Same but Different. Due to a lack of a proper remix, I'm just going to postpone that until next time. The song for this post comes from the band Phantogram. By the way, a phantogram is an optical illusion much like a 2-D image that becomes three-dimensional with special glasses. The ghostly nature of the group's name is reflected in Sarah Barthel's echoing voice that effortlessly floats over shimmering guitar and hip-hop inspired beats. Moreover, one of their previous record deals involved the Ghostly International label. Their self proclaimed "street beat psych-pop" is certainly making waves in the music world. Click the song title for download. 

Phantogram - 'Don't Move'

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Final Lap

  For my last day I chose take a lap around the entire island following the coastline to the west. I had a few interesting sights in mind, particularly Hin Ya and Hin Tae (Grandmother and Grandfather rocks), the Mummified Monk and a few waterfalls. My first stop was the old monk. I imagined that I was going to see a dead body wrapped up in orange cloth and preserved in a glass coffin. Maybe I've seen too many mummy films, but I wasn't too far off. The cadaver was positioned upright, sitting in a hunched Indian-style position fully clothed in orange monk robes. When he was alive he was renowned for his meditation practice. "He was also able to foresee his own death, which happened in 1973 when he was 79 years and 8 months. After death his body remained under-composed" and he was placed in his current position. The guy has been dead for almost 40 years and he still looks freshly expired. His skin looked a bit leathery and the little hairs on his head are plainly visible. It was pretty cool to see a dead guy up close. What made the Monk even cooler was his black ray ban shades that covered his sunken eyes. This made the sight rather comical. Seeing a dead monk rockin' ray bans in the afterlife made me laugh to myself as I approached the glass case. I wouldn't mind being buried with my ray bans on my face. In fact, that sounds like a good way to go.
  The grandmother and grandfather rocks were even funnier than the monk. When I arrived at the sight along the coast I walked out to a giant rock platform which gradually sloped down to the ocean. I looked to my right and saw grandfather rock in all his glory, completely erect amongst the other boulders. It's hard to believe that the rock is a natural formation. Moreover, that it's coincidentally located next to a female formation of equal stature. Grandmother rock was more difficult to find. I finally found it within the gradual slope of rock that meets the ocean waves. I'm happy that I saw these hilarious formation and snapped some memorable photos.                                                                 
  My next destination was the main waterfall near the center of the island. I was dismayed when I made it to the entrance of the falls only to discover the 300 baht entrance tour fee. From the advertised photos it didn't seem to compare to the other falls I had seen at Koh Chang and Khao Yai. Rather than spend the money I hopped back on my bike and sped off down the coast to continue my lap. I had no more sights marked on the map, so I stopped for anything that caught my interest. When I reached the southern tip of the island I pulled over at a vacant restaurant for a break and a small meal. The restaurant had an outdoor patio area that overlooked the distant uninhabited islands. It was peaceful to enjoy my meal (chicken with ginger) and look out across the calm water as a few wooden boats bobbed up and down. The woman who owned the restaurant was eager to compliment my shameful ability to speak the only few Thai phrases I know. Maybe she meant to flatter me before telling me how old her daughter was. I'm sure the woman was just being nice, but to me it felt like some kind of offer or suggestive hint, using our comparable ages as a commonality. This made me wonder how many tourists actually visit this virtually deserted restaurant. When one unexpectedly shows up they must be pleasantly surprised. I'm sure the woman would have loved to see her daughter gleefully jump on the back of my motorbike and wave goodbye with a big smile. As I processed these thoughts I kindly acknowledged the woman's daughter and thanked her for the meal. This was my final stop before returning to headquarters at the Mermaid three hours later. I suppose my lap was a grand total of five or six hours. Focusing my concentration on the road for so long really wore me out. I promptly passed out in my bed when I reached the Mermaid. 

  Comparing the islands: So far I've visited Koh Samet, Koh Chang and Koh Samui. Each has it's own distinctive identity and culture. Koh Samet, with its bleached powdery sand is the smallest of the three. It is definitely a couple's retreat. From what I could see the coastline was riddled with romantic bungalows. There aren't any attractions other than the beautiful beach itself and the company of someone else. However, I can't leave out the spectacular fire show. Samet is renowned for its amazing fire shows that you'll find hard to match at any other island. Koh Chang offers great options for snorkeling and scuba diving at surrounding miniature islands. The main island itself is fun to explore by motorbike, as long as you can handle the twisting mountainous roads. In my opinion, the beach there cannot compare to Samet. The stretch of beach I visited required a trek through residential areas and along a few treacherous trails that were altogether disorienting. Upon reaching the coarse sand I could see palm trees following the coast. I had basically stumbled out of the jungle and onto the beach. As for the island of Koh Samui, it has it all. Beautiful beaches, plenty of sights to see and the terrain is easily navigable. You can have a wonderful time there whether you prefer solitude or a traveling party of friends. Also, it is conveniently located close to Koh Phangan and Koh Tao if you're looking to pursue your scuba diving license or go wild at a full moon party. My review of Koh Phi Phi will be following shortly...

Song of the Day:
  Sometimes when you're traveling by yourself you think about who you'd like to share your experience with. More specifically who you'd like to have sitting next to you in a beach chair as you watch the sun set. Yeah it sounds a bit sentimental, yet most of us can't deny that a similar feeling briefly catches us in the moment. Click the song title for download. 

Cut Copy - 'Need You Now'

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Australian or Austrian?

  I developed a daily routine of getting breakfast at the hotel restaurant, planning my day with my island map, and reading on the beach near my room. I tried to structure my time in the hopes of keeping myself busy each day on the island. I like having traveling options, but as my schedule became more structured and packed with things to do I realized that I was in fact preventing myself from a chance to relax. The whole point of going to the island by myself was to escape from the structured hustle and bustle of city life and retreat to paradise in solitude. When I caught myself planning out each day on paper I abandoned the idea and decided to reorganize my time around relaxation. Sometimes when our concentration is devoted to school or work (or both) we momentarily forget how to properly separate ourselves from work mode or school mode. 
  On the second day I rode my motorbike back to Chaweng beach to find the girls. Chaweng is the most populated and touristy beach on the island. I found the girls sitting on the beach and talked with them about their plans. Since they planned to have a lazy day on the beach, I said 'aufwiedersehen' and sped off in search of my next hotel. Prior to my beach trip I made plans to stay at the Akyra hotel (as previously mentioned) and I wanted to find out where it was and take a quick tour of the complex. After driving passed it multiple times I found it virtually hidden between two bigger resorts tucked in the side of a hill. I spent most of the day going back and forth between the Mermaid and the Akyra, checking out of one and into the other. The Akyra looked like a pristine modern Japanese village. The grass was perfectly cut around each stone with care and the bamboo bushes were neatly sculpted around each walking path. Every ground-level room had a small wooden outdoor patio that gave the room a more homely feel. I was caught off-guard by all the tourists staying there; maybe I was just used to a quiet hotel. 
  The next day I checked into the Akyra and spent my time reading on the beach and writing in my journal. I was only spending two days and one night there, so I wanted to get my money's worth. "Dinner at the Akyra was tempting, considering my weakness for sushi. However, I decided it would be better to be more frugal. I remembered seeing an Australian bar and grill broadcasting various sports matches when I was out with the German girls. My interest in rugby led me to this place in hopes of catching a match and meeting some new friends in the process. Since I no longer had my motorbike from the Mermaid I jumped on the back of one and paid the driver to take me downtown. During the ride I yelled over his shoulder to take me to an Australian bar. Somehow I knew he had misheard me and I laughed when he pulled over at an Austrian schnitzel haus. The Australian place was just down the street, so I didn't mind walking and window shopping along the way. When I got to the right place I asked if there were any live rugby matches, but sadly they were only showing repeats. I figured this was better than nothing and took a seat. My first instinct was to order a beer if I was going to watch sports. I held off after considering the slight pain in my mouth and my daily doses of antibiotics. After much deliberation I ordered a girly mango shake complete with an orchid perched on the rim of the glass. Great. 
  Desperate for someone to talk to, I started talking with the sun-stained Australian man, Eddie, who greeted me on the way in. He said he moved to Thailand a few years ago, hooked a Thai girlfriend and has been managing the bar ever since. I expressed my interest in Australia and traveling up the southeast coast, to which his first reaction was to tell me to stay in Thailand. As he cackled I knew he'd start talking about Thai girls, the islands and easy living. He has a point. I know Australia is pretty expensive, but there are ways of making it more affordable. For instance, linking up with distant relatives for a place to stay and finding decent hostels through proper research. Eddie seemed smitten by his Thai girlfriend and his new lifestyle, but I enjoyed talking with him about Australia, Thailand and teaching. I finished my drink and thanked Eddie for the conversation, walking out of the bar with the intention of heading back to my hotel. 
  As I was walking along the sidewalk two older European guys approached me and asked for a light in German. I said no immediately, but asked them auf Deutsch if they were German. They replied that they were Austrians - close. It wasn't long before they invited me with them to get a few drinks. I felt a little uneasy because they were already a little drunk, yet I wanted to see where this would take me. Side note: this is the PG version of the story. For the full story, I'll have to tell you in person. Funny enough, we ended up back at the Australian bar and had a few rounds of beers on their tab. During our conversation I did my best to practice my German and they would respond in English. Like most other tourists on the island, they flocked here to let loose before going to Koh Phangan for the full moon party. Since they were in party mode, they were reluctant to talk about their jobs in the catering and hotel business in Europe. Before I knew it we had finished our rounds and they proceeded to buy a bottle of champagne to take back to their hotel bar. They were decent guys, but not worth more than a few drinks. When they invited me back to their hotel bar to pop the bottle I hesitantly agreed. Were they more drunk than I thought? 
  At the hotel bar they asked the bar tender to pop the bottle for them, which would cost them back 300 baht. Pretty ridiculous. Refusing to comply, one guy takes a champagne glass and attempts to pop the bottle by striking the glass against the cork as if lighting a match. The glass starts chipping and spitting pieces of glass all over the floor. All of the timid Thai hotel staff can't stop him, meanwhile I'm acting like I don't know them. Finally, an older European man comes over and grabs the bottle from the Austrian guy. He demands that they pay for the broken champagne glasses before they can have the bottle opened. Again he refuses and has a brief tug-of-war with the champagne bottle. As I'm spectating I can see the pressure building inside the bottle and the cork slowly rising. I keep my distance for the explosion. The tussle ends and the cork bursts while the older man is holding the bottle in one hand. The cork zooms past the Thai bartender's head and bounces off the ceiling, leaving champagne foaming onto the floor. At that point I knew it was my time to bail. I told the other Austrian guy that I was going to the WC and then left without looking back. Actually, I did look over my shoulder many times to make sure they weren't searching for me. I was super paranoid after they made such a scene. I emerged unscathed and retreated back to the Akyra. 

Song of the Day:
  'What's the use in trusting more than we have to?' Especially if the people in question are already intoxicated when you meet them. It was a funny night that I'll always look back on fondly. Appropriately enough, this song is called 'Trust'. It's another beachy song from my Samui playlist. Sometimes when I encounter sketchy people that song line surfaces in my head. Look at these hipsters doing hipster things. 

Generationals - 'Trust'

Friday, October 28, 2011

Part 1: Koh Samui

  During my solo trip at Koh Samui I kept a daily journal with me at all times in case I wanted to reflect, whether I was relaxing on the beach or enjoying a meal at a local restaurant. This blog will include some of that handwritten material as a recount of my daily activities on the island. The road trip involved a ten hour overnight bus from Bangkok headed south to a pier located close to Koh Tao. As if the bus ride wasn't long enough, I had to endure a four hour ferry ride passed Koh Tao and Koh Phangan before I finally arrived at Koh Samui. Both rides were uncomfortable, not to mention my teeth were still slightly throbbing. 
  "The bus left Khao San around 9pm Saturday night. I boarded with some Pad See Ew and a throbbing jaw. Luckily there were two movies to keep me entertained and distracted from the constant pain.  About halfway through the bus ride around 2am I started chatting with a young guy from England sitting in front of me. He was on his way to Koh Tao to study for his Master Diver's Certification. Many people from all over the world flock to this island to dive. After all, it's affordable, quick and the marine atmosphere is nothing short of ideal. Tony told me that he is currently a Tai Chi teacher in the Chang Mai area in northern Thailand. He studied in China for a few years focusing on his acting career. Apparently he was nominated for an acting award for his role in a musical. Moreover, he's landed a small role in an upcoming movie, 'The Cave', which is scheduled to premier at the Cannes Film Festival. Naturally, he plays the role of the Tai Chi instructor who trains the main character. I'll have to do some research to follow Tony and his acting career. 
We finally arrived at the pier around 5am before sunrise to catch the ferry at 7am. I was so tired I felt hungover. The boat departed from a pier north of the island chain. My destination was last on the four hour ride. I spent most of the boat ride trying to get more sleep. As soon as I walked down the plank and onto the island I grabbed a map to get my bearings. I landed on the northern coast, rather than the west coast as I had originally planned. However, this didn't upset my plans because each part of the island is easily accessible by motorbike. At this point I was just exhausted and desperate to find a decent hotel. I asked a songtau (pickup truck taxi) driver to take me to a cheap hotel close to the Big Buddha statue in the northeast. That's how I ended up at the Mermaid Hotel, sitting on the beach, only a few steps away from the water with the golden Big Buddha in sight."
  My hotel was actually in a great location; far enough away from tourist-infested areas that I could relax in solitude on the beach, and close to a few temples for sight-seeing. Also, I felt comfortable knowing that my headquarters at the Mermaid were not completely deserted, but occupied by a few travelers worth talking to. One day at the hotel I met an elderly British gentleman in his late 70's who was traveling with his long-time buddy from home. I really like meeting new people when I'm traveling and this was the first time I shared a conversation with an elderly person since I've been abroad. We talked about everything from teaching abroad, to military service, rugby, traveling and the best footballer out there, Messi. Although we talked mostly about current issues and ideas, I enjoyed hearing about his younger years and how times have changed. There is so much to learn from our elders that most of us younger people haven't even tapped into yet. Maybe we rely on technology for that source of information now. 
  "When I first arrived at the hotel I checked in, threw my bags in my room and walked across the street to get lunch at the hotel's restaurant. As I was eating I overheard to German girls chatting at the next table. Naturally, we got to talking about their trip to the island and what they wanted to see. It turned out that we were both heading for the Big Buddha, so I rented a motorbike from the hotel and toured a few sights around the island with them. We checked out a few temples, sipped smoothies at a beach resort and got dinner and drinks later that night.    
  Fast forward to that evening, we stopped at a beach-side bar to lounge on the sand. The highlight of the night occurred when a ten-year-old Thai girl challenged me to a game of connect four. I thought to myself, 'This girl must play this game all day, every day. But I grew up playing this game, too. I can beat a little girl.' What a monster. I should've bet less than 100 baht. I let her go first only because she insisted 'ladies first'. It seemed to go well for the first few turns. She could've cared less, while I was devoting full concentration to my strategy. As time went on my moves became futile. She had multiple avenues to win no matter what I did. When she wasn't looking I even cheated by dropping two plastic coins at once and I still lost! That's the last time I let myself get suckered in to one of those games. I'm convinced that the person that goes first has the advantage. Unable to redeem myself, I accepted my defeat and called it a night. 

Song of the Day:
More like song of the week. This artist creates some of the best atmospheric indie music that I found to be absolutely perfect for laying on the sand and admiring the tropical waters. The only bad thing about this song is that it ends too soon. I think you'll find that you need to hit repeat many times, but it's never enough. I'll insert the download link to save you the effort of going back to Youtube over and over. Click the song title to download. 

Washed Out - 'New Theory

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October Adventures Intro

  I'm about to blog all over the place. It has certainly been a while, my friends. In a previous post I unveiled my prospective itinerary, mostly concerned with my solo beach trip to Koh Samui. At that point my plans for Cambodia and Vietnam were up in the air. I knew who I wanted to travel with and the places we wanted to go, I just I didn't do any proper research until after my beach getaway. This three-week October trip was my first extended vacation / backpacking experience and it really turned out well. I'm especially glad that all my photos turned out so well. I found myself unable to restrain myself from shooting endless photos of the ancient temples I visited in Siem Reap, Cambodia. More on that later. I'm going to divide my blog posts into three sections: the first for Koh Samui, the second for Cambodia and the third for Vietnam. 

  Before I set off for my travels I was nervous about my money situation from the beginning. In late September had to drop at least 10,000 B (half of a paycheck) to get my wisdom teeth removed. For the longest time I refused to write about my dental situation because it was stressful and time consuming, taking cabs around the city to different dental offices and talking to so many doctors to explain my situation. Initially I was only supposed to have one removed that was causing jaw pain and headaches. After getting an x-ray, the dentist wanted to remove the one tooth under local anesthesia - absolutely not. I insisted that I wanted general anesthesia so it would be easier for everyone involved. That way I could also have the three other wisdom teeth removed and just get the whole ordeal over with. Having any kind of surgery in a foreign country is an uncomfortable process, especially when communication is essential. Thankfully the doctors all spoke English well and understood my situation. I'm glad that the operation went smoothly and also that I felt well enough to travel to the beach soon after. As for my money, the other half of that paycheck went toward Koh Samui (mostly transportation and food). The other source of funds came from travelers checks that I converted into Cambodian riel, Vietnamese dong, and US dollars. At one point I had four forms of currency in my wallet including Thai baht. I'm the worst mathematician you'll ever meet, so I had a lot of trouble converting all those foreign currencies into the equivalent in USD. 

1 USD ~ 30 Thai baht
1 USD ~ 4,000 Cambodian riel
1 USD ~ 20,000 Vietnamese dong

  By the time you're dealing with hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese dong it hurts your wallet to shell out huge amounts after getting used to spending a few hundred Thai baht here and there. The Cambodian economy accepts US dollars for most purchases, so I felt relieved to have some good old US mint in my hand again. However, if you choose to pay for a meal with a ten or twenty bill some of your smaller change will be returned in Cambodian riel because a 1,000 note riel acts as a US quarter. All the money conversion made my head spin. I'm still stuck with useless Cambodian monopoly money in my wallet. Maybe those notes will prove to be more valuable as souvenirs now. Stay tuned for upcoming posts that delve into a recount of my vacation!

Song of the Day:
  The intro to my journey around southeast Asia. This song is stolen from an epic snowboarding montage in the film "Art of Flight". The movie was filmed with the same high-quality slow motion cameras used to film the Planet Earth series. If you like snowboarding even a little bit, you should see the movie. 

M83 - Intro (featuring Zola Jesus)