Sunday, May 3, 2009


I have to say, Singapore is RAD. It's like Vancouver and Tokyo had a Chinese baby. The cleanest baby ever.

You've all probably heard about the kid who got publicly caned in Singapore for vandalizing buildings. It's true. But he keyed cars, not graffiti - which in a way, is worse. Here, in efforts to minimize pollution and reduce traffic, the government imposed strict and incredibly high taxes on cars. So, when you see a Honda Civic driving by, in all likelihood it didn't cost $25K like it would in North America, it probably cost more like $80-100K by the time it hit the road. And every car on the road has to be less than 10 yrs old.

So, imagine the shock and outrage when a foreign kid keys 13 cars in Singapore. Not to mention most people in Singapore drive Mercedes or Jags, not Hondas (high end cars cost upwards of $500K to get on the road). I saw more than a dozen Ferraris in one day.

The government is strict here, but this country runs like a well oiled machine. And without a police presence. I haven't seen one police officer since we've been here. Not even a traffic cop giving out speeding tickets. That's because no one dares break the law.

Get this: it is no longer illegal to chew gum in Singapore (it used to be), but it is illegal to sell it. And you can go to jail for littering. Oh, and drug trafficking carries an automatic death sentence. A DEATH sentence.

There's a reason for all this order - there are 4 million people in a country the size of 600 sq. kms. But strangely, there's an absence of traffic and people. The city is gorgeous with grand tree-lined boulevards, beautiful architecture, landscaped promenades, and numerous parks. There are no homeless people (they're rounded up every night and given food and shelter), everyone owns their own home (gov't subsidy program), and everyone has been incredibly friendly.

But it is not cheap.

I've whiled away my time here wandering the streets of Chinatown, little India, Orchard Road, and peaking into various temples. The population is largely Chinese, and the dominant religion is Buddhist followed by Christian then Hindi. And with tomorrow being Buddha's birthday, the Buddhist temples have been alive with rituals and chanting.

Last night I ventured out of the city for something completely different - the world's first night safari. The city has built a jungle safari with natural barriers. You can take an open air tram around the park and see the wildlife up close. The only thing between you and a pack of hyenas or lions is a small moat. They use water and other natural barriers to prevent the animals from escaping. And then as a final defence, there's invisible electrical wires. For some animals, they can get right alongside the tram.

And the cool thing is that the safari isn't a tourist grab. Locals love it, and the government is using it to raise awareness of conservation. I'm so glad I went. I got to see leopards, tigers, lions, zebras, and elephants - and we walked through a free flying bat habitat. Fun!

Apparently the zoo is designed in the same way with orangutans running wild, but I never got a chance to go. Next time.

I'm now off to the airport hotel. I also have a 4 am wakeup call to look forward to. See you guys on the other side.

Photos to come soon!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Plucking your own

Gregg had a 4 a.m. wakeup call, and had to return home from Bangkok. :(

I, however, have continued on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I've been staying with a friend. Malaysia has a saying here: "same same, but different". That's what Malaysia is to Thailand... so many similarities, but also striking differences. And this time I'm traveling with some locals, so I've had the rare opportunity to see a country from a slightly different angle. I've seen a small slice, anyway, and like what I see.

Kuala Lumpur is a modern city - surprisingly western. KFC dominates street corners and shopping malls, and Starbucks is plentiful, but not yet on every corner. The population is mixed, so half the time you don't really know where you are - there's Malay, Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi, Phillipino - a lot of them muslims. Women in colourful head scarves eating at McDonalds: that's Kuala Lumpur.

The city is not unlike any other... it's expansive, clean, has some green space, and clogged arteries running throughout. The traffic is arguably worse here than in Bangkok. I read somewhere that Asians here drive in the Buddhist way... I'm not entirely sure how this could be considered buddhist. Everyone ignores traffic signs, doesn't signal, crowds into any vacant spot, changes lanes whenever they feel like it, pushes and squeezes until 3 lanes is 6... with motorcycles finding their way to weave in and out of the hordes. You aren't allowed to hand gesture or express your anger in any way - it's considered bad manners.

We left the congested hazy city after a few days to find fresher air and produce. We headed for the Cameron Highlands, where the soil is bright red and produces an amazing bounty. We visited a bee farm, 'plucked' some strawberries (you pay MORE to pick them yourself), visited a local market in the pouring rain, and went to a tea plantation. Everything grows in the Highlands. I've never seen markets like this in my life... I ate love fruit, pomello, bitter gourd, dried cherry tomatoes, dried roses, bergamot.... and we filled up the trunk with produce. What would easily cost $300 in Canada, we bought for about $30. All organic and locally grown. I even saw a dragon fruit bush and a fiddelhead umbrella tree.

The tea plantation spread as far as the eye could see - vivid green patchwork carpet. And I learned that all tea is from the same plant - the same leaf makes oolong, earl grey, orange pekoe, mango, peppermint.... it's the processing that changes it into types of tea. I'd honestly never given a second thought to how tea was made.

I'm back in KL for one more night before we travel on to Singapore for a few days. Then I will fly home from there...


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Erawan Falls

Praise cheap internets.

Here we are in Kanchanaburi, a little town 3 hrs outside of Bangkok. As we had already experienced Bangkok (and admittedly at a crazy time!), and enjoyed a bit of the island life, we wanted to see a more provincial town. It's amazing how much cheaper it is in the smaller towns! We were starting to seriously scrape together the baht while on the island, but now we actually have more beer money than we need. We also blew some baht at the local night market on some tacky treasures.

Yesterday we fought our inclination to hide out from the heat (have we mentioned how bloody hot it is here?), and boarded a bus headed to the Erawan Falls. A 7-tiered waterfall and local swimming hole about an hour's bus ride outside of Kanchanaburi.

We hiked into the falls, making it up 5 tiers before we finally succumbed to heat exhaustion. Hiking is not fun in this kind of heat. And the water looked too damn good... I finally put my feet in.... sighhhh.... and what? What the hell? Fish were trying to EAT MY FEET. These little black fish started to swim around my feet and suck on my legs and toes. Ummmm, can't say I'm a fan. A tad disconcerting to say the least. My feet very quickly jumped out of the pool.

We did finally take the plunge - literally a plunge - so as to avoid the little toe suckers. These fish were not afraid. Hell, we were FOOD.

(oops... out of time. more later, kids)



So here we are in Kanchanaburi, home of the Bridge over the River Kwai (yep, THAT's about 1.5 km from our charming little guesthouse). It's nice here....we ran out of time and money after the island, so Chiang Mai was a no-go. We heard that this little town was like a lowkey mini-Chiang Mai so we opted to come here. It's nice, aside from the one loud tourist strip with gross fat Europeans and Americans dragging around their rented Thai jailbait arm candy. But I digress. Thailand is remarkably easy to get around in, and yesterday was no exception. We opted to take a public bus to go visit Erawan falls, a 7 level 3-tiered waterfall. The bus was made for TINY PEOPLE, we couldn't fit our giant Western frames into the seats so we sat near the back and enjoyed the breeze from the open door. After a sweaty hour, we arrived at this glorious swimming spot and went up to the 3rd level (TOO. HOT. TO. HIKE. AM. DYING.), where after some hesitation I finally jumped in. Why the hesitation? Fish. Lots of fish. For those who don't know, I don't like slimy things touching me. Once at Kits beach a flounder slapped my leg with its tail as it went past me and I didn't swim for like a month afterwards. So you can imagine how I feel after this conversation with Anita at the falls:

Anita (with feet in the water): The fish are nibbling on my toes.
Me (5 feet away on dry land): I'm not f**king going in there.

But the waterfall was too inviting, so eventually we both jumped and spent a long time just sitting on a rock letting the water splash down on us. It was awesome and insanely refreshing. And it 's not even the best part of the trip.

Passed a sign coming in. It said BEWARE OF FIERCE MONKEYS. Notwithstanding how Tyra Banks has ruined the word 'fierce' for life, this is truly an exciting thing. Next thing I know, I see 7 monkeys in a nearby tree playing and jumping from branch to branch.

I can die happy. I've seen monkeys in the wild.

Last day in Thailand. I'm really sad to leave, and it's ironically the first cool day of rain we've had while we're here. On to Bangkok, Muay Thai, and a raised Singha to this amazing country. More later, kids.

A weeklong shavasana

Well hello there.

As you've probably noticed, we haven't been blogging lately. Brain numbness, sun slog, and general apathy are all culprits. The sun and water has a habit of draining away any cogniscent thought (heh. biggest word I'm capable of, but I still had to google its spelling).

We spent 8 days at the Sanctuary, and one word describes it: bliss. What a lovely little escape from the world. Our days started to melt into each other, and soon we had to think really hard about what day of the week it was. Was it Saturday when we read under the stars until we passed out at 9pm, or was that Thursday? Our days started to follow a comforting pattern: wake up, have breakfast, go for a swim, lie on the beach, drink some beer, eat, go for a swim, have some beer, read, bask in the sun, eat, drink, make love, sleep. Not necessarily in that order.

Floating in the salt water of the Gulf of Siam, I was devoid of all thoughts. No concerns. An 8-day shavasana. Who needs to meditate when you can simply float.

I did go to yoga once. 8 am one morning I was feeling refreshed and in need of a good stretch. It was a lovely way to start the day, but I couldn't seem to bring myself to go again. It interfered with my morning coffee and swim. :)

Admittedly, when we first got there I was a little bit conflicted... to have come so far only to find a small island to relax? Such a huge country to explore, and here we were, tucked away in a little slice of paradise, far removed from the rest of Thailand. It's not exactly the traveling I'm used to. But what we would soon realize is that the traveling awaited us when we finally did leave - so did the bastard hot heat, the drench of humidity, the diesel exhaust, the myriad smells from vendors and sidewalk stands... it was all there waiting, and as much as I still miss our little jungalow, I'm glad we finally left so we could see a little more of Thailand before we have to leave.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Today's adventure: JUNGLE DANGER

Got back to our jungalow (still funny) and saw a football-sized hole in the thatched roof of our little outdoors bathroom. Turns out a coconut had come loose and fallen through it. Like straight through. Coconuts, I now know, have the consistency of freaking motorcycle helmets.

Luckily we weren't there when it happened, as we were on the beachfront enjoying a giant beer.

Which means one thing.


Thank you beer. Can I buy you one of you?

Gregg xo

Friday, April 17, 2009

Knight in shining sunburn

Ok, so Gregg has already revealed his action hero status. He may not have a cape, but he definitely has my vote.

When we were coming over from Haad Rin beach (Gregg has already referred to this gross strip of sand and sleaze), we met a lone traveller from France, Guillaume. We bonded over our hatred of Haad Rin.

We went our separate ways, us to the Sanctuary (I got the feeling he wasn't much of a yogi), and him to a cheap bungalow. As the beach here is relatively small with maybe 20 people on the beach at any one given time, we ran into him again. A little chit chat, a little bit of this and that.

Later in the day, though, we say him again and something was not right. He was disoriented and didn't seem to know where he was. He said he was afraid to go to his bungalow for fear of blacking out. Concerned, he stayed with me while Gregg sought help - Sanctuary staff told us of a clinic at Haad Rin. Gregg took him by longboat to the clinic, not wanting to leave him for fear of Guillaume losing his way, forgetting where he was, or passing out.

A few hours later Gui was taken to the hospital on Ko Samui be speedboat, and Gregg returned to me. The gecko that hung out with me in the bungalow while I waited is said to bring good luck. It left as soon as Gregg arrived. Believe what you will.

Gregg came back with a sunburn, and his shirt flapping around his neck something like a cape.

My relationship with toilets...

Ha. I'm totally to write about poo. So be warned. My first post of travel in Thailand will be about poo. I'll leave the rest up to Gregg.... you know, the sights, the sounds, the people....

So, fourth day in paradise on Kho Pha-ngan and I've been struck with traveller's diarrhea. You know that medicine that the doctor tells you you need, that costs a day's wages? The medicine that I almost didn't bother buying? Well... I sit here thankful at having bought it.

True to form, I feel compelled to write about the local toilet customs (as I did in Japan - "to squat or not to squat" - another blog, another time). In Japan, I discovered a fascination with the squat toilet - and that fascination continues - has blossomed, really. A morbid fascination now, as I've recently become VERY acquainted with squatting. Perhaps yoga has come in handy here, training my legs to feel comfortable in the low squat position (not too high or there's overspray)...

At first I was confused by the often ill-placed shower nozzles in Bangkok bathrooms. I knew they must be used as a sort of bidet, but really, how? The purpose seemed clear, but the practicality unfamiliar. It was only after the toilet paper ran out, late last night (surrounded by screeching jungle animals and creepy crawlys in the shadows) did I reach for the nozzle.

I think the Thais are really on to something!

Hesitant at first, I started with light pressure and short bursts of water. Not altogether unpleasant. Actually, come to think of it, quite soothing. So soothing in fact, my rear end has personally thanked me.

It makes so much sense. My rear is relieved and thankful - THANK YOU for sparing me the scratchy dry paper that never really seems to finish the job. And this just one aspect of the joy that is a squat toilet. Think of momentum, if you will - it's like we are helping our body do what it needs to do.

And when all is said and done, your hands need never touch that area which is unholy. Your hands are unsullied and may carry on with their day, reserved for other tasks.

Do you know where you are???????

Oh hi. Good to see you.

We arrived, sleepy from trying to sleep on a rickety and loud train, only to jump on a bus for one hour, then hit a ferry for 3 hours to get to the island of Koh PhaNgan (we changed our minds about Koh Samui because it's apparently a lot busier and more touristy). Koh PhaNgan is the island that hosts a huge rave on a regular basis called the Full Moon party, but it's less developed and has more isolated beaches to explore, and apparently we were arriving between these scheduled events so it should be pretty quiet, right?
So we get there and I swear I'm in Florida on Spring Break, only everything is in Thai and it's a million times hotter out. I'm surrounded by white assholes looking to get shitfaced on a shoestring, not caring that they're in this wonderous faraway land, just wanting to get messed up and dance like idiots on the beach. We knew we weren't going to be staying in this part of the island, and we had read about this secluded little hideaway that can only be reached by longboat taxi (so secluded that they don't take reservations b/c people don't always make the effort to get there after reserving). So after the usual haggling for a taxi, we finally get one to take us to Hat Rin (still part of the party town) and fight our way through the crowds of college students drinking away Daddy's trust fund to take a longboat.
We were told to haggle for a better price, but in this town, at this time, they're not budging. Really not a big deal, as we're paying 150 Baht each (about $4.50) to get to this beach, praying they still have a space available (they said they did on the phone, but I was frantically trying to beat any other ppl there, Amazing Race style.
My Thai is not good, btw. Apparently I've been misprouncing my hello greeting by calling everyone a man. SORRY THAILAND LADIES. SORRY. Anyway, we tell him we want to go to the Wellness Sanctuary on Hat Thien, and as we pull away from the party town we notice it's getting quieter and quieter, and the water is getting greener and more crystal clear....

Ten minutes later we zoom around some giant rock formations and find paradise.

Nestled at the edge of the jungle right on a beautiful quiet beach, we find the Wellness Sanctuary, a collection of little treehouse bungalows and huts with yoga classes, an open cafe on the beach, and a really relaxed atmosphere. We take a little bungalow in the trees surrounded by jungle (I have been REMARKABLY restrained with my "Welcome to the Jungle" references, emitting my horrible Axl Rose impression only about 3 times since. Please ignore that I call it the "jungalow"), about a 30 second walk from the beach. We have a little balcony overlooking the beach with a hammock, a chirping gecko who lives on our roof and is apparently very good luck in Thai culture, and we've been here for a few days now. It's costing us 1000 Baht a day (about $30). It's beautiful, it's quiet, the water is perfect, everything is perfect. Which is why I haven't blogged until now. SORRY INTERNET. SORRY.

Seriously, check this shit out:
That feeling you feel in your gut is jealousy. Mostly. It might also be gas.

So we're here for at least another week....we're debating whether we should head back to Bangkok or Chiang Mai for another day or two before I fly out and Anita keeps travelling on to Malaysia. It's REALLLLY hard to think about leaving this island to go back to the city, but there are a few things I'd like to see ....the Grand Palace. The Floating Market. A Muay Thai match. More elephants (I've seen two). More monkeys (I've seen two, but they were bored looking Macaques eating food in the back of a pickup truck. Does that count?)

What do you think, sirs?


Night Train to Sarat Thani, starring the Bed Sargeant

How about that political strife in Bangkok huh? It apparently started just after we got in town....literally the hour we were en route to our hotel from the airport. Which means one thing: WE WERE THE CATALYST THAT STARTED THE REVOLUTION. That's right, kids. Seriously though, it was a bit odd to be in a cab seeing all these armed guards w/AK-47s in front of strategic corners of the city...way to make a guy feel welcome, kids.

Anyway, our first day, as we mentioned, was all about Songkhram, the Thai New Year. If you don't know, it's basically an excuse for people to shut down all businesses and have a gigantic water fight in the street. We're talking thousands of people all shooting squirt guns at each other. It was FANTASTIC. I purchased a badass Ultraman squirt gun for 50 Baht (about $1.50) and went to work, while Anita splurged on the higher-end super soaker (which promised "super wet times" or something similar) which didn't work (or worked TOO well, if you consider that it never stopped shooting water). Thai peeps also like to rub an odd white paste on your face as they wish you good luck. I got COVERED. It's interesting too, as it's apparently very much a no-no to touch other ppl's heads here (baddd luck and disrespectful). It's also bad manners to point your feet at images of the Buddha, or at other ppl, as the feet are the lowest part of the body and are FILTHY. Oh Thailand, you so crazy. Anyway, as burnt out as Thailand (or at least the urban centers) seem to be on white-ass "farang" tourists like us, we felt genuinely welcome here and had an an incredible day. You know, aside from the ass who tried to pickpocket Anita in the crowd before I grabbed his arm, gave him my Look of Death (TM), then said "NOT ON MY WATCH MOTHERF**KER" before roundhouse kicking him square in the face and sending him flying directly into the back of a waiting police van to the delight of the crowd who raised me on their shoulders and paraded me around as one of their own. (Note: The true portion of the story ends at "(TM)")

The next day (yep, the water fight took up the whole day...the celebration goes on for 3 solid days), we decided to stay dry and take a longboat around to see a few Wats (temples). So many impressively huge, ornate Buddha statues contained in these giant temples that look like something Indiana Jones would have scoured for treasure before he got all retarded and starting hiding from nuclear explosions in fridges (SPOILER ALERT). Impressive to say the least, and very humbling. We also broke all the rules and had food from a street vendor, and it was one of the best meals I've ever eaten in my life.

But you're wondering about the train, right? Right.

April is the tail-end of Thailand's hottest season, and let me tell you, wandering around and sightseeing in 40C heat (in Fahrenheit, that's also ridiculously hot) is not that fun. Like OMG-I-MIGHT-DIE not fun. Couple that with the protestors vs violent military intervention action that was actually only a few dozen blocks from where the water fight was, and our previous decision to travel via train by night to escape to a little beachy island seemed all the more appealing.
We had second class seating which was pretty comfy and folded out into little sleeper cars, which was good as the train to Sarat Thani was about 10 hrs from 7:30pm to 6:30am. Each car had what I called the Bed Sargeant, a fellow with what looked like military garb who would set up and take down the bedding/seating in every car. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO SET UP THE BEDS YOURSELF. THE BED SARGEANT WOULD NOT APPROVE AND YOU MAY BE PUNISHED. This guy took his job very seriously and I wasn't about to mess with that. Would you? Liar, you would not. we're on the train to southern Thailand. More to come....

Monday, April 13, 2009

Night and Day

Hi all, after a gruelling 24hrs in planes and airports, we arrived just in time for protests and military presence. HUZZAH! Don't worry, we're fine, in fact it's hard to believe that this is happening in the same city that we're in right now...
We spent the day exploring, and ended up in Songkhran, the Thai New Year celebration....which is basically a BIG ASS WATER FIGHT. It's insane, the streets were packed with revellers armed with squirt guns, everyone laughing and smiling, wishing people good luck in the new year. We were good-naturedly soaked, and had our faces covered in white paste as is the tradition (what that means, we're not yet sure).
I also stopped some dude from pickpocketing Anita. Scared the crap out of him. Totally felt like an action hero.
Tomorrow we're taking the train south to Surat Thani (about 10 hrs from here) and then taking a boat over to Ko Samui, where we plan on chilling on the beach for a few days. More to come!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nothing to see here


We're still in Vancouver, about 5 or so hours away from getting up at the UNGODLY hour of 3am to catch our flight to LA, followed by a 16(!) hour flight to Bangkok. Yep, Anita and I are flying straight into the crazy. Hope you guys will stick around to see what kind of shenanigans we get into. Oh, the shenanigans that will be had.

See you on the other side of the ocean, kids.