Saturday, May 21, 2005

Bangkok: The good, the bad and the ugly

As those of you who have been following along already know, Z and I are in Bangkok for the last leg of our journey. We are staying near Kho San Road - a street in BKK (and the surrounding four blocks) whose entire economy is supported by dirty western backpackers - what my enlightened brother Joey would call a "hippy crack fest Mecca."

The city is great and we have been eating some fantastic food. The shopping is also incredible...we visited the world famous BKK weekend market today, but I will get to that in a moment.

Z and I are budget travellers, especially since we are at the end of our trip and our travel funds have been dwindling. This translates into us choosing the fan room at our hostel for $4 per night instead of opting for a more pricey AC room. The hostel is what you would expect - if you have experience traveling the globe then you know what I mean, and if you haven't yet had the opportunity - it is simply something you must experience yourself. Haven't seen any vermin to date and that is a big plus for this place.

Anyway, I wake up this morning and discover that some sort of insect has been feasting on my back all night as my back is COVERED in quarter-sized bites. I am actually awakened by the itchiness. Given the not-quite-4-star-accomodations, my first thought was "shit, bed mites. Now we are going to have to pack up our stuff and try out a different room." After traveling for a bit one gets pretty blase about that sort of stuff.

But after checking Z's biteless body and seeing that the bites are limited to my back I assume that some very large mosqito decided that I was the perfect place to camp out for the night. AWESOME.

By the time I am showered however, I suspect that these in fact are not bites, but rather hives and I am having a reaction to something here - either in the room or the city.

Z gives me one of his claritins and we hit the weekend market. The weekend market is pure insanity. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of vendors all packed together selling absolutely everything and anything you can imagine. Clothes, kitchen and housewares, PETS!!!! What??? (imagine an area the size of Crossgates [for those of you familiar w/ Albany consumer action] all on one level, outdoors, no AC and wall-to-wall PACKED!!)

The pet section was truly another world. Fish (of EVERY variety), dogs, cats, birds (roosters and chickens) rabbits, hedgehogs, rats, many different kinds of mice, the list just goes on and on. It was totally dirty and probably not the best move (visiting the pet section) for a girl having some sort of serious allergic reaction, but you may only find yourself in such a place once in a life time, if at all.

After roaming the market for more than 4 hours, Z and I were exhausted and had not seen NEARLY all of the market. I was itching up a storm when(unfortunately) I happen across a mirror. My arms, back and shoulders are smothered in red puffy welts. The hives have spread. A few on my legs, all down the arms, even some on my FACE! I draw a line at the face bit. I look like a freak.

Z and I decide to call it quits - we are tired and I look like a circus side show. We sort of accidentally jump on a non-AC bus (there are both, the AC buses cost a bit more) and spend about 30 minutes sitting in the muggy, sweaty nastiness that BKK can be, breathing in pure exhaust, praying that the driver will tell us that the next stop is ours.

We do finally make it back and promptly make a bee line for the closest pharmacy.

I have omitted Z's health/medical concerns- let me explain. He has been suffering from what the pharmicist identified as an infected mosquito bite since last night. Although he has had a cut-type thing on his knee for a week now, it was only last night that it started to swell and develop severe sensitivity. By bedtime we were worried that the infection was serious enough that it warranted Z taking some Cipro (a VERY strong antibiotic we have been traveling with just in case...).

By morning the infection seemed to have changed a bit, but it was still hot to the touch and fevery (not Z, but his knee). (As an aside - this situation may appropriately be called an Otter's Clam Bake as well - good that the knee is fevery and taking care of itself - but bad in that it might be more serious than we thought.) He took another Cipro and we headed to the market. By the time we returned from the market - i was an itching and swollen freak-show and Z has a slight limp.

Thus, we head directly to the pharmacy. "You first" I tell Z. He shows the pharmacist his injury and she immediately diagnoses it as an infected mosquito bite and tells him to take antibiotics. He explains he has Cipro and she says good, to continue with it for 5 days. Seems like a lot, but we plan to run that by some of my parents' Dr. friends.

She tells me claritin is what i should be taking and that is it. We are out the door, still in agony, but at least we are feeling a little bit better that we have accurately diagnosed our inflictions.

We grabbed a bite to eat and are currently hiding out in an AC internet cafe hoping that our wounds will heal. We have been so lucky not to be ill at all in the last three months (excluding a little food poisoning in S. Korea) we are a bit astonished to find ourselves falling apart at the seams on the second-to-last-day of our trip. Go figure. Hopefully the hives will deflate and Z's knee will be better by the time we return to the States.

Bangkok - the good, the bad and the ugly. But don't get me wrong, we both love it here and loathe to say goodbye to it.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

K.E.Z Take a Break and Enjoy the View

Brett's shot of us taking a break from our hike outside Seoul.

Zack and Erin Travel the Subway

Brett's shot of me and Z on Seoul subway.

Time to Eat

Time to Eat
Originally uploaded by savagecorp.
Brett's shot of the King Crab in Seoul.

Is That a Crab your Holding or are You Just Happy to see Me?

One of Brett's fantabulous shots of us at the fish market in Seoul. Nice, huh?

Zach explains the "Otter Clambake"

[This is a guest post by the esteemed Zach Pousman. He's got a theory about good omens and bad omens that is needed for me to tell the story. So I figure I'll just let him tell the whole darn thing.]

Before I can get to the story, I must explain something regarding good omens and bad omens. Good omens and bad omens are important to everyone, but most importantly to travelers. I believe this is because a traveler is the least likely to be able to control all of the things that will happen to him or her. When one is put repeatedly into positions where one is not in control, one begins to look for omens. The problem is that some omens are both good *and* bad. Our story includes one of these "both good and bad at the same time" omens. But, it seems, that there is not a word in the english language to describe this situation.

So E and I coined one: It's an otter clambake.

Why an otter clambake you ask? I'll explain. It's from a surfing trip I made out to Santa Cruz California in 2003. It was my first time surfing in the Pacific Northwest, and I was in for a treat. The waves were great, the water was a balmy 55° f (that's 10 C to you non-USAians), and there were otters in the lineup. The otter is a playful creature, and they were popping up all over wave zone, riding the waves, and generally being really cute. Otters come into the surf-zone to eat, not just to play. They dive down to the sea bed to get clams or mussels from the bottom and they also grab a small stone. The otters then surface, and while swimming along on their backs, their whiskers glistening, they crack open the clams with the rocks and eat the goodness inside. Now this is all well and good for the otters. And I thought it was oh so cute. But then my local friend told me that we were in the middle of a great white shark feeding ground. And lo, the great white's favorite meal (after seal, I think)? Otters.

Now, one might think that otters are a bad omen. The logic goes like this: Otters are here. Sharks eat otters. Ergo, sharks will be here. And hungry. But then, perhaps there's another line of reasoning that makes the otters a good omen -- it goes like this: Otters are here. Sharks eat otters. But if sharks were around, the otters would leave. So otters *still* being here is a good sign. Now both of these stories are potentially true, and it's impossible to tell which is the correct one. It's even possible that the data (shark bites in Santa Cruz in this case) is not correlated with otters being out or not. Maybe they're a non-factor. Maybe instead it's whether it's a sunny day or a cloudy day that is statistically significant. But it doesn't matter, because the person in that situation, sitting in a cold wetsuit, keeps on switching in his head which way the otters are pointing. It's a connundrum. And it's, for lack of a better word, an otter clambake.

Now we can get back to our story, which is the continuing saga of e and i getting from the Pehrentian Islands to Bangkok, Thailand. While avoiding, to make our parents feel safer, the contentious parts of southern Thailand (that we already toured through yesterday in an ironic twist)

In yesterday's installment, we made a gruelling 6 1/2 hour, three-times-the-bus-ticket-price cab ride with two Kotu Bharu locals who were very, very impressed with the tollbooths along the ride. We feared that they had not ever been to Penang before, a fear that was borne out by our 1 hour search for the hotel after arriving on the island. Anyway, after a shower and quick bite, we fell asleep, hoping to buy tickets for a Butterworth to bangkok overnight train. But it was not to be. Oh, the buying was to be -- I took off early, before breakfast, to go down to the ferry terminal to buy tickets (the Butterworth train station being directly at the other side of the ferry) and was successful in securing 2 berths in the aircon compartment -- but the actual getting on the train part, that part was not happening at least from Butterworth. See, when we arrived at the train station, there was a sign at the door, and a nice gentleman from the train company as well, to tell us that the train we wanted was canceled for the day. Sorry. Refunds Inside. The man informed us that there were 2 other westerners who were in a similar boat and that they had just left to catch a bus. So we raced out the door and into a waiting car.

I believed that he was taking us to the bus station. But it's hard to communicate, so I just let him drive the 2 minutes. He's taking us, surprise, to his friends cab-stand where the two westerners (germans? we never found out) were also waiting. We see them jumping in and taking off and we're sent to the counter (a rickety homemade desk if you must ask) to buy tickets. The cabs are going to Hat Yai, the one city that's mentioned specifically in the State Department's travel advisory on Thailand. Hat Yai is the main transportation hub for southern Thailand. Two rail-lines and countless bus routes arrive, leave, and switch here. And it's the only place to catch the train to Bangkok (only a 17 hour ride this time). And it's our destination. But the tickets are twice as much as we've seen in town, but we get hurried into making a decision and decide to go with the cab. And then I don't have any ringgit -- I had nearly 100 when we left the house, but, since the train tickets were already bought, and we didn't need them, I spent a few on breakfast and a magazine for the long trip ahead. So now I don't have the 90 it's going to cost to get to Hat Yai. I do, however, have thai bhat. The exchange rate works out to 90 = 900 give or take 5 bhat (it's very close). But the guys at the cab stand won't do the trip for less than 1000. So that's that (what am I going to do at that point?! Walk away and find our own ride, in the rain, for $2.50?!). And off we go.

We arrive in Hat Yai, after a comfortable and air conditioned ride with a long discussion about the crumbling of the american education system in the middle. And that's where the otter clambake begins. Because the train station in Hat Yai is swarming with military guys and regular police, too. They're wanding with a metal detector everyone who goes inside (except us scruffy backpackers with big bags -- we're clearly not the target of the dragnet). They're standing around, guns at their sides, with bored expressions. But it's a clambake, right? Because maybe their presence is a good omen (soldiers = safety). But then again, maybe it's a bad omen (soldiers = targets for bombings, as per the bombing two weeks ago). Now, I don't know which rationale is the right one -- whether the soldiers were actually making us safer or actually making us less safe. It's an odd feeling, to keep on flipping those reasons back and forth in your head, as you wait in line to buy tickets. But tickets were purchased (we had to buy first class because 2nd was sold out of seats anywhere near one another), and we high-tailed it out of there. We decided that we'd spend as little time as possible in the train station itself. So we had 2 hours to kill.

We strolled around, looking at what the part of Hat Yai across from the train station had to offer. Mechanics, hair salons, and small shops (though there was a really interesting cab company that had a fleet of 1950s Mercedes Benz sedans, complete with peeling paint, matching hubcaps, and fins!). So we stroll. And it starts to rain. And then it starts to pour. Sheets of rain come down for about 10 minutes before we decided to give up and plop into a half-hair-salon-half-restaurant spot where the proprietor (and mom of the two hair girls) doesn't speak a lick of english. We have "what they're having" (gesturing to a nearby table), and we got some rice and various sauces for 100B. The proprietor was very happy to have us, and thanked us profusely. We took off and did some internetting and then bought some fruit and snacks for the ride.

We got to the train station at 5:10 and the train left promptly at 5:20, with me still flipping the otter clambake over and over in my head. Maybe the soldiers were a good thing... maybe they're the freaking shark bait! Naw, but having them here is keeping us safe... etc. etc. But the trainride was spectacularly comfortable, clean, and even, dare I say, restful. The beds were nice, the food was alright (though expensive -- esp. since we didn't get the bill until the morning), and the company was spectacular. We got into BKK this morning at 10:30 and we'll be exploring (and shooting) the super-big weekend market tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Missing Stooge

There is much to cover since our trip to Perhentian Island, but I will begin with our departure from the Islands as it is the most recent and terrifying experience to date.

We decided, smartly, I guess, to go the "long way around" to Bangkok from Perhentian Island (get a map) and avoid the part of Southern Thailand that had a bombing 2 weeks ago (Muslim separatists and all...).

So we leave the Perhentian Islands on the 8AM boat. The boat arrives at 9:30. We take a cab and it arrives in the transport hub, Kotu Bharu, at 10:15. We get some cash (malay ringgit) and head to the bus station across the street. Uh oh, we've missed the "day" bus to Piang which will avoid the bad area.

So the options are: 1) wait 12 hours in the dirty bus station getting very bad vibes and bad looks from locals until we can take a 9:30 PM bus out that arrives at a soooooo bleary 4:30 am into Pinang. 2) Take a cab, now-ish, for 3x the price of the bus. Or 3) Say screw it and go the short way to bangkok via the state department "avoid unessential travel" area (which requires a few hops and stops). So 3's out. And one is so unpleasant even for an hour that we opt for 2.

We hook up with a dutch guy and bargained with the taxi drivers to drive us to Penang for what amounts to about $20 each. Imagine being in a country where $60 can get you a 7 hour taxi ride somewhere AND the taxi drivers simply turn around after dropping you off and go back home. Then imagine what a taxi in that kind of country looks and smells like. Then imagine the poor souls who are destined to drive these "vehicles" for eternity.

No AC, they didn't speak much English, it was a very balmy 90 degrees the whole trip. But nobody told our tweedledee and tweedledum cab drivers that we wanted to avoid Southern Thailand. So off we go, right into Thailand! Ironic. Luckily, when irony is involved, only madcap situations develop and not life-threatening ones!! Of course we didn't realize that was the route they chose until we were at the border being questioned (in a make-shift tent) about our feelings on GW Bush by the Thai border official in a VERY Muslim area of Thailand. He was totally agreeable once we communicated our feelings re GWB were similarly somber. The Dutch guy got to chat about football (soccer) with him.

Then the car broke down for a bit in the deserted mountains of s. Thailand. That was a blast. Of course no standing still was even worse than moving (which wasn't so pleasant either).

Finally we get to Penang, but of course our drivers have NO idea where to drop us off. Weird thing about the rest of the world is NOBODY knows how to read maps. So although we had the map for him, and the language Malay uses the same characters as English they refused to use it.

By this time we are absolutely dying from breathing nasty exhaust fumes all day. I am covered in sweat and pollution as whenever I scratch my many many many mosquito bites my nails come back covered in the black nastiness that has stuck to my skin after traveling into the cab through the window.

Oh yeah - one window in the back seat (left side) doesn't open, and there are three of us back there b/c there are two drivers to share the job. They were effectively the two stooges doomed to travel the world in search of their long-lost third.

Unbelievable, but it all worked out. That terrible ride was orders of magnitude better than hanging out in the dirty and somewhat antagonistic-towards-westerners town for ten hours for the overnight bus, etc. etc.

We got here safe and settled into our hostel and got some Indian food for dinner and headed to bed.

Check out the flickr link (meandering pictures) to see our most recent photos. The Perhentian Islands trip itself was an absolute blast.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Until Then

Just want to let y'all know that there may be only a few posts in the next week. Z and I are in the Perhentian Islands (beautiful, gorgeous, fantastique!)- however email is very very expensive. Thus more beach time for me and less procrastination at work for you. So sorry my friends. I know that absence of my nail biting tales of our day-to-day activities will deeply affect the quality of your lives. But fear not...they will return.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Tea Anyone?

Z and I hiked about eleven kilometers (you do the math) through the jungle and uphill on a VERY rural mountain road in order to visit the mangnificant Cameron tea plantation.

It was a long trek getting there but absolutely worth every hot, sticky, itchy (mosquito bites), sweaty moment.

Once at the top we enjoyed tea and, if you can believe it, crumpets! It was all VERY British. There are tours of the tea factory and of course the obligatory tea factory gift shop.

Luckily a kind gentleman from Sri Lanka gave us a lift down back to our hostel. Turns out he works for the U.N. doing all kinds of cool stuff. Traveling always leads you into the most unexpected and unusual situations.

We got some really great photos, so check'em out at flickr (the "Meandering Pictures" link on the side bar).

Monday, May 09, 2005

George of the Jungle

Can't write much now...but check out the new pictures on flickr (for those of you still a little slow with the whole technology thing - click link on the right side of the screen labelled "Meandering Pictures."

We are now in Cameron Highlands (Malaysia) and it is gorgeous. It was a bit of a hassle getting here - six hours by bus - well, seven if you count the amount of time it took to fix the bus after it broke down on the mountain in the middle of NOWHERE. Good times.

Our hostel is great though (great being an absolutely relative term) and there are a number of other backpackers here.

We went on the most incredible hike today through the jungle. The highlight being, of course, the vine/ swing we came across. It wasn't marked and I certainly wasn't brave enough to be the first one to try it out. Z was however and the two of us had ourselves a grand'ole time.

Have a ton of mosquito bites and desparately hoping that I do not get malaria. Only time will tell.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Ocean Warfare

We left for snorkeling early on Tursday for the Kho Phi Phi trip. This is the island where the movie "The Beach" was filmed. The snorkeling was outstanding - as one would expect.

At one point we saw some dolphins playing very close to our boat. We were informed that this is a rarity however. Dolphins are hunted for food in these parts of the world and tend to stay away from people and boats.

All in all, despite the pricey cost of the Kho Phi Phi trip, it was definitely worth it.

On the boat ride back we requested to be dropped off in Aonang instead of Rai Lay beach. Since it was our last night in S. Thailand we wanted to spend a few hours walking around the markets and taking in all the commotion of Aonang.

As I have mentioned in previos posts, the island Rai Lay - where we were staying - is small with negligible hustle and bustle. The only way off the island is by long boat (obviously).

Aonang on the other hand is comparatively much larger with actual paved roads and cars and mopeds! Yippee.

The trouble with traveling to Aonang from Railay is that the boat ride fare varies depending on the time of day - much like the taxis in NYC, there is a surcharge for those traveling after dark. Further, if the water is choppy, there is an additional charge for the trip.

You can see where this is going.

While Z and I were in an internet cafe, loading pictures for your enjoyment, the sun set and by the time we emerged it was very dark and there were no long boats in sight due to the extremely provocative wind.


There were two Thai men standing in the area where we would normally negotiate a ride to Rai Lay however, so we sauntered in that direction.

After some back and forth they demanded an exorbitant amount to take us to Rai Lay during such poor conditions.

And then along came the inebriated French men trying to bully the Thai men into ferrying us for an unreasonably low price. Things were getting a bit heated and since the plan was for all of us to share the boat together, by default Z and I were dragged into Pepe's nonsense.

Then things got weird. Pepe and his buddy took off on a moped toward the piers where the longoats were being stored. They tell Z, a newcomer, Jack and I to wait on the beach and they will pick us up. Yeah, sure.

Now it is Z, Jack and I trying to re-negotiate a ride home and it is increasingly looking like we might be spending the night in Aonang (this is bad for us because we are leaving for Penang the next AM from Rai Lay - where all our stuff is, etc.).

Finally out of desparationthe three of us agree to pay 500 baht to get back (usualy it would cost only 80 baht per person). But 500 Baht = $10 so sometimes you just have to suck it up.

So, sketchy boat guy instructs us to take a tuk-tuk to the pier and he will meet us there and we will leave on his boat.

We get to the pier, which is full of empty boats, poorly lit and only the cicadas to keep us company. I was feeling relieved that Jack was a tall and strong looking type (not to say that Z is not burly himself. love you bunches big guy).

Then we see sketchy boat guy at the pier and he is now proffering some nonsense story about needing money up front to purchase oil for his boat. We of course explain that there will be no payment until we get to the island.

Suddenly we hear an engine start up and see and boat exiting the pier with a number of tourists. We shout down the boat and low and behold there is drunken Pepe with his buddy and some other backpackers.

We scramble down the rocky slope towards the water and leap into the moving boat in a less than elegant fashion.

Meanwhile,,, sketchy boatman is standing up at the top of the incline whith his hands on his hips frantically yellling "NO, NO, WAIT, STOP!!!!" He then switches to Thai and berates our new boat man with some very nasty language (according to one Thai speaking passenger on the boat).

Got to cut this one short. We just arrived in Penang a few hours ago and I am beat. Don't be continued.

Friday, May 06, 2005

New Pictures

New pics! Check out my pictures by following the link on the right side of the screen "meandering pictures." enjoy.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Singha In The Rain

After our first rock climbing bit we hit the beach and back to our room to shower and prepared to see the sunset once again.

We met some Austrian travelers and shared a beer with them while dusk settled in. Then we returned to the east side of the island and enjoyed a veggie burger and some fried rice for dinner. Yum. Tbhe food in Thailand agrees with our tummies much better than in Korea.

We decided to seek out some excitement after our dinner and headed to a nearby bar - Gecko. We met some Australians and different Austrian kids.

There was plenty of drinking of the local beer Singha and even a fire spinning spectacle. One S.African girl we met had been learning to spin and she too captivated the crowd with her many talents.

That was a late night. Keeping up with Australians when it comes to drinking can be quite a task and we stumbled home at some unknown, but late hour.

Needless to say, rock climbing was NOT part of the following day's agenda. We slept in until noon, but thankfully awoke hangover-free. Wish we could say the same for our Aussie buddy who spent most of the day in bed.

We took it easy the rest of the day, hitting the beach and catching up on some reading.

The beach is just as gorgeous as we remember, however its 85 degree temperature is not quite as refreshing as one might hope. But hey, only a fool complains in paradise.

Today we will rock climb agian, this time during the afternoon session.

We have signed up for a trip to Ko Phi Phi by speed boat where we will snorkel, see the monkeys and lounge on Maya beach, the beach where the movie "The Beach" was filmed.

Until then!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Rai Lay Beach

On Monday night Z and I watched tje sunset on the west side of the island. A number of Rai lay visitors congregate there every evening for some drinks, the sunset and an assortment of other entertainment.

We watched apick-up game of football (aka soccer) as well as some bohemian fire spinning and juggling.

Afterwards we headed back to the east side for dinner. Surprisingly we ran into one of our former rock climbing instructors from last year, Teek. he came and sat with us for a bit. We offferrred to buy him a beer but he declined since he is in training for an upcoming rock climbing competition in Bangkok.

The next morning we woke up early and ate a quick bite before heading to the rock climbing shop at 8:40AM. This time Toby was our instructor.

We returned to last year's site and Z and i were delighted to find that we were able to complete erach route with much more skill and speed than last year. must be all that yoga.

After climbing we were wiped. We grabbed some grub and trekked to the beach. There is a psudo-long trail until you get to the ocean and numerous vendors selling a variety of trinkets. The best part of the hike however is that you will usually see a family of monkeys hanging out up to two feet away from you - studying you as closely as you them.

more to come.

p.s. - i apologize for typos, the key board is VERY sticky and when paying by the minute it is much more expensive to do any serious editing. ttfn.

p.p.s. - you absolutely MUST check out Brett's blog as he eloquently discusses our adventures in korea.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Back to the Beach

We arrived in Krabi safely around 7AM and shared a cab with the two Chinese Tourists to Aonang where we took a boat ride to Rai Lay beach. When one of the Chinese tourists asked where we were coming from, Z replied "Korea." The Chinese tourist asked "KOREA?" and Z confirmed. Then he turned to his buddy and relayed this bit of information to his buddy in Chinese, where upon the buddy looked up quizically and asked "KOREA?". This went on for a few minutes. Finally I turned to Z and explained that he had just told them that we were Korean.

After that they weren't quite so chummy with us for the rest of the ride.

Once in Aonang we grabbed a quick breakfast and caught a boat over to Rai Lay without incident. As Z observed, it is very weird but exciting to be back here again.

The island is noticeably more emplty than last year, due in larger part to the tsunami. However, most of the structures seem to be intact and the local tourist industires appear to be operating in full swing.

The depressed economy has made staying here significantly less expensive - with our room costing a mere 250 baht ($6.00) per night in comparison with last year's 500 baht per night price.

To be fair, we are NOT staying in a 5 star resort. We have no AC (to be expected) no hot water (but it is much too hot here for such a thing), no sink per say (a drain in the floor and a hose-type contraption) and no running water in the toilet (to flush you fill up a bucket - which IS provided - with water and pour it in and hope for the best). I would be remiss not to mention the positives which include a working fan and a mosquito net for the bed.

Although I am sure many of you (DAD) are cringing at the thought of staying at such a place, Z and I absolutely LOVE it. It has a very Swiss Family Robinson feel to it.

NOTE: Brett took a number of photos of our trip in KOREA which turned out much better than mine - mainly because he is a better photographer and has a better camera. Check them out here.

I hope to be posting my photos soon again, we just need to find an internet cafe that will accept my card. Toodles.

Thai Flys

We departed Seoul early this morning feeling reluctant to leave our good friends, but excited to continue our travels.

We flew on Thai Air, which is absolutely the most comfortable and accomodating airline I have ever flown on. Not only is there a steady stream of juices offered throughout the trip, there is also an open bar. Although it was MUCH too early for Z or myself, we were impressed with the expansive beverage service.

The food was decent as well and they actually served the meal with REAL silverware! Exciting stuff I tell you. Exciting stuff.

We arrived in Bangkok at 2PM local time (1 hour behind Seoul). We hopped on a bus to Khao San road and ate some falafel from our favorite stand from last year. Then we picked up some things we needed for our trip and caught a city bus to the bus station.

We are returning to Krabi in southern Thailand (where we visited last year) for a few days before heading to Malaysia. The cheapest way to do this is by overnight bus, so the bus it is.

We decided to take the Thai (non-tourist) bus line instead of the touirst bus tour we took to Krabi last year. As it turns out, the tourist line is a bit more expensive although it does leave from a more convenient part of town. However, the real draw back to the tourist line is the fact that the driver's buddies invariably rummage through everyone's bags during the long ride.

Luckily Karen and Brett had warned us of this practice before we got on the bus (last year) so nothing was stolen since they are only interest in cash and credit cards. Howerver we did have to do some serious repacking as it was clear our stuff had been tossed.

This time (thanks again to Karen and Brett's suggestion) we took the Thai bus line, where there is no baggage rummaging during the trip. We certainly did not blend in however as we were the only westerners on the bus (not including the two Chinese guys who were clearly tourists as well).

It was an interesting ride - and by intersting I mean LONG and UNCOMFORTABLE.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

A fish is a fish

After another night of bowling Z managed a personal high of 151 and I came in at a not-too-shabby 128. Who would have thought bowling could be so much fun?

Today (Saturday), Z, Karen, Brett and I took off for a day of adventures. We first went to the local mall to visit the book store so that Z and I could browse the travel book section and copy some info from the Thailand travel book. We fly into Bangkok tomorrow and will hopefully be traveling on an overnight bus to Krabi (south Thailand). The four of us stopped in the Apple Store and then got sidetracked for a bit getting sticker pictures taken. Crazy cool.

We then headed to Dongdaemun, which is a HUGE shopping area of Seoul. It has about three malls (each are eight stories) that are open from 10:30 AM to 5:00AM. The later you go the better the deal. We saw some sign claiming that there are 35,000 stores in the whole area. Slightly overwhelming.

I managed to talk Z out of purchasing this shirt by explaining that perhaps “ManShaft” is not quite the message he wants to convey. He quietly agreed.

He did find one that was a bit more his style and proudly donned it and rocked it for the rest of the day.

Afterwards we got back on the subway and traveled to the fish market – Noriyangen.

A huge enclosed warehouse-type structure where many, many vendors sell a variety of sea creatures that most people only get to see on the nature channel. Here are just a few.

When you have selected your fish (from the live fish assortment) the vendors retrieve the fish and promptly beat it with a sharp pointed stick and gut it in front of you. Dinner and a show.

Here is the coolest part – once you purchase your goodies from the vendors, you venture downstairs to one of the many restaurant establishments where they prepare your fish delights for a small fee.

K, B and Z bought king crab and some prawn for dinner. Here you can see the lucky crab candidate on the scale being weighed.

AND here is what he looked like after the nice Korean women at the restaurant fixed him up. mmmmm.

Since I am not eating seafood at the moment I was not able to share in the king crab and prawn feast. The rest of the crew was generous enough to consume my share without much complaint. I really was a bit sad that I never got into seafood as the three of them immensely enjoyed the meal. I had rice and beer. Breakfast of champions.

We headed back to the apartment after dinner as Z and I have to leave early tomorrow morning to catch our flight.

As an aside, for those of you keeping track of all our misadventures, we have changed our travel plans a wee bit. Instead of spending the next few weeks in Thailand alone, we will be heading to Malaysia for a bit in the middle. Look for those wacky tales in upcoming posts.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

To Do Soju

Last night Z and I picked up Karen and Brett at work and the four of us headed out for dinner and apple soju. We ended up at a Mexican place that was actually pretty tasty. K and B work until 10PM and by the time we got organized it was 11PM, which is fairly late to be walking into a restaurant on a Wednesday evening. Since the Mexican place was open, that is where we dined.

Afterwards we went to FAS (Fruits Alcohol Shop), one of K and B’s favorite bar. They serve the most delicious fruit flavored soju.

Our first round was apple. As you can see they bring you a large bowl of soju and you drink it out of hollowed out apples. Yummy.

We ordered pineapple soju for our second round. Same idea except you drink it out of a glass and the soju is served in a hollowed pineapple instead of a bowl. We plan to return this weekend to try out the watermelon, kiwi and possibly tomato flavors.

After soju we were all feeling good. I especially was feeling elated, despite suffering some difficulty blinking with both eyes at the same time. Classy.

We came back to the apartment around 2AM and eventually passed out watching a terrible movie – “Constantine.” Snoozer.

Today we woke up fairly chipper and headed out for lunch with K at a local joint that we have visited before. Then Z and I headed out to Insadong again (the art center area of Seoul) to try and see the Palace.

Luckily the Palace IS open on Thursdays, so we were able to see a bit more this time. As we expected, the tour left much to be desired. Although the buildings are beautiful, they lack the sense of history that many other similar sites in other countries have. Since the Japanese destroyed almost all of the Korean palaces and monuments during their brutal occupation in the first half of the twentieth century, the buildings that exist today have all been restored very recently. In fact, almost all of the buildings we saw were built in the mid-1990’s. A historical site loses something when all of the structures are younger than you.

After touring the Palace we popped into an exhibition of a korean artist, Kwon In-kyung. Most of his pieces depicted cityscapes, primarily in black and white using Chinese ink on canvas. The style was partly old-world and partly 1930s pastiche. The subject matter was urban life. Cool stuff.

Then Z and I walked about a mile or two south of Insadong to Korea’s traditional shopping place, Nomdaemun market – a six-hundred-year-old market. The retail and food vendors formed a chaotic collage of bright colors and smells.

By the time we had made our way through a quarter of the market, we were beat. We returned to the apartment and will be heading out again soon to pick up K and B at work for some tempura and a bit of late night bowling.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Wondering Seoul

Yesterday Z and I woke up early and did some yoga in Karen and Brett’s living room. After a quick shower and some breakfast, we promptly fell back asleep on the couch just as Karen and Brett were waking up. Nice. Our internal clocks are still a bit on the fritz.

After dropping K and B off at their school for work we braved the Seoul subway by our lonesome and headed to Insadong, an area of Seoul, which is the art center of the city.

We walked around a bit and perused the various crafts. We tried to visit a Palace but as it turns out, it is closed on Tuesdays. We still were able to walk around in the courtyard however.

We left Insadong and returned to K and B’s school. K had scheduled time for her students to interview me and Z to practice their English skills. It was certainly a learning experience for us.

Korean parents insist on their children achieving high academic success because Korean culture dictates that economic success is directly correlated to how well one does in school. Thus, these kids – who are still elementary students – are studying 12 to 14 hours a day. After their regular school ends they are shuttled to various academies until very late at night. These academies include math academy, English academy, Japanese academy, science academy, etc. Many of them do no get home until after 11pm at night. They then study for a few more hours and then wake up very early to get a jump on studying for the next day.

When we described to them what our schedule was like when we were their age they were quite astonished and seemed a bit envious. One of the students commented “Korean children have no freedom.” Very cute. I should mention that their English was excellent.

After class (which ended at 10pm) B, K, Z and I – along with one of their friends from school – grabbed some food at a local Japanese restaurant and headed out for some bowling.

K and B have become formidable bowlers and put us to shame. K beat her personal best with a strong 146. Nice.

I did not score a 146, or anything near it. However I did manage a few strikes and I barely broke 100 with a whopping 103, which was pretty exciting.

Today the four of us grabbed lunch at a local spot near K and B's school. We also made a stop at the "Sock Guy" - a sock vendor who sells his merchandise out of the back of his truck. He has an adorable selection of colorful socks and they are only 50 cents each. Afterwards Z and I had planned to do some exploring around the city, however due to some stomach complications we spent much of the afternoon indoors. ugh.

We are not sure what the exact cause of our on-and-off recent illness is, but we suspect that our bodies are rebelling against the change of the number of hours of sleep we are getting combined with the drastic change in diet. It is hard to keep up our 10-12 hours of sleep per day and all-organic-all-the-time pattern when living the life of a world traveler. What can you do?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Never, Never Follow the Leader

Today, Sunday, the four of us ventured just outside of Seoul for a four and a half hour hike. But we’ll discuss last night first.

Last night we had planned to begin the evening with some Korean BBQ and head out from there for some Apple Soju (Korean vodka served in a hollowed out apple).

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I am taking a break from eating meat for a while. So my meal was limited to rice, salad, tofu soup and this interesting egg soup-type dish. Some item in that list did NOT agree with my constitution and upset my stomach to such a degree we had to return to the apartment and spend the rest of the evening in.

We have all concluded that after a month of eating pretty mild food, the few bites of spicy soup was enough to set my stomach on strike. Not fun. Luckily Z, Brett and Karen were very understanding and the four of us watched the movie "Sin City" instead.

Today we headed out to Bukhansan National Park for a long hike. Three hours up-hill and one and a half down.

When we got off the subway we had to trek up towards the park through various food and clothing vendors. As you may or may not know, Koreans eat a great variety of foods.

And being the responsible American tourist I took it upon myself to take a bunch of photos of some of these snacks.

Notably, you can see here in the front the steamed silk worm larvae. Believe you me, they were very hard to resist.

We hit the trail with bold enthusiasm.

Since Z and I have been living a fairly active life style in Maui – including a number of serious hikes we were confident that this *little* Korean hike would be a breeze. Arrogance will always get you into trouble. Koreans are very serious hikers – or at least the ones we saw are. Must be all the silk worm larvae they eat.

As I mentioned above – three and a half hours UP hill.

Pretty soon we were all feeling the burn. But we doggedly pursued and eventually we reached the top. We snacked on some granola and fruit and discussed the best plan to descend. There were a number of trails leading down, and unfortunately Karen and I acquiesced to Brett and Zach’s bright idea of taking the Ridge trail down. Bad idea.

The Ridge trail was a narrow, steep and dangerous round-about route down the mountain.

Luckily I had a personal mantra on hand in order to calm myself as I crawled from boulder to boulder – “I HATE you Zach, I HATE you Brett, you are in SO much trouble” – managed to do the trick. The upshot was that such a potent fear for life and limb *magically* eliminated all lingering stomach pains from the night before. Funny how that works.

Surprisingly we all survived in one piece without any significant bruising or scrapes. We picked up some fresh noodles (made right in front of us) and some sprouts and greens for dinner tomorrow night.

All in all, it was a fantastic day. We are all exhausted and will sleep VERY soundly tonight.

Friday, April 22, 2005

We Got Seoul

After 19 hours of traveling we have arrived in Seoul. Karen and Brett picked us up at the bus stop in their neighborhood last night around 10:30PM Seoul time (and who knows what time according to my and Z’s internal clock).

We dropped off our bags and headed out to celebrate our long awaited reunion. We stayed out sort of late drinking Bekseju and munching on some rice and Korean BBQ (at least the veggie portions).

We slept in a bit this AM and then after a delicious breakfast of Asian Pears we headed out to adventure around Seoul. We walked through a tiny market by K and B’s apartment and took a bus to Apugeoing, which is one of the more trendy areas of Seoul.

Shopping seems to be a big part of Korean culture, so it was pretty fun to witness all the consumer-hype.

We also popped into a photography exhibit. featuring Bruce Davidson, whose pieces capture the the NYC subway system in the 1980’s. The artist explained why he took picture of the Subway: “When in the subway, what is beautiful appears bestial, and what is bestial becomes beautiful.” The pieces were really moving and it was particularly interesting for the four of us who were recently living in NYC using the subways quite often. It was quite shocking to see how ominous the subways seemed not long ago; the graffiti alone appeared very intimidating.

Now we are back at the apartment taking some down time in preparation for our outing tonight. More to come.