Evan Kessler Dot Com

The Home of the Brave

Archive for January, 2009

We Sure Did. Now What?

Posted by evankessler on January 21, 2009

Obama Inauguration

With the exception of Superman, not many people get to work their first full day and see on their to-do list after “Set up email” the daunting words “save the world,” but with all of those inspiring speeches that helped get him here a thing of the past, Barack Obama is now the leader of the free world.  The former Illinois Senator’s stint as numero 44 kicked off yesterday in grand fashion as the Queen of Soul belted out a heart warmingly beautiful version of My Country Tis of Thee on the frigid steps of the Lincoln Memorial…and if the white waitress who stood next to me crying was any indication, the mood of a nation  was transformed from utterly dour divisiveness under it’s previous leader to one of supremely positive unity as a result of it’s latest political savior.

While the latter attitude might be marked by somewhat wishful thinking, we’ve more or less entered the “now what?” phase known as the actual Obama era. We certainly owe it to our new President to give him the benefit of the doubt for at least the next few months as he tries to at least partially undo this mess done by the previous regime, but we must never give our leaders the power to operate with a carte blanche mentality, because it’s that sort of thing that got us into this in the first place.  It’s important to realize that our system of checks and balances exists for a reason, and while it may be tempting for us to pray that President Obama can undo the wrongs of the past in one fell swoop, we must have an enduring patience, because changes made in too much haste might end up being as sloppy and as poorly thought out as the decisions that put us in our current situation.   In the greater scheme of things we should try to view things with a glass half full and with the confidence that this current leader will not pervert our system of government as his predecessor had done  and will give our institutions the proper respect and due process they deserve.

Advertisements

Posted in Patriotism, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Back In The U.S. of A

Posted by evankessler on January 12, 2009

usa_flag_mapAfter spending the last two weeks of gallivanting around southeast Asia, I’m back in the good ol’ U.S. of A and not a moment too soon.  I returned on Saturday evening at 6pm as my plane landed at JFK International Airport, ending a day of travel that began as my plane took off Saturday morning at 9:15am Bangkok Time (9:15pm Friday New York Time).  With a quick 2 hour stop in Tokyo I was on my way back home and despite a seemingly above average amount of turbulence, I returned home safely to struggle with a twelve hour time difference and impending jet lag.

Despite American Airlines attempt to throw off my internal clock by serving me a continental breakfast at 5pm an hour prior to landing, I’d have to say I’m dealing with the readjustment quite well.  My first day back I fell asleep at 1am and last night I conked out a little after 11pm even though I had been ready to say goodnight sometime around 8:30.  I haven’t been sleeping quite as long as I’d like to, but I’m more or less on schedule.

Now comes the hard part.  Responsibility.  Two weeks on another continent spent not thinking about anything important other than “when are we going to eat lunch?” and “should I go for a swim or get a massage?” has left me somewhat ill-prepared for the heavier questions that I enjoyed ignoring for that time.  It’s a rude awakening to return and be faced with the problems that previously plagued you.  I’m back to thinking, ” man, I need to get some work” and “am I doing the right thing with my life?”

On the bright side,I’ve been able to pick up where I left off with all of my friends, spending a good deal of Sunday with the people I’ve been without for what seemed like an eternity.  And even with the sobering reality of return I can look at the calendar and say, “it’s 2009, a clean slate.” A new year with new possibilities and as cliched as this last sentence has been, a new outlook.  Feeling fine in 2009.  Well that’s not the official slogan.  The official slogan is “Wine Me, Dine Me, 2009 Me,” but that’s hard to say on a regular basis.

Posted in Travel, Unemployment, vacation | Leave a Comment »

Cambodia/Thailand Day 14-16: One Wild Night In Bangkok

Posted by evankessler on January 9, 2009

Two weeks in Southeast Asia are mercifully (or mercilessly depending on who you ask) coming to an end.  Though the accompanying feeling is a bittersweet one, I’m excited to return to playoff football, but not so excited for freezing weather and snow.  Funny how I always liked the winter, but the returning home to icicles and ice cold has lost some of it’s appeal thanks to a fortnight in a more comfortable climate in the midst of a deep freeze in the United States.

I certainly am not heading home feeling unfulfilled as each day seemed to provide a new, unexpected, and unique experience, solely for the reason that you were doing something you’d never done before with each passing second.  The last three days were no different in that respect.

Andy, Jeff, Morwin and myself closed out our stay in Cambodia on Wednesday night with an authentic Khmer meal at the Angkor Palm restaurant on Pub Street.  For those of you not familiar with the Angkor Palm, it was named Siem Reap’s best restaurant of 2006 by a publication.

A Tasty Khmer Dish

Lok Lak: A Tasty Khmer Dish

Not content to end our evening there Morwin, Jeff and I had a beer at a Mexican restaurant as more Cambodian children attempted to peddle their wares while showing off their high IQs. One child tried to sell books by wowing us with his U.S. knowledge.

“Washing-tone Dee-See is the Ca-pee-tal of the United States…I know how many people live there.”

“How many?”

“Three hundred and five mill-ee-on minus three, because you are here.”

We had to give him credit for that one, but we still weren’t buying his travel guides.  We really had no use at this point.  Another girl drew up a tic-tac-toe game and told Jeff that if she won he would have to buy some of her bracelets and that if he won she would leave us alone.  We egged Jeff on saying that he should be confident enough to beat a little kid in tic-tag-toe, but he didn’t take the bait.   Neither did I for that matter, as she briefly tried to lure me into her game of deceit.

On our way home from getting the one drink, we walked to the market and bought some Cambodian souvenirs and subsequently found ourselves in a commerce filled alley where we happened upon a particularly disturbing postcard to send to our friend Suli.

With that it was bedtime.  Our time in Siem Reap was drawing to a close, but our flight out wasn’t until 1:45 the next afternoon. The next morning we all went out to a delicious breakfast at a place called The Soup Dragon and stopped at the market one last time for additional souvenir-age.   I bought two traditional Cambodian scarves (Krami) from the same woman I’d bought shirts from the previous evening.

One Appropriately Disturbing Postcard Coming Right Up!

One Appropriately Disturbing Postcard Coming Right Up!

Post-market we stopped by the postcard shop to mail out our disturbing postcard and returned to the Guesthouse to get our gear together and check out.  We saw our tuk-tuk driver Phearom , who apparently told Andy that he and Jhom had made up after the previous evening’s controversy.  All’s well that ends well, though not quite.

Before leaving for the Airport we got into a long and heated argument with the manager of our lodging over a broken toilet seat in our room, which he maintained we had broken.  We had certainly not broken it, it was more than cracked in half when we took the room days earlier.  In all fairness, we probably should have reported it after the first night, but in my haste to go out that evening had forgotten.  After that I just figured it wasn’t worth complaining over since a large number of the country’s inhabitants squat over a hole instead of  sitting on a toilet.  It felt like a petty complaint to make, but in the end a slightly costly one as the argument brought out stubborness in both sides and Jeff played the hero by quashing the issue with a $10 handout to the manager for a seat that wasn’t worth $2.  On the plus side, we were able to make it to the airport on time and leave Cambodia.

The flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok was rather uneventful unless you count the fact that pre-takeoff and post landing were marked by the cheerful din of Christmas music blasting through the cabin speakers of our Bangkok Airways jet liner. It seems like it’s always Christmas in Thailand…or at least from Novemver to February.  The flight itself was another hop, skip and jump and we arrived back in Thailand around 3pm with plenty of the day to waste.  But before we did so, we had to get to our hostel, downtown in the Silom area.  That was a bit of a mini-adventure as our driver overshot a bit and passed the road where it was.   We did manage to get there, however, with very little additional interference.

Once checked in at the ultramodern (at least if the shared bathrooms were any indication) Lub*D hostel, the four of us went for a walk in our neighborhood in search of food.  We found a bustling alley with several vendors who offered seating. Andy was somehow able to bargain the price of his Pad Thai down to about 60 Baht.  We knew you could bargain for the price of goods, but a meal?

After grabbing a bite, we made back for the hostel, me a bit slower than everyone else as I was still hobbled by my bum tendon.  We sat around and made a few phone calls with Jason and Kayvalyn before arriving at a plan to meet at the night market.

At around 7:30 or 8 we headed over to the Lumphini Night Bazaar, where I had spent a portion of my first evening in Bangkok, nearly two weeks prior with Kayvalyn’s cousin and the husband wife duo of Andy and Tracy.  This time we met up with the newlywed Jayvalyn, Jason’s parents, and his sister Gina.

We walked around for a few hours gathering up some final gift items before returning home; t-shirts, scarves, and what-not.  One of the booths had two tiny monkeys hopping around.  It was a markedly different experience from my previous go round.  I saw much more than just the t-shirt section.  We also stopped at the food court where I helped polish off a small tower of Chang.

Li'l Monkey In Action

Li'l Monkey In Action

It's Never Not Chang Time!

It's Never Not Chang Time!

Leaving behind the commerce-hungry commoners at the Night Market, we opted to make our next stop a high-class one.  Jason and Kayvalyn took the group to Sirocco, the rooftop bar on the 64th floor of Bangkok’s State Tower, offering exquisite views of the city and beer ranging in price from $9-$12.  I’m not quite sure what the other spirits cost as I didn’t sample them.

The View From Top of the World in Bangkok

Sirocco: The View From Top of the World in Bangkok

Andy Enjoying His Time On Top

Andy Enjoying His Time On Top

Our time hobnobbing in a swank setting was short but sweet. We certainly stopped to smell the fresh air and admire the impressive view from above the Bangkok Skyline, even taking a few photos along the way although as I understood it picture taking was not exactly permitted.

With the experience of how the upper-echelon of Thai society spend their evenings under our belt, we quickly brought ourselves back to the ground floor reserved for the proletariat, whisking ourselves away to a less pricey neighborhood. I don’t quite remember what the street we went to was, or what the bar was called, but Kayvalyn announced that it was the area she used to haunt during her high school career. We all took a seat and enjoyed a drink or two as the DJ blasted dance music and the live drummer beat along.

Just A Few Friends Enjoying Some Drinks in Bangkok

Just A Few Friends Enjoying Some Drinks in Bangkok

At one point Jason’s dad came up to me telling me that he though he saw a good looking girl at the front of the club and that he thought I should talk to her.  I had only seen one other person in said bar that wasn’t staff  and it looked like a woman, but Morwin had previously tagged her as a ladyboy.  I told this to Jason’s dad and with that he went outside and checked.  He promptly reported back saying that he was talking about the girl working at the door and that he didn’t think she was a ladyboy.  This didn’t exactly inflate my courage.  Instead, I just told him that I thought he was referring to someone else and went on drinking.

It was getting pretty late, too late for Jason’s parents and sister .  They soon turned in and we moved on to look for more Bangkok nightlife excitement. We walked further down the alley looking for another bar and after a fruitless perusal we made for another lively alley. Our first turn ended up being the gay alley.  We knew this from all of the pride flags and the fact that there were guys as far as the eye could see.

Next Kayvalyn led us over to the Phatpong road or, if you will (and you will), Bangkok’s infamous red-light district.  As we walked down the road a man followed us trying to sell us on the idea of going to his club, but instead our first stop was a place with a live band.  Before I could grab a beer and enjoy the music, a trip to the bathroom was in order for a light sprinkle.  The last thing I expected in this place was a men’s room attendant, but there he stood.  Mind you I didn’t see any mints , but there was a tip tray and he did turn on the water.

Once my hands were washed and toweled off, said attendant swiftly grabbed my arms in a somewhat friendly yet surprisingly dominating manner as I had never been manhandled by a men’s room attendant before.  He proceeded to crack my neck in two directions and my back by giving me  what amounted to a bearhug.  Strangely relieved and simultaneously confused at what had just occurred, I tipped the attendant 40 baht and walked out.

As I returned to the bar to find my friends, the band leaped into a  cover of “Jump Around”, which seemed alternately odd and amusing, yet definitely entertaining. Before I knew it, I was putting my drink down unfinished and following the rush of our crowd led by it’s most recent bride and the man who had been haranguing us earlier towards the bar across the alley, sporting the name “Pussy Collection.”

I Ain't Lyin'

I Ain't Lyin'

I don’t think you have to guess twice what sort of bar a place called “Pussy Collection” in Bangkok’s red-light district is.  Just in case you can’t it’s a strip bar where sexual favors are frequently given in exchange for money.  Upon entry we were immediately sat in a corner and charged around 450 baht for entry and our first beer.  As soon as my backside was against cushion, one of the stripper/prostitutes sidled up beside me.  She began to kiss my cheek and attempt to seduce me into paying for some sort of favor which she used a hand motion in concert with a tongue in her cheek to make abundantly clear in any language, just what favor she was proposing.

I didn’t get many a clear look at my assailant as I was trying to avoid giving any indication that I might be interested in her services.  She was probably the best looking girl in the bunch as most of the ladies seemed haggard at best, though one or two were semi-attractive maybe.  Overall, I found the women in Cambodia to be impossibly more attractive than those in Thailand.

Anyway, my “Pussy Collection”  saga continued as this persistent semi-vixen continued to attempt to work her magic on me, showing me her breasts and taking great care to tempt the occurrence of an erection by stroking over said area of my pants and grabbing it several times, all of this in plain sight of my friends. It was awkward to say the least.

Alongside My New Best Friend.  Not Referring To Jeff

Alongside My New Best Friend. Not Referring To Jeff

Kayvalyn repeatedly looked over with concern asking, “Are you okay?” and pleading with the willing party, “be gentle, he’s innocent.” Frankly, I was a bit insulted by this notion of utter innocence, but not to the point where I’d do something to prove just the opposite.  I cherish my body parts and would prefer if they didn’t fall off at the behest of getting my pride hurt in front a Thai hooker.  I don’t want people I know to look at me as the guy who got serviced in Bangkok or their friend with chronic Gonorrhea.

At one point, our lovable, ever-persistent Miss Harlot started to get handsy with the outside of my pants pocket after she had been hounding me to buy a beer or buy her a beer.  I’m not exactly sure what she meant. Not wanting to know what might’ve happened if I gave her 100 Baht, I didn’t take the bait.  But as she fondled my pocket, she felt what might ahve been some paper currency.  I felt what she felt and was confident it was probably a few receipts.  I was half-right.  There was one receipt and one 100 Cambodian Riel note.  She grabbed the latter and flaunted it and took it for her own as if it was some sort of bounty.  I didn’t care in the least seeing as 4000 Riel is the equivalent of one U.S. dollar.  She made away with about 2.5 cents.

We sat around the club for a bit longer hoping to maybe see a famous Ping-Pong show, but to no avail.  We did however see a few beer bottles opened by the lady nether region.  They weren’t just cracking it open either. Bottle caps whizzed past our heads with some velocity.

The lady of my night stayed by my side kissing my cheek a while longer hoping to coax some monetary reward.  At one point  she managed to slide an almond sliver or something into the side of my mouth with hers without me even opening my mouth intentionally for it.  I think I was saying something to one of my friends at the other end when she slipped them in.  It was fairly odd, but all relatively harmless fun.  The club soon closed down and our group filed out.  As I made for the door, I was hugged by two ladies, who slipped me the club card and despite my apparently irresistible nature or the fact that maybe they pegged me as an easy mark, I continued out the door.

Our night amid the seedy red hue and marquees promoting talented female body parts was not over just yet.  We made one more stop at a place called King’s Camelot where it was less about the ladies pressing you with their flesh and more about showing off their goods on stage so you could pick which one you might desire for boom boom. Thankfully, I didn’t attract any focus at that more crowded establishment.  I was a ghost, but I think Andy and Jeff got showered with a good deal of attention.  To tell the truth though, I did sort of miss it.  It was more fun and odd to be someone’s center of attention even in such a house of ill repute. We weren’t at that bar for too long.  It was around 3am when we made it back to the hostel.  Andy and Jeff wanted to stay out later, but Andy had to leave for the airport in less than three hours to go back home, a fact that he didn’t seem to grasp.

The next morning I awoke at 9:30am feeling quite the haze of hangover.  I had a bit of a continental breakfast at the hostel to fight off the effects.  To conquer the issue completely, Morwin and I took a walk to Health Land for a final turn at a traditional two-hour Thai Massage for the low, low price of $13.  It took a while to actually reach the spa, as we thought we were looking for the same one we had been to earlier in the trip, when in actuality the hostel had given us directions to a closer Health Land.

At 1pm we finally stumbled upon the right place, which was even nicer than the one we had been to two weeks before.  The massage while still as through, seemed to induce more pain that the last time, though it still seemed to iron out the kinks just as effectively.  Morwin didn’t feel the same about his as his masseuse left him with a bit of a limp.

When the massage ended my body was absolutely exhausted.  I just wanted to collapse.  Morwin and I headed back to the hostel, where we made a few calls and got in touch with Ken, who had arrived in from Chiang Mai earlier in the morning.  He met up with us at 4pm and we found ourselves a spot to eat down the road.

I was ready to fall asleep while we were eating, but held off slumber for a subsequent walk to show Ken where we had all gone out the previous evening, but in the daylight. Ken soon split off and I wanted nothing more than to go to bed…That’s pretty much what I spent my last night in Bangkok doing.  My body famished, I had one last meal of stir-fried Morning Glory, before shuffling off to my room early, in preparation for my flight.

I’d love to have gone out with a bang instead of a whimper, but there were plenty of good times between the bookends to last me quite a while…and plenty more to be had on the solid, yet slippery ground  of New York City.

Posted in Cambodia, Thailand, Travel, vacation | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cambodia Day 13-14: Ankle Deep in Siem Reap

Posted by evankessler on January 7, 2009

It’s early afternoon on my final full day in the historic city of Siem Reap, Cambodia and instead of exploring scenic regions of the world previously unknown to me I’m sipping from a pineapple shake with an ailing foot/ankle, having minimal pressure exerted upon it.  Not the most admirable form of soft adventure, but it’ll have to do for now.  If I have any hope of enjoying my final 2 or 3 days in Southeast Asia.

I’m not sure what exactly brought on this massive helping of hurt, but it was probably aided by yesterday’s hectic temple touring schedule.  At 5am Andy, Jeff, Morwin and myself met our drivers Phearom and Jhom in the lobby of Popular Guesthouse for a sunrise rendezvous with Angkor Wat, one of the famed man-made wonders of the world and the Khmer people’s main source of national pride, not to mention it’s top tourist attraction.

We arrived at the temple, the sky still dense with stars.  I gazed upwards hoping to catch a glance at a shooting one to wish upon, but to no avail.  We were a little too early and still had plenty of time before the sun came up, but we weren’t the only ones as the tourist masses descended upon  and through the gates of the aged expanse. We stubbornly held a spot on the bridge leading up to the gates for quite a bit, falsely surmising that we would have the best view at sunrise, unfettered by the throngs of clueless foreigners.

A View From The Bridge @ Angkor Wat

A View From The Bridge @ Angkor Wat

After snapping a few shots in the slight dawn we came to a realization that perhaps we were the clueless foreigners.  There was probably a reason all of those people were positioning themselves inside. It would probably be better to have a photo of Angkor Wat at sunrise rather than the gate of Angkor Wat.

The lot of us soon shuffled inside amidst hundreds of other shrine visitors.  We repositioned ourselves several times before settling near the pond with the throngs of tourists.

Despite the sheer volume of onlookers in this main area I was surprised that we were each able to get clean looks at this truly awesome sight/site.  I like the fact that for the rest of my life I’ll be able to say I’ve seen the sun rise over Angkor Wat.  I don’t necessarily know what it means in the long run, but it certainly felt special to me.  That is certainly more than could be said for a few twenty-something British lads a few feet over from us, who rather than focusing on their remarkable surroundings were busy ruminating over the ability to self-fellate as a direct result of rib removal.

The Sun Also Rises At Angkor Wat

The Sun Also Rises At Angkor Wat

When the sun had fully risen a large number from the crowd exited the site and made for breakfast.  We, on the other hand took this as our cue to explore the ruins even further, unfettered by the congregation of families and fellow travelers.

The Empty Pool Pits of Angkor (Or Whatever They Are)

The Empty Pool Pits of Angkor (Or Whatever They Are)

The temple was an impressive monument indeed.  Several pool type structures marked the area where we first entered.  We bounded around the edges examining the surrounding contours and delved deeper inside the great structure, exploring towers and chambers, before reaching the principle sanctuary known as Bakan. This area was absolutely humongous, yet unfortunately roped off (perhaps wisely) to visitors due to restoration.

That's One Impressive Structure

That's One Impressive Structure

Another Stunning View

Another Stunning View

Angkor Wat or Canyon of The Crescent Moon (Alexandretta)?

Angkor Wat or Canyon of The Crescent Moon (Alexandretta)?

More Wonderful Angkor Wat Scenery

More Wonderful Angkor Wat Scenery

We wandered the outsides snapping photo after photo of the impressive construction work around the aged Kingdom including the Bas Relief, Churning of the Sea of Milk whose description had many typos.  All in all we were at the the site for about three hours before heading off to our next spot.

Churning of The Sea of Milk bas-relief

Churning of The Sea of Milk bas-relief

Typo

Typo or Perhaps Just A Misspelling

Who Parked This Horse Here?

Who Parked This Horse Here?

Phearom and Jhom brought us to a nearby restaurant for breakfast where I had some delicious pancakes with banana and pineapple.  I can’t seem to get enough fresh fruit in Southeast Asia.

On the way to our next stop we dropped by a roadside market/petrol stand.  They sell gasoline in 2 liter botttles of soda here in places that also serve as food stands amidst roosters and broken down wagons, with children running around.  It seems like every family makes a living here just selling the same things just outside their village.

Fill 'Er Up

Fill 'Er Up

The next stop on our temple tour de force was Pre Rup.  It sort of reminded me of Ta Keo in that it had three towers and required a little climbing, but it wasn’t nearly as steep.  It was as if Ta Keo was built just to show whomever built Pre Rup that they were a much more powerful king.  Then again it seems like 90% of the temples we’ve seen were built by the same guy, one Jayavarman VII.

Enter Pre Rup

Enter Pre Rup

Andy Hanging Out Atop Pre Rup

Andy Hanging Out Atop Pre Rup

From Pre Rup we took our tuk-tuks out to the countryside.  Phearom and Jhom brought us to Banteay Srei…which according to Lonely Planet is considered to be “The Jewel in Angkor’s Artistic Crown,” and if I do say so myself there were plenty of impressive design intricacies though I’m no architectural expert.  I did notice some numbered components on the side that were almost certainly marked for their piece in the restoration puzzle.

Banteay Srei a.k.a A Jewel of A Temple

Banteay Srei a.k.a A Jewel of A Temple

Now, Where Do These Go?

Now, Where Do These Go?

The temple tour monotony was broken by an utterly sobering trip to the Cambodian Landmine Museum, which featured tons of landmine specimens from Cambodia’s war-torn past; many of whose brothers and sisters are still occupying the country’s mine belt.

Land Mine Museum Sign...Obviously

Land Mine Museum Sign...Obviously

One thing that has struck me funny or maybe a little bit disturbing about the whole land mine thing is the tacky shirts many Cambodian vendors sell that read, “Danger! Landmines!” obviously aimed at tourists.  To me that’s like Jews selling shirts that say “Danger, Nazis!” or Africans selling shirts that say, “Danger Lots of Our People Have AIDS!” on a colorful shirt.  I hope proceeds from at least some of those shirts go to Land Mine victims.  All that aside, the museum was a very effective monument to a still relevant problem.  A relevant problem that Angelina Jolie enjoys tackling head on.  Good on her!

Once the Land Mine museum was a thing of the past, Phearom took Morwin and I on a shortcut through a small viillage to our next stop.  We saw plenty of children playing along the dirt road and the striking sight of a mother with a baby slung over her shoulder riding a bike.

Mom and Baby Bike Along The Road

Mom and Baby Bike Along The Road

We pulled up at what I think was Eastern Mebong Temple and non-chalantly wandered through.  The most impressive parts of the site were the four large elephant statues guarding the four corners.  That was a rather brief stay.  Afterwords we stopped for lunch, during which we tried to discuss our day three plans, but couldn’t since the child vendors were completely harassing us and I could barely pay any attention to Andy as he was trying to tell me what he wanted to do.

An Elephant Guards Eastern Mebong

An Elephant Guards East Mebong

Unsure of our next stop we pressed on via tuk-tuk to the Ta Som Temple.  It was here Andy, Jeff, Morwin, and I had a pow-wow of sorts to decide whether or not to hire our guides for a third consecutive day. Jeff was out for the flooded village.  Morwin was on the fence, Andy and I were in.  Andy pointed out the oddity we had parked ourselves for our itinerary discussion in a Thousand-year-old temple.  How often does that occur?

Ta Som Temple

Ta Som Temple

After reaching this conclusion we arrived back at the tuk-tuk where Jhom announced two more temples.  We were somewhat shocked seeing as we’d been up since 4:30am and thought this would be an early day.  It was already nearing 3pm.  The last two temples, despite being sites of worship, of which we had grown increasingly tired, were well worth it.  Beside the fact they were interesting, they helped me realize I had hit a wall and would be fine, perhaps better off if I didn’t go sightseeing the next day.

The Former Fountain At Preak Kean

The Former Fountain At Prasat Neak Pean

I began to waver from my initial decision about seeing the flooded forest the next day while staring at the beautiful former fountain at Prasat Neak Pean and reached a solid conclusion while roaming the glorious grounds at Preah Khan.

At Preah Khan

Our Final Stop on Temple Row Preah Khan

When we arrived home at around 4:30 we notified both Phearom and Jhom in two separate meetings that we would not be requiring their services the next day.  They both took it well and talked with us for a while after.  We asked Phearom to recommend a good place to grab a few beers.  He told us to go to Pub Street.  We had already been to Pub Street and didn’t really want to go some place that American, but rather preferred the Khmer nightlife experience.  He gave us the name of a bar near the Angkor Health Hotel and we insisted he come out to drink with us.  He politely declined and then said he’d have to clear it with his wife first, being the responsible family man he is.  So things looked doubtful.  The same invitation was extended to Jhom, to meet us at the bar at 9pm.  Jhom agreed.

From the Guesthouse Restaurant we decided to spend a few hours of leisure around the area.  I made a quick trip to the Internet Cafe with Jeff, returning to the room at 7pm and promptly falling asleep.  I awoke at 7:40pm, finally being roused from slumber after Morwin had apparently spent ten minutes knocking at the door.  I hastily left the room in a daze, not paying much attention to any of my actions, save for making sure my shoes were on my feet.  Our group of four met in the lobby and walked for ten minutes before deciding on a street restaurant for dinner.

Midway through the meal I became paranoid that I had left our door unlocked.   After dinner, despite being halfway to our bar destination we all walked back.  The door was locked and I had made us walk back for no reason.  Jeff took this opportunity of being back at the guesthouse to turn in.  Andy, Morwin and I continued on to meet at least one of our new Khmer friends at “Treykoun Sra Priel Beer,” the bar Phearom had so kindly recommended to us.

During the lengthy walk to our destination I started to feel an increasing amount of ankle pain, probably due to the fact that the ground was largely uneven.  My tendon strain from a couple of years back was acting up.  I fought through the beginning stages of pain and after taking one wrong turn and asking directions from two people, we finally arrived at the bar.

Alas, We've Reached Our Destination

Alas, We've Reached Our Destination

Upon arriving we glanced around the premises looking for one of our two friends.  We saw neither of them and were about to be seated when Phearom spotted us.  He was with his friends and yelled over to us.  We should’ve gone over to join him, but instead we took a seat and he split time between us and his friends.  It probably would’ve been a whole lot easier to just go over where he was, but we completely misread the situation.

Morwin and Andy Knocking One Back

Morwin and Andy Knocking One Back

A few minutes passed and we were enjoying a few beers.  Phearom had gone back to his friends, but he was soon back at our table with a rather worried look on his face.  He told us that Jhom was angry with him for bringing us to the bar.  Phearom was worried about his job being contracted out by the guesthouse and of further conflict with Jhom.  I thought I heard him say that he might have to fight him, but he might have meant they were arguing.  Though I sort of think it was the former.  It didn’t really make sense.

Jhom then called to speak to Andy, but Jhom hung up on him.  We told Phearom that we’d straighten things out and that this whole thing must be a misunderstanding though we weren’t really sure we understood.

The problem was either:

A) Jhom was upset that Phearom took us to or recommended a bar for Khmer people.

or

B) Jhom thought we would meet him at the Guesthouse at 9pm and go over with us and was mad at Phearom for taking us, which he did not do.

I sort of think it’s option A, but either way I felt bad for creating a rift in the #1 tuk-tuk duo in all of Cambodia.  They’re like the Riggs and Murtaugh of tuk-tuk drivers.  They showed us a great time around Siem Reap and I hope they settled their differences.  We walked home after a few beers and hoped to see Jhom so we could settle them.  Along the way we had many tuk-tuk drivers offering us rides to “sucky-sucky,” “boom-boom,” “lady” and “happy endings”, but by the time we made it back Jhom was gone and we went to bed having resolved nothing.

I woke up this morning excited to see Siem Reap without sightseeing.  We walked around for a bit, stumbled into a street market and into an internet cafe to book a room for our last two nights in Bangkok.  By that time I was hobbling around and had no recourse but to call it quits rather early.  Oh well, sipping pineapple shakes and people watching ain’t so bad.

Posted in Cambodia, Photography, Travel, vacation | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Cambodia Day 11-12: Siem Reap and Ye Shall Sew

Posted by evankessler on January 5, 2009

Sua s’dei beloved readers.  This update is being written from yet another exotic Southeast Asian location.  This time the hotspot in question is Siem Reap, Cambodia. We arrived at about 7pm yesterday evening after jumping a few puddles in a Bangkok Airways propeller plane from Thailand’s capital city.

 

This Thing Jumped A Few Puddles On It's Way To Siem Reap

This Thing Jumped A Few Puddles On It's Way To Siem Reap

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about our hop, skip and jump over the Thai-Cambodia border due to the nature of our mode of transport, but the flight ended up being a rather brief and somewhat pleasant, if a tad uncomfortable affair, thanks to seats that were uncontrollable when it came to keeping them in the upright and locked position.

Also, in front  of me sat an obnoxiously loud American woman named Imelda who wouldn’t shut up about her bag of souvenirs in the overhead compartment and how no one back home was getting gifts from her.  The best part of the flight was the attentive stewardesses, who despite the mere one hour of flight time, managed to provide us with an ample meal and some in-flight tea; proving much more attentive than their American Airlines counterparts though not half as adorable as the red suit-clad vixens of  Air Asia.

 

The Box That Housed Our Delectable Snack

The Box That Housed Our Delectable Snack

We landed at the Siem Reap Airport a tad before 7pm.  The touchdown was a bit odd as it seemed like we were landing in an invisible town with no landmarks on the ground aglow to guide air traffic in safely.  It felt like the plane was feeling around for a place to land before gingerly making contact with the runway pavement.

Upon our exit onto the tarmac we were greeted by a small pagoda-like terminal which we soon filed into to meet with Visa officials who then charged us $23 U.S. for entry.  Upon feeding them our payment and our passports, we were told to receive them in another line.  It was a few minutes before I held my passport in hand again as it had to go along an assembly line of Cambodian officials who sat in a space that made it appear as though they were holding a congressional hearing on the validity of all of the passports coming through. Once this ordeal ended I waited on the line for customs where I encountered a soberingly humorless individual  who looked over and eventually stamped my papers.

There was a baggage claim carousel, but it wasn’t employed as the luggage for the 70 passenger flight was placed alongside of it instead of wasting that valuable electricity. I grabbed my pack which was sitting next to Morwin, Jeff, and Andy.  Andy joked about how funny his customs official was, saying that they had made plans to grab drinks later.

Despite all of the visa and customs business, getting into the country was actually a breeze.  Walking outside we spotted the driver from our guesthouse holding a sign that read, “Mr. Andy.”  We followed him to the parking lot and he beckoned another driver to follow.  I think his name was Jhom.  Andy and Morwin packed themselves into his vehicle, which was not a taxi like we had falsely presumed, but a tuk-tuk.  Ditto for myself and Jeff, who took our places in Phearom’s identical mode of transportation.

 

The View From Our Tuk-Tuk Upon Arrival

The View From Our Tuk-Tuk Upon Arrival

With my bag balancing in front of me on a cushion in the open air of our tuk-tuk, we sped along the roads of Siem Reap; roads that not only were lined with nice hotels, but were also thriving with life.  Motorcycles cruised alongside of us, music occasionally filled the air.  There was a certain bustling excitement that I hadn’t felt or seen in the vast expanse of Bangkok or the relaxed atmosphere of Koh Lanta.

Before we knew it we had arrived at  the Popular Guesthouse, our accommodation ’til departure on the 8th at the wonderfully economic rate of $9/night for each room.  So what do we get for all of that?  2 beds, a private bathroom, hot water, cable TV.  It’s actually quite the steal.

Once we settled in we met with Jhom and Phearom to discuss hiring them as tuk-tuk guides for the next two days.  They’d chauffeur us to all of the sites and do minimal tour guiding for a total of $90 plus tip between the 4 of us.  Perfect.

Everything was falling into place so to celebrate we went to look for some authentic Khmer food.  We walked around and found Pub Street, essentially Cambodia’s version of Backpacker’s row-like Khao San Road in Bangkok.  We made a few turns off of that street and eventually stumbled into Khmer Kitchen, a restaurant recommended by my good friend Jaime W. and her husband.

 

Tasty Angkor Beer

Tasty Angkor Beer

Mmm...Borr Borr.

Mmm...Borr Borr.

We got right into ordering as soon as we sat down.  I was all for sampling the local Angkor beer and between us we ordered a variety of tradional Khmer dishes and went at them family style.  There was a Khmer curry, a rice porridge called Bor Bor, and sauteed Morning Glory with tofu. All of the fare tasted surprisingly delicious. After our meal we wandered to the night market where there was an odd area in which people were having there feet massaged by fish who were eating their dead skin. We found the rest of the market to be largely unremarkable and with that we went off to bed.

 

Fish Will Eat Your Feet

Fish Will Eat Your Feet

This morning we had an early wake up as we met our drivers at 8am in the lobby. We had a full day of sightseeing at Angkor Thom ahead of us. After a decent tuk-tuk ride through town and a stop to get our tickets we made our first stop inside the walls of the once great kingdom at the Temple of Bayon– a breathtaking Hindu temple built around 1200 by Jayavarman VII. Unlike most look-but-don’t-touch tourist sites in the U.S., Bayon seemed like a historical playground.  There were barely any ropes or barriers discouraging contact with the surrounding environment in efforts to preserve them. It felt wrong scaling the dated stone steps held together by mere placement.

 

At The Gates of Angkor Thom

At The Gates of Angkor Thom

Morwin, Jeff, and Andy at the Gates of Angkor Thom

Morwin, Jeff, and Andy at the Gates of Angkor Thom

In Front of Bayon

In Front of Bayon

The lower level was peaceful and serene and the painstaking detail of the relief carvings was absolutely astonishing.  The second level was a different story as a glut of Japanese tourists posed with people dressed in costumes from the period of the temple’s origin.

Meanwhile some of the same tourists were scaling the few barriers put in place to protect the aging ruins for the sake of a photo.  In a ten second span I saw a worker yell at one Japanese man for climbing atop an arch for an impromptu pose and a woman of the same nationality accidentally knock over a wooden barrier without regard for the fact that she probably should not have been sitting on it.  A bunch of savages in this town– and you thought American tourists were bad.

Once we finished viewing the impressive expanse of Bayon we walked over to the Baphuon– a temple that had been taken apart in order to be put back together before Cambodia’s civil war. Unfortunately, the records on putting the puzzle back together were stolen and they’re now in the process of recreating the magic for what I think is at least the third time. While we couldn’t exactly explore the area it did have an interesting history.

 

Walking Into Baphuon

Walking Into Baphuon

With our first two stops on the Temple tour de force over, it was about 10:30am and we met our drivers nearby at food stand #17, which we thought we were stopping at for an impossibly early lunch. We sat down and ordered without thinking that perhaps we weren’t supposed to.  As the closest white people in sight, our table was promptly surrounded by four Khmer chidren peddling their craft wares and books on Cambodia. Even our waitress joined in the act. We were able to rid ourselves of most of them and enjoy our meal, but two persistent little girls hung around for the majority of the time.  One of them mostly stood to the side, while the other had our undivided attention.

 

Andy Playing The Capital Game With His New Friend

Andy Playing The Capital Game With His New Friend

The main event couldn’t have been older than nine, yet she was incredibly sharp and fun to converse with. She began by trying to sell us bracelets, but she soon shifted into trying to guess where we were from. Her first guess was Sweden, eventually making her way through Europe (all the way to England)  in an effort to relate, show off and perhaps make a few sales. She began to ask us if we knew the capitals of most countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia. Andy learned the capital of Brazil is indeed Brasilia and we managed to teach her a few, but I would put this little girl up against any American student  her age in a Geography contest and I’m sure she would beat the pants off of 95% of them.

 

A View of Thommanon

A View of Thommanon

Our friend finally tired of us not buying worthless bracelets and we were sad to see her go, but it was off to see more temples for us. Next up was the Temple of Thommanon, yet another amazingly detailed temple good for taking wonderful photos in, but not the most remarkable specimen we were to see all day.  That title would have to be split between the next two sites on our agenda–but before getting to those we stopped along the way to admire the remains of a bridge built in 1200’s.

 

Ye Olde Bridge

Ye Olde Bridge

 

The Impressively Daunting, Yet Unfinished Ta Keo

The Impressively Daunting, Yet Unfinished Ta Keo

Our next and most adventurous of temple experience was at Ta Keo, a massive incomplete pyramid built by Jayavarman V sometime in the late 900’s. I was originally a little hesitant to scale the extremely steep stairs to the  top, but gathered the courage in my loins and more or less engaged in a bit of a rock climbing feat of strength in order to admire an impressive view from the top alongside my cohorts.

I was rather proud of myself for scaling the treacherous stretch of steps.  If this had been me five years ago, I probably would’ve wussed out on the grounds that sometimes I don’t trust my physical ability, but I summoned my bravery and climbed the highest peak to join my friends in the thrill of certain accomplishment.

 

The View From Below

The View From Below

The View From The Top

The View From The Top

It's A Long Way Down

It's A Long Way Down

Our next stop was not as treacherous, but it was probably the last place I’d want to be if an earthquake hit.  Ta Prohm temple just so happens to be one of the locations from the film Tomb Raider, but in spite of it’s reputation as a Hollywood film set, it just so happens to be an incredible site in its own right. It is a beautiful ruin where nature has more or less overtaken the architecture.  Loose stones can be climbed over and trees have grown in on top of roofs, causing them the appearance of  caving in.

 

Tree Trunks Overtake the Centuries Old Temple At Ta Prohm

Tree Trunks Overtake the Centuries Old Temple At Ta Prohm

There are plenty of unstable fragments to climb up and over, but moreover it’s an entirely impressive site if just for the trees that have become rooted in and grown around the structure over hundreds of years.  There was actually a tree that grew over another dead tree.  It was all pretty eye-opening .  There were also errant stones that looked as though they were once part of something impressive, but were now mere stepping stones.  Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Our second to last stop on the Angkor Thom Temple row was Banteay Kdei, by all means an interesting temple, but not as towering or well-preserved as some other.  However the child sales squad was in full swing and badgering green-shirt clad Andy.  They must’ve figured his green shirt denoted big money.  At one point, as we exited, another traveler surrounded by seven children pointed to Andy shouting, “That guy in the green shirt will buy stuff from you!”  Luckily, the kids didn’t bite and Andy escaped unmolested.

img_7798

Heading Into Banteay Kdei

After Banteay Kdei we headed for our real lunch at a place called Khmer Family and had another tasty meal before stopping at one more temple.  I’m  not sure what it was called but it may have been Sras Srang.

 

Sras Srang

Last Stop: Sras Srang

It had been a long day of temple viewing and with us set to catch sunrise at Angkor Wat at 5 A.M. we made an early night of it.

We got a few beers at the Shades of Angkor Restaurant and some dinner on the street, as well as dessert at a place called The Blue Pumpkin before making one more stop at the Night Market.  Anyway, bedtime calls as it’s only a few hours before I have to get up.  Goodnight.

Posted in Cambodia, food, Travel, vacation | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thailand Day 11: Asian Flavor

Posted by evankessler on January 4, 2009

Asians have the most remarkable snack choices and the knack for capturing the essence of the most astonishing flavors within them.  It couldn’t get any tastier than the ham & cheese flavored pretzel sticks or the pork spare ribs flavor of Lays Potato Chips.  They both taste exactly as advertised. It’s remarkable.

Behold THe Ham And Cheese Pretz!  And No, It's Not In My Ear.

Behold THe Ham And Cheese Pretz! And No, It's Not In My Ear.

I can’t decide if having these things in the U.S. is a good idea or a horrble one.  Would eating spare ribs chips cut down on your need to eat both spare ribs and chips and thus make you skinnier or would it just leave more room for a big Philly Cheesesteak afterwards?

Posted in food, Thailand, Travel, vacation | Leave a Comment »

Thailand Day 9-11: Live From The Airport…It’s Sunday Morning!

Posted by evankessler on January 3, 2009

As the East coast of the United States gets ready to hear the words, “Live from New York, It’s Saturday Night!” I’m sitting at gate three at the Krabi, Thailand airport next to Andy and across from Ken.  A good deal of the rest of our party is here minus Andrea, Meghan, Miller, Lauren and Rosario.  This is more or less ends the group relaxation portion of our vacation.  It’s the point of dispersion where a few of us will split up into smaller groups or carry on as individuals into new unexplored arenas for adventure…but first that road goes back through Bangkok.

In spite of us going our separate ways, we haven’t been led to do so by conflict or unpleasantness, merely by previous planning.  In actuality, the last few days after New Year‘s have been both delightful and relaxing.

The entirety of the 2nd (friday) bore an almost uncanny resemblance to the previous day in that it didn’t consist of much feverish activity.  The only main difference being that I wasn’t hung over.  It also made my outlook much sunnier.  I was also surrounded by more friendly faces, unlike the previous day as no one was on a snorkeling trip.  We all sat in the covered boat lounger by the beach bar at Relax Bay for a good deal of the morning.

 

Lounging By The Ocean

Lounging By The Ocean

For lunch, myself, Kavalyn, Jason, Morwin and Andy went to the road to continue our never-ending tour of authentic Thai food.  The place we went to was across the street from the Relax Bay entrance and had a rickety bamboo plank at the entrance. The spot, though appearing somewhat unsanitary and being entirely fly-ridden was one of the best culinary finds on the trip so far.  My Phad Gai Praow was extremely spicy and Kayvalyn ordered a soup that ended up being too spicy even for her Thai tongue.

 

That's One Spicy Soup!

That's One Spicy Soup!

When our taste bud adventure ended we headed towards the Seven-Eleven to hit the ATM and while standing outside we happened upon a motorcycle with a rabbit in its basket.  The rabbit had demonic eyes that would seem to suggest that it might have once guarded the Holy Grail and attempted to protect it from Arthur, King of The Britons or Graham Chapman and John Cleese.

 

The Demon Rabbit On The Motorcycle

The Demon Rabbit On The Motorcycle

Once our wallets were filled we walked back towards Relax Bay but were intercepted by Jason’s parents who had just returned from a kayaking-cave exploring adventure.  Agreeing that this sounded like a fun activity, we discussed booking a similar tour with a company down the road.  After going over our options with the manager we were more or less had our hearts set on this soft adventure , but when we returned to the beach it turned out Andrea had already booked a different kayak trip.

That got straightened out rather quickly out of the reach of my less than watchful eyes. The rest of the day was spent lounging around until dinnertime…when it unceremoniously began to rain.

 

Andrea Shows Off An Impressive Array of Shells

Andrea Shows Off An Impressive Array of Shells

Ken and I ran back to our room to take quick showers and were followed by a black beach dog we had encountered earlier in the day after the canine’s conflict with three other beach dogs spilled into our shady space.  Andy gave said dog the uncomplicated moniker of “happy dog”, whereas for the duration of the time I referred to the other dogs involved as “Mean Dog” or by varying number’s (i.e., Beach Dog #12, Beach Dog #38).

 

Miller Amidst His Dog Friends

Miller Amidst His Dog Friends

When we left our room after the showers, Happy dog was still waiting outside our door and followed us back to the beach bar where we were meeting up for dinner.

The original plan was to all get dinner together, but it began to rain harder and several of us soured on the idea of leaving the premises, especially if a lengthy wet walk was involved.

Lauren and Rosario sat down to eat at the resort restaurant; Ken Judy, Justin, Ruthie, and I followed suit at our own table, and from there the newlyweds chose to have their own private dinner at the very same restaurant, while the rest chose to eat at a creatively named restaurant on the road called simply “Thai Cuisine.”

Despite not venturing out for dinner I went for my own form of culinary adventure.  I ordered the Hawaiian pizza.  I know Thailand isn’t the place to experiment with such a distinctly New York delicacy, but I had never really understood the combination of Ham and Pineapple on pizza before.  However, since I’d been enjoying the two ingredients separately during most breakfasts on this trip, I figured it made sense to combine them…on a pizza.  And you know what?  It was delicious.  For dessert our group split 2 flambéd Bananas Foster with Vanilla Ice cream that was absolutely delicious.

From there Ken and I went back to Ruthie’s cabana to drink a few beers on the balcony until everyone got home.  Then we took in one more brew on the beach before bedtime.  It was only 11pm, but getting drunk would’ve been a bad idea with an entire day of kayaking and soft adventure (as the brochure referred to it) ahead of us.

The next morning I awoke at 7:30am ready to take on the high seas with some dual sided oar action.  I really enjoy kayaking, but I had not been since July of 2001, when I paddled along the Coast of Corfu.  Jason, Kayvalyn, Andy, Jeff, Ken, Eric, Morwin, Mena, Justin, Meghan, Andrea, and I all hopped in the back of a truck and were transported to the dock for our day activity.  Along the way we saw a few elephants and Jeff lost his hat as we sped down the road.

Once we made it to the location we crossed over a rickety bridge that reminded me of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, despite not involving any rope.   The dock to the longboat we took was on a steep incline and also seemed none too stable.

 

The Rickety Bridge

The Rickety Bridge

The lot of us split up on two longboats and raced out to meet another that was towing our kayaks, but before doing so we stopped to feed some monkeys in the Mangrove Forest.

Normally, I’m not for feeding monkeys in the wild.  I don’t like giving handouts for mother nature’s needy, but I was having a great time tossing them bits of pineapple as I did my best Eli Manning impression yelling at my simian receivers to run button hooks, post patterns or simply go long.  They would have to fight hard for the pineapple if you didn’t hit them directly, so I tried to be as accurate as possible.   I had one of the monkeys wide open behind all his other primate buddies on higher ground and whipped that sweet fruit in his direction hitting him right in the numbers.  Unfortunately, he dropped it.  Other than that, I was very precise in my passes.

 

Monkeys Love Pineapple

Monkey Touchdown

After the monkey meal our boat took us out to a beautiful island of limestone cliffs for us to kayak around.  Morwin and I paired up in a boat.  I sat in the back to steer and generally take charge because he had never ridden a kayak before and I was more than enthusiastic to do so.  Kayaks had always been my favorite vessel for water-based transportation in my time at summer camp.  Morwin on the other hand had brought a New Yorker with him to read during the ride, though he only stopped to read it when prompted to do so for photo opportunities.   Morwin indulging in the New Yorker has been his modus operandi throughout the entire trip.  There is a collection of photos of him at sea or in the sea reading.  It was kind of amusing and could make for a fun photo essay.

 

Morwin At Sea

Morwin At Sea

Kayaking felt like a great workout, but after our first stretch we took a breather, stopping for a swim at an awe inspiring inlet surrounded by lush mountains and steep precipices.  From there it was more rowing around the island including one incident where my semi-errant steering almost  slammed Morwin into some rocks up front, but in my defense, he was rowing so sporadically that sometimes my steering would be brought slightly off-course when he decided to dip his paddle into the water.

All in all there wasn’t as much kayaking as i had hoped for but it was still great fun.  We pulled into a cavern and i posed in front of a big stalagtite (mite) and our final leg took us to part of the island where we ditched the kayaks for our longboats, but not before seeing a mass of bats in flight in the sky high above our heads.

 

Me In A Cave

Me In A Cave

The longboats then steered us to beautiful Bu Bu Island for a traditional Thai lunch, which I think was Pad Thai, a curry dish and some fresh fruit.

 

Welcome to Bu Bu Island!

Welcome to Bu Bu Island!

We hung around the Island another hour or so exploring the wilderness to a small extent and peeing in the sea since the bathroom on land would have cost money and most of us had not brought any with us.

 

Kayvalyn Takes In The Sights on Bu Bu Island

Kayvalyn Takes In The Sights on Bu Bu Island

At around 2:10 pm we hopped back in our longboats making back for the docks where our journey began.  The view was beautiful, but the ocean spray tasted nothing like the combination Cranberry and Grape juice.

We made one last unplanned stop in the Mangrove Forest as our driver and the boy in front wearing a shirt that read “Maleeehuanna” saw some monkeys congregating  and pulled the boat right up in front of them.

The monkeys, eager to be fed approached the boat with curiosity.  We only had one watermelon or two that we had been given upon our arrival.  One more than aggressive fellow actually jumped on the boat.  This may have been cute with any of the other chimps, but this particular one was sporting an open wound with flies feasting on it.

There he sat probably two feet from myself, Andrea, Meghan, Lauren and Rosario in essence demanding some food while the majority of us cowered in fear of our evolutionary ancestor.  Andrea held firm trying to instruct him to get off the boat but to no avail.  I wasn’t about to get involved.  I’ve seen the movie Outbreak.  Therefore I know that’s how global pandemics get started.  It only takes one infected monkey to spread an ebola-like virus and only Dustin Hoffman faced with Rene Russo on her deathbed is capable of finding that antidote.

Luckily we tossed the remaining watermelon up to the driver and he cracked it open to satisfy the population of ravenous mammals.  A few of the animals scooped up and fought over the hastily halved fruit, but the diseased specimen didn’t quite get enough and spent some more time trying to appeal to the more charitable side of our boat’s patrons with no success.

After a prolonged encounter our driver saw fit to push off from land and get rid of our afflicted furry friend. Moments later we found ourselves at a dock near the one from which we had launched, only it wasn’t the incline that was daunting this time.  On this occasion the walkway was not connected to the dock and in order to get to it you had to balance yourself on a thin beam suspended over a mud pit.  I was a little nervous seeing as I was wearing flip-flops, but with a little assistance I was golden.

Following the kayak trip we all returned to the hotel and resolved to have one last dinner before everyone took off for different destinations today.  We went back to Thai Cuisine, where the majority of people went the evening before.  This time we were lacking Judy, Jen, and Justin.

 

Authentic "Thai Cuisine"

Authentic "Thai Cuisine"

Kayvalyn arranged the entire menu after a brief conversation with the  chef and we ate like kings and queens of Koh Lanta for one last evening.  When the dinner was over some folks went out on Long Beach while others called it a night.  With travel being a certainty early the next morning, I went back to the resort and had ice cream with Ken and Eric and the lights went down on our tropical fun.  On to Siem Reap!

Posted in Thailand, Travel, vacation | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thailand Day 7-8: Feeling Fine Across The International Date Line in 2009

Posted by evankessler on January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!  While I have no idea what’s in store for 2009, I can for certain tell you how the waning hours of 2008 were spent.

The Rocky Road To Long Beach Begins

The Rocky Road To Long Beach...

After whiling away the early morning hours staring at the ocean in front of Relax Bay in Koh Lanta.  The majority of our group decided to hike along the shore to Long Beach.  Early on in our trek it became painfully obvious that this would not be a leisurely stroll.  In fact, it basically turned into an intermediate rock climbing exercise; one that I wouldn’t recommend doing in flip flops.  There were a few treacherous steps including one where for a moment I considered heading back, because believe it or not, I do value my life.  It was made even tougher due to the fact that I was also wearing a back pack, but Eric and Judy helped me manage some of the tougher footholds and despite there being even more rugged terrain, everything that followed was a piece of cake.  Miller acted like a sherpa at a few points, though his beach hat suggested a more relaxed occupation, as we risked life and limb a few rocky feet above sea level amidst an ocean of abandoned sandals stuck in between boulders.

...is Paved With Many Obstacles

...is Paved With Many Obstacles

And Met With Many Rewards

And Met With Many Rewards

When we reached Long Beach we settled into the Moonwalk Cafe after a brief encounter with Jason’s parents at their resort.  We ordered food and drink and were met by the few who didn’t traverse the rocky expanse in favor of the road.  From the Moonwalk we made for the water, setting up shop in front of a nearby resort and getting our swim on.  My ears were still clogged, but I enjoyed my time at sea as much as I could.  At one point Andrea heard ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” playing on shore, which was a tip off to just how bad my hearing was getting, since I couldn’t hear a note.

As we frolicked in the Andaman Sea, the skies were growing cloudy.  Our fun was cut short and we began to pack up our belongings and head for the safe havens of Relax Bay and Mook Lanta.  The clash of clouds and sun created some astonishing visual candy, though the prospect of rain loomed over our New Year’s Eve.

The Sun Peaks Through The Cumulus Clouds of Discontent

The Sun Peaks Through The Cumulus Clouds of Discontent

Back at the cabana I enjoyed a lukewarm shower and readied for the onset of ’09.   As I was getting clean I applied some eardrops I had purchased earlier at the diving shop and was miraculously cured of my left ear ailment using that little ear tool they give you with most drops…and just in time for the new year.

The majority of our group was eating dinner at Relax Bay.  They had a 2000 Baht Buffet that was included in their deal, so they were more or less required to partake.  Seeing as Morwin, Ken, Miller, and I were not staying there we chose to save $60, instead opting to eat at a restaurant on the road.  Before we grabbed dinner though, we stopped at a local bar/art gallery/internet cafe for a drink.  As we entered, so did one of the street dogs who then followed us and sat under our table for the remainder of our time there.  It was a kind of odd, but funny occurrence, though not uncommon as street and beach dogs seemingly tend to follow people everywhere in these parts.

img_7208

I Call This One "Steve Miller in Sepia Tone"

Our next stop was a Rasta-themed restaurant/bar called Baan, that seemed to be teeming with stray dogs that you might alternately describe as scruffy and rabid-looking.   One in particular had a downright frightening countenance with a jaw that looked as though though it was a cross between a beak and a snout.  He was more or less camping out in our area and we held out hope that he wouldn’t come closer and infect any member of our group.  Luckily, we finished our meal without ending up his victims.

Ken Enjoys His New Year's Dinner at Baan

Ken Enjoys His New Year's Dinner at Baan

From the stray haven of Baan, the four of us began to wander further down the road.  We stopped at a convenience mart where Ken picked up a bottle of Thai Whiskey.  The cashier gave both him and Miller a New Year’s gift in the form of a packaged pastry to accompany the alcoholic beverage.

With whiskey in hand we walked even farther along in the direction of Long Beach, passing bars called “The Irish Embassy” and “Shooters” before making a left turn towards the ocean.  We found ourselves at the same swimming spot from earlier in the day amidst some sort of New Year’s pageantry and lantern lighting.

Whiskeying Away The Hours Til 2009

Whiskeying Away The Hours Til 2009

We moved a little further along the beach under the cover of night to sit in the shadow of blackness and admire the sounds of the sea.  Ken passed around his whiskey and we sat largely in silence until the phone rang.  Kayvalyn was calling to alert us of the final plan for the evening.  We were to meet at a place called “The Funky Fish” that wasn’t too far from where we were staying, or at least that was my understanding. When I told Ken, Miller, and Morwin; they said they had seen the establishment in question on the way.  What I didn’t know was that by “on the way” they meant on the way from the ferry when we first arrived the day before.

We began to walk back towards our resort when I called Kayvalyn to confirm our direction.  She noted that she heard it was 4 to 5 kilometers from the resort in the direction we had come from.

We promptly came upon the convenience store from before and asked for directions there.  .  One of the men eating dinner told us he was in the band that was playing at the Funky Fish that evening and that the bar was 1 to 2 KM down the road. We started off in that direction when I had an attack of logic and reasoning.  I thought that all of the Thai people we had met so far had little to no regard for accurate time  or distance, so if this guy said 1 to 2 Kilometers, it was probably closer to Kayvalyn’s 4 or 5.  Realizing this we decided after walking a considerable amount to hop in the back of a truck for 40 Baht each and arrive at a much swifter pace.

As we were dropped off we happened upon Kayvalyn’s high school friend, Earth, who was with some other Thai folk, a few of whom had also graduated Syracuse.   I don’t remember their names at the moment, but I know there was a Pat, a Vipat…and that’s all I can muster.

img_7292

The Funky Fish Bar

We walked around the outdoor expanse for a bit.  There was reggae music playing and past a fence there were lanterns being lit and sent out above the Andaman sea.  We had seen them being deployed previously from our darkened stretch of beach en masse, resembling some sort of anti-aircraft fire.

Ken and I Release A Little Lantern Magic

Ken and I Release A Little Lantern Magic

Up, Up And Away

Up, Up And Away

Miller and I went to release one of our own.  We bought one for 100 baht and went to get Ken.  Then we had an Australian help us to release it properly.  After one false start we successfully let our good luck charm go.  All of the while fireworks were being set off mere feet from where we were standing without any regard, warning, or supervision.

Objects In This Photo May Be Closer Than They Appear

Objects In This Photo May Be Closer Than They Appear

The rest of our group arrived at about 11:20pm and the drunken revelry promptly began.  There was little or no growing indication that the New Year was approaching, just a general curiosity over when the countdown would start.  At around 11:57 we had a hunch there would be no countdown and as Jeff’s phone struck midnight, we had our own countdown, “10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1!  Happy New Year!…Should old acquaintance be forgot…”

Jeff, Andy, and Ken Ring In 2009 With A Mix of Refreshment and Creative Facemaking

Jeff, Andy, and Ken Ring In 2009 With A Mix of Refreshment and Creative Facemaking

After one round of Auld Lang Syne and New Year’s congratulations there was another countdown, another a cappella rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” and repeated sips from everyone’s buckets of booze.   With each successive sip we’d scream, “buckets of booze” like a drunken Spring Breaker .

Judy and I Enjoying The Newly Crowned 2009 After

Judy and I Enjoying The Newly Crowned 2009 After

From there we moved over to the reggae show and watched the band whilst imbibing the spirit of the New Year.  We noticed our Thai GPS system from the convenience store was singing in the band. How about that?

Blurry Picture of The Band

Blurry Picture of The Band

As the evening carried on, more and more people dropped out.  I think I stayed pretty late.  I had managed to procure some sort of foam beads and while I was waiting in line for the bathroom I befriended a Finnish guy and an English girl.  The Finnish guy though I was either from Greece or Canada.  I think that was a compliment, meaning he didn’t immediately take me for an obnoxious American.  But like Lee Greenwood, I’m proud to be one of those.

At the end of the night, I hopped in a taxi with I think Judy and Eric or Ken or someone, but possibly not.  I woke up on New Year’s day feeling entirely nauseated and hungover.  I got a quick breakfast early, but returned to bed until 11:45am.  For some reason I desperately wanted to get to the beach before New Year’s day in New York, which would have been Noon Koh Lanta time.  I made it by a thread and took the lone photo of the day…of my feet as I looked at the ocean from my covered beach perch.

My View As The Clock Struck Midnight in New York

My View As The Clock Struck Midnight in New York

The rest of the day I did precious little in the way of activity, though I did go to the road and got a Thai massage from a weird place that wasn’t nearly as good as Health Land.  It wasn’t questionable but seeing as I was the only person there, I was afraid some stranger might come from the backroom, knock me out, and steal my things.  I had my eyes open half of the time.  My masseuse wasn’t necessarily built for this kind of work either.  Her fingers were plump and her skin rough.  She spent half of the time during the first twenty minutes staring aimlessly out the window as she lightly kneaded my left leg.  Oh well. It was less than $10 and I guess sometimes in Thailand you do get what you pay for.

I spent the rest of my day back at Relax Bay, under a covered, cushioned awning staring at the sea and reading next to Jeff, Liz, and Joel.  I took a quick dip, but was just mostly determined to finish reading my first book.

I met up with a large part of the group for dinner.  Andrea, Meghan, Jeff, Andy S, Andy C, Tracy, Morwin, Eric, and Judy all congregated around the table and I later partook in Ice Cream with Lauren and Rosario before calling it a day.  Morwin, Ken and I retreated to our room to read/write and just plain fall asleep…goodnight.

Posted in Travel, vacation | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »