Archive for the 'Thailand' Category

Bangkok Convalescence

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Back in Bangkok! We arrived yesterday without much trouble on the two day journey here. For the first leg, Luang Prabang to Vientiane, we hired a private minivan for $140. The tourist VIP buses would not allow us to bring our bikes on board, and the public buses would have been a 12 hour, 100 degree, sweat and vomit filled nightmare. So we were very willing to pay an extra $100 to avoid that experience again. We were joking that we’ve already been worn down by the third world enough that we’d rather throw money at a problem than suffer through the “experience”!

From Vientiane we had to cross the border into Thailand before boarding the night train we’d reserved to Bangkok. A mini-bus picked us up, threw our bikes on the top without tying them down, and whisked us away to the start of the Friendship Bridge. We had to get out here and walk through the checkpoint which took us a long time because we had to reassemble our bikes and panniers. At the other side of the checkpoint, we were supposed to meet another mini-bus for transport to the train station but because we were so slow we got abandoned by our tour group. So, we rode across the Friendship Bridge over the Mekong and into Thailand. It was more fun than riding over in a bus like everyone else!

Next we boarded the night train to Bangkok. We reserved a 1st class sleeper unit which turned out to be a nice surprise in terms of comfort. It had two beds in the compartment, air conditioning, a little sink, and a waiter that would bring you dinner, beer, breakfast…and he would also rip you off a little bit if you weren’t careful. We weren’t careful enough and ended up getting overcharged for breakfast. We paid for everything and also gave him a tip because he was such a nice guy, and then as soon as he left it dawned on us that we had just been ripped off! Practically every time we take public transport this happens; it is very frustrating. We can’t decide if it is a cultural thing and he thinks it is OK to cheat us because we’re rich westerners, or if he is just an unscrupulous character. Anyhow, we left Nong Khai at 6:30pm and arrived at Bangkok at 6:30am. Jamie kept saying that our compartment was just like a jail cell, but I was so comfortable and happy with my books, snacks, and A/C that Jamie decided I’d actually enjoy jail as long as I had enough books and food to last me through the years.

In Bangkok we found a guy at the train station with a pickup truck to take us to our hotel. We were instantly covered in exhaust residue as we whizzed through the dirty streets; Bangkok Fingernail is about to make a comeback!

As soon as we got to the hotel we checked email and were very happy to find that I’d gotten an appointment at Bumrungrad Hospital for 1:30 that afternoon. We went to the hospital a little bit early and hung out at the in-house Starbucks to people watch while we waited. We were amazed at the number of different nationalities milling around in the hospital – people must fly in from all over the world to get treated there. We saw people representing maybe 40 different countries waiting to get treated; it was definitely a high grade people watching experience.

The actual doctor appointment involved lots of waiting, as usual, but the facilities were all very new and modern. When you arrived at the hospital you filled out one form with your information and got your picture taken with a digital camera. Everything was then input into the system and sent ahead of you wherever you went to check in. The picture idea is ingenuous because when the Thai staff attempt to call out names from 40 different ethnicities it is very confusing. I was “Miss Sadah Cat-ee” instead of Sarah Kathleen, which I found quite difficult to realize was me. But because they had a picture of me they’d just walk right over and pick me out of the crowd and lead me to the doctor.

After asking me a few questions and squeezing my arm a bit, the doctor decided I needed an x-ray and sent me over to that department. As soon as I walked into the radiology department a man materialized out of nowhere and said “Hello Ms. Sadah. You need an x-ray on your right wrist? Please follow me.” The system was flawless and efficient – I was impressed. Everyone in the hospital spoke perfect English and they also employ interpreters to cover almost every other language in the world. Wow! I got one funny question as I was sitting down to get my x-ray. The technician asked me, “So, what is your problem?” It made me laugh and I wasn’t sure what information he actually wanted from me, so I just said “I fell of my bike and hurt my wrist.”

As for the final verdict on my bird bones, the diagnosis is pretty good. There is no big fracture, and the scaphoid bone is unharmed. Yay! There is a crack in my radius and lots of swelling around it, but the doctor thinks this will feel better in about two weeks. He also said that sometimes you can’t see wrist fractures right away and so he wants me to come back in one week for another x-ray if the wrist is still hurting. He gave me a wrist brace to wear for the next week to hold everything still which is great – I was not looking forward to the possibility of a cast in this hot humid climate. I am sure my arm would be covered in green fur after 6 weeks in a cast! This is all good news because now we know that we most likely won’t have to stay here for 6-9 weeks waiting for it to heal and I don’t have to have surgery! The cost of my appointment and x-ray was astounding, especially considering how nice the facilities were. Here is what my bill looked like:

Facility: $3.62
Doctor’s Fee: $15.10
X-Ray: $8.15
X-Ray Radiologist’s Fee: $3.93
Medicine: $6.65
Wrist Brace: $37.60
Total: $75.05

So, it looks like we’ll be here in Bangkok for about two weeks and are trying to decide what to do next in terms of our trip. We are considering sticking to our original plan of China and then India, or going to India right now and attempting to cycle the Himalayan region of Ladakh, or maybe flying to Eastern Europe to do some cycling there during the summer months.

Bangkok’s Last Day of Sightseeing

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

We did manage to squeeze in one last day of sightseeing in Bangkok. We visited Wat Pho, which is famous for its Reclining Buddha. We walked to the temple during a surprisingly cool and pleasant afternoon. Actually, we did still get to do the thing where we say to each other “Are you hot?” and then laugh at the beads of sweat completely covering our faces. But the temperature was low enough to allow the feeling of normal breathing without dizziness.

Once we arrived at the temple I was required to don a long sleeved shirt. I’d brought my trusty (and very warm!) Wool 4 shirt from Patagonia. It was hilarious to wear it on such a hot day.

Here I am in my wool shirt in front of the giants that guard the area. They are wearing top hats which seems very un-Thai:

The Reclining Buddha was enormous! I hadn’t been expecting that at all. It is over 150 ft long and 50 ft high. Very impressive.

Gigantor head:

Some very large toes to our right:

Outside the temple were lots of these weird creatures that I think are so cute. They remind me a little bit of Barbie (my cat), so I posed with one in her honor:

To wrap up our very long visit to Bangkok we drank one last fruit shake at our favorite stand. We got at least one fruit shake a day and the owners started laughing every time they saw us – they must have thought we had an unnatural love for their fruit shakes:

And finally, in the spirit of a post about gigantic things…check out how Jamie towers over this little fruit vendor lady!

Bangkok Wrapup

Friday, April 27th, 2007

We just spent an astonishing 21 days in Bangkok. This is the first time that our complete lack of planning really bit us in the ass – we didn’t plan to stay here this long, but we arrived just as Songkran was about to start which shut the city down for six days. We didn’t rush to apply for all the visas we needed in the three day window before the holiday, so we had to wait it out in our worm infested guesthouse. Luckily we got everything taken care of this week and are leaving the city before the next week-long holiday, International Labor Day, which begins on May 1st!

First we needed visas for Laos, Vietnam, and China. The Laos visas took two days and cost US$53 each for thirty days. We used a travel service for the visa so the cost was higher than going directly to the embassy. After we finally decided to go to China we applied for the visas directly at the embassy. They were ready in one day and cost US$86 each for ninety days. We attempted to get the Vietnam visas at the same travel service we used for Laos, but because the visas are only good for 30 days after they’re issued & the guy didn’t know when we planned to enter the country, he didn’t get them for us. Another two days wasted on that, but at least we can get those visas at the border. The one visa we didn’t have to worry about was Cambodia, which we got online a few months ago for only $US10 each for thirty days.

Next we needed guidebooks and maps for the rest of Southeast Asia and China. We made many trips to the various shopping malls and English language bookstores in search of the most up to date guidebooks, phrasebooks, and maps. We ended up with Rough Guide guidebooks for Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and China. We also got a Rough Guide roadmap for Southeast Asia, two regional Nelles maps for Southern and Central China, ordered four Chinese language provincial maps from for the provinces we’ll ride through, one Chinese/English ‘translation’ map for all of China, a Mandarin language tutorial CD, and a Mandarin phrasebook. Whew!! After all that we really feel like we’re bleeding (actually, hemorrhaging) money. It is disgusting how much money you can spend on prepping for the next countries, but as we are two people who love to plan we can’t convince ourselves to go without any of it. I’ve read of people doing trips just like ours without maps or guidebooks – one guy simply took a digital picture of a country map from the wall of a restaurant and used that for his entire trip. We are not nearly that daring, so we just spend tons of money and then spend hours sitting around talking about how wussy we are.

We visited a Bangkok clinic to get our third and final shot for Hepatitis A & B. Of course the one shot we needed was by far the most expensive shot at the entire clinic at US$71 each. When it was Jamie’s turn for a shot the nurse was very busy chatting with a friend on her cell phone. She didn’t say a single word to Jamie – just wedged her phone between her ear & shoulder and chatted happily away as she gave Jamie his shot. He didn’t even get a bandaid like I did. We hope she gave him the right shot!

I also got to experience the fun of visiting a Bangkok clinic for my neverending fun with diarrhea! I got sick after the lukewarm curry mentioned a few posts ago. I waited it out for six days as everything we read said most food poisoning cases clear up on their own within a few days. Waiting for diarrhea to clear up is not nearly as benign as it sounds, especially when you are staying in a worm & bug infested guesthouse like ours. I spent my days sweating in the tiny bedroom and running to the absolutely disgusting bathroom 8-10 times per day. We didn’t do any sightseeing or anything entertaining like that because I couldn’t be away from a toilet. After two days we came up with a much better plan – hang out for hours at a time in a nice airconditioned coffee shop, like Starbucks, where I could dash off to their lovely clean western style bathroom 8-10 times a day. You know you’ve reached a new low when you’d rather have serious diarrhea in a public place like Starbucks than in the privacy of your own hotel room.

After six days there was absolutely zero improvement so I took the three day course of antibiotics we’d brought with us for traveler’s diarrhea. The pathetic antibiotics didn’t phase my diarrhea one tiny bit. It kept raging on. On the tenth day I visited the clinic. At this point I was certain I had some sort of disgusting parasite or worm which probably entered my body by slithering through my foot from the bathroom floor! The doctor almost fell off his chair when I told him I’d had diarrhea for ten whole days. He didn’t think I had a parasite though and said he’d often found that the antibiotics commonly prescribed in the west didn’t always work on Thai diarrhea. So he gave me some new antibiotics which I started taking that night. And they are working!

After all these courses of antibiotics I started to get nervous about the possibility of a yeast infection. I know that women are at a higher risk after taking general antibiotics, I figure I’m basically guaranteed to get diarrhea and take antibiotics a few more times on this trip based on my past history, and I do not want to get stuck in the middle of the Cambodian jungle with a yeast infection and no medicine. Jamie and I have been playing a game called “What illness could be worse than diarrhea?” and in my book a yeast infection easily beats diarrhea. So we went off hunting through all the pharmacies in Bangkok looking for Monistat or something similar. So far we have not been able to find it. My most recent inquiry went something like this:

“Do you have Monistat?”
Blank look from the pharmacist.
“You know, for a yeast infection?”
Another blank look. Then a gradual dawning of realization and horror…”Monorrhea? You mean Monorrhea?”
“Um, yes?”
“No! No medicine here! Go to the hospital!!”

As we walked away feeling a little confused, we realized that she thought I was saying I had gonorrhea and was telling me to go to the hospital to get it treated! Oh brother!

In happier news, we celebrated our six month anniversary on April 21st. Jamie decided that since we have spent the last six months together 24/7 and have experienced all kinds of stressful situations and humiliating bodily experiences, this last six months is actually worth more like 5 years of marriage. We figure if we travel long enough, we will be able to claim to our grandchildren that we have been married for 100 years!

We are both pretty sick of Bangkok at this point. This city is dirty; walking around the city it is not uncommon to see giant rats scurrying into a sewer grate or to suddenly catch a whiff of an overpowering sewer stench. We usually have headaches in the evening; we think it is from the pollution. We read somewhere that living in Bangkok’s pollution is equivalent to smoking twenty cigarettes a day! We have also experienced a phenomenon we call “Bangkok fingernail.” Walking around the city, the heat and humidity leaves you constantly covered in a sticky layer of sweat. Your wet skins acts like a magnet to all the soot in the air and when you scratch one of your ever-present mosquito bites the grime collects under your nails. We have to clean our nails every day here.

Another thing that’s starting to wear on us are the hippie-wannabies that infest the city. They don’t work a job at home, and then come here and live like kings while the Thais wait on them hand and foot. It is bizarre to watch them act like they are best friends with the staff and then leave their dirty dishes on the table for the slaves to clean up. We can’t get over it. We heard two old white guys chatting at a restaurant. One was sweet-talking a Thai waitress then turned to the other guy and said “Thais are too lazy. They’ll never fix up this guesthouse. I’m gonna have to go fucking fix up the laundry room today.” The other guy got his meal, pointed at one ingredient, and said commandingly “Next time, more this!” What a bunch of arrogant pricks! The other astonishing thing about these people is the way they smell; in addition to the usual flavors of cheesy and spicy B.O., one guy at this restaurant actually had a type we’ve never encountered – he smelled like old tomato sauce. There is really something wrong with you if you come to Thailand to live a life of leisure but can not find the time to wash yourself at least once a week. What is wrong with these people?

The other thing we can’t get over are all the sex-tourists. Looking into the bars it is unreal to see all these normal looking old guys sitting around a bar with at least one or two very young Thai girls hanging off them. These are regular looking 60 year old white guys with red sweaty faces; we keep fantasizing about running into someone we know. Some guy came into our guesthouse and saw the sign that said “No guests” (i.e. no prostitutes) and that that the door was locked at 10pm. He declared in a huff, “I stay out very late! No good!” and stormed off like it was the guesthouse’s fault he couldn’t bring his prostitute over. All the women looked up from their soap operas and laughed to each other as he stormed off. Later we saw him at an internet cafe with a young Thai boy!

We also got our bikes cleaned and tuned-up at Probike here in Bangkok. For 300 baht (~US$8.50), you can get your bike completely serviced and cleaned. And when they say clean, they mean it. We got our bikes back today and they are completely spotless. The drivetrains look brand new and the tires are literally shining. We were giddy riding home. We also gave up on our Panaracer tires and had some Schwalbe Marathon XRs shipped from Wallbike to us here. We paid US$55.70 for four tires and six tubes shipped to Bangkok. We picked them up from the post restante counter at the GPO and paid another US$26.05 in customs fees.

One thing we are really going to miss about Thailand is the fresh fruit and fruit shakes everywhere. There is someone selling fresh, sliced fruit on every corner for only 10 baht (~US$0.30). Jamie eats six slices a day to stay regular!

A lot of restaurants in Bangkok have crazy names. Our favorites are: Take A Sit, Joke Me Please, Teddy the Bake, and Coffee & Toast (does not serve toast!)

Tomorrow, we are finally on the road again. Next stop Cambodia!

The Grossest Toilet in Thailand

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

The bathroom at the Vimol Guesthouse in Bangkok is hands-down the grossest one we have seen in Thailand. I honestly believe it has not been cleaned in years. Maybe decades, maybe never. The lone shelf in the bathroom is covered with toiletries abandoned by previous travelers. I tried to pick up a tube of toothpaste once and when I did so I realized that the tube had cracked open and the toothpaste inside had turned to powder. The three women who live in / work at this guesthouse are constantly watching soap operas on TV. Morning, noon, and night, they are without fail sitting in the courtyard watching TV. Literally every time we have left or returned, they have been there. It is truly unbelievable.

When I entered the bathroom one night to brush my teeth, I saw something brown on the floor and bent down for a closer look. This my friends, is an actual worm crawling across the floor of the bathroom. This bathroom is on the 2nd floor of the guesthouse. I have no idea where this worm came from. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it crawled out of the faucet.

What’s worse is that this worm was not alone in the bathroom. In the large basin of water next to the toilet, (the water you use to clean yourself), there are clearly visible little creatures swimming around the water. They are maybe 4 to 5 millimeters long and they inch/gyrate/shuttle through the water spastically. I tried to convince Sarah that these creatures were put in the water on purpose to kill mosquito larvae, but she didn’t believe me. I don’t blame her either because the bathroom is infested with mosquitos. Every time you go in, you come back out with half a dozen new bites. The women who work here have a weird device to kill them. It looks like a tennis racket, but works like a bug zapper. Sarah has a disturbing love for killing mosquitos, so she was salivating as soon as she saw this thing. She finally got up enough nerve to ask to borrow it and then went on a killing spree. I could tell she was berserk when she went outside to kill more mosquitos after clearing out the entire guesthouse. Here is the bloodthirsty mosquito slayer in action.

Last but not least, here is a little selection of the water creatures I captured and photographed. Can anyone classify them?

Still in Bangkok!

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

We are still hanging out in Bangkok waiting for all our visas to be processed. Songkran, the Thai New Year, ended on Monday so we applied for our Laos and Vietnam visas on Tuesday morning. They were submitted to the embassies on Wednesday morning and will take two days each. Once we get our passports back we’ll make another trip back to the Chinese embassy and try our luck one more time on the three month visa. We were turned away on our first try because we’d written on our application that we planned to travel through the country via bicycle. It isn’t illegal to travel through China via bicycle, but we’ve since found out that because we are applying for the visas outside of our country of residence it is most likely our host country (Thailand) that is doesn’t like the idea of cyclists. So, this time we just won’t specifically state that we’ll be traveling by bicycle.

Other than running around to apply for visas, we’ve been laying pretty low. The temperatures have been very high here over the past week, averaging around 37 degrees Celsius. As soon as we step outside we instantly feel swampy and sweaty. The humidity is also very high – I feel like I can’t quite take a full breath outside – it is a lot like being in a sauna. Much of the afternoon is spent reading directly under the fan in our tiny guesthouse room. Any part of you facing towards the bed & thus away from the fan gets very sweaty very quickly. We create damp spots on the sheets and are always trying to shift around to keep cool. We’ve been brainstorming places with air-conditioning that we can hang out in – yesterday we spent the day at the mall. We browsed at the English language bookstore, then fawned over the delicious looking bakery in the food court area. We don’t often see real western-style baked goods here in Thailand, so we treated ourselves to some croissants.

The other day we rode our bikes through the swirls of exhaust fumes and crazy drivers to a bike shop where we left the bikes for a tune-up and general cleaning/lubing – all for less than $10!

One day for lunch we tried out an Indian restaurant listed in our guidebook. My curry seemed lukewarm which worried me…sure enough, that night I got sick. This is the third time I’ve had stomach issues on the trip, if you’re keeping track. I’ve had the bug for three days now and, as I’m sure you can guess, Jamie is still healthy as a horse. These Welles seem to be a hardy folk!

In the evening when the heat starts to dissipate a bit we stroll over to a nice park on the river. A large group of people take over one corner of the park to do very energetic bouncy type aerobics to this great Thai pop music. It is so fun to watch them! Their instructor is a super hyper little guy. He is so bouncy that he is almost never actually touching the ground – the very tips of his toes touch down but that’s it. He’s practically hovering over the ground for most of the aerobics class – his pupils look very sluggish next to him.

This is the park’s pagoda at sunset:

Another corner of the park is used by a group of teenage boys practicing their breakdance moves. They’re really fun to watch too – one guy is practicing a move where he dances around like a robot and then falls towards the ground, lands with one hand, and balances his entire body in mid-air with that one hand. Another kid is practicing a spinning headstand move where his legs kick out to one side and freeze there for a second. I wish they’d get together and do a full performance of all their best moves – we mostly just get to see them practice the same thing over and over and over.

This is the Rama IV Bridge, which is visible from the park as well:

Finally the center of the park is taken up by dirty hippie backpacker types. They are usually practicing juggling or the art of spinning around these balls attached to the end of a long piece of string. Sometimes it seems like these folks are on drugs because they just stand there, almost motionless, spinning the balls around and around in a very repetitious and trance-like manner.


Monday, April 16th, 2007

Sarah and I have spent the last couple of days in Bangkok soaking up the Songkran holiday. The entire city basically shuts down for Songkran and everyone comes out to to eat, drink, and get each other wet. People line the streets day and night with squirt guns, buckets, and even the occasional fire hose. The worst (or best?) is when they have a giant tub full of ice and water. It’s quite a shock to get a bucket of ice water dumped over your head on a 40 degree day! Our waterproof panniers have come in handy when walking the streets, but I had to risk the camera to get some shots of the fun.

In addition to the constant party in the streets, there is also a large festival going on at a park outside the Grand Palace with food, music, and dancing. We got to try a couple of new dishes and spent a fun night listening to the music and watching the dancing. We both really love Thai music. It is so happy.

We also had our first brush with fame here. We had dinner with the VW Vagabonds! Amanda and Rich have just completed cycling through Southeast Asia and are back in Bangkok planning the rest of their trip. We met for dinner and had a lot of fun swapping advice and discussing our plans for the future.

One afternoon we visited the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo. Wat Phra Kaeo is the holiest site in Thailand and houses the Emerald Buddha which is known for its healing powers. The grounds of the palace and wat are extremely ornate and beautiful. Everything is either gold or sparkling in some way.

We are now waiting for the foreign embassies to open back up on the 17th so we can get the visas we need for Laos, Vietnam, and maybe China. We keep going back and forth on whether or not we are actually going to China. While in Thailand, we met a woman named Mamaji who was a teacher of meditation and claimed to have a supernatural intuition. She was a frequent visitor to Thailand and told us that before the tsunami hit in 2004, she had visions of water and danger at her favorite resort. After we talked to her for a bit, she told us she had a bad feeling about us going to China. She said she felt we were in danger (especially me) and she had a feeling that we were going to be split up in order to make it easier to get to us. Neither Sarah nor I are the type of people who would usually believe in something like that, but hearing her say these things has really unnerved us. Ever since then, we have been trying to make a decision one way or the other on China. We keep going back and forth, building up our confidence a little, and then we are somehow reminded of her warning and we freak out again. Right now we have two options we are considering.

  1. Head north through Cambodia and Laos into China and from there head northeast through the Guanxi, Guizhou, and Sichuan provinces and maybe venture as far as Tibet on the train.
  2. Spend more time in Thailand (visiting the north and northeast) and also travel through Vietnam on our bicycles. We would make a loop through Southeast Asia back to Bangkok, and from there fly to India.

We have been using this time in Bangkok to try to make a final decision one way or the other, but we are still undecided at this point.

The Bangkok Experience

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

From Hua Hin, Sarah and I took the train into Bangkok. We woke up even earlier than normal to catch our 5:30am train and purchased two 3rd class seats at the ticket counter. Just as we had finished paying, the clerk told us the train was arriving and that we should hurry to the baggage car at the front to get our bikes on. We rushed down towards the engine, but when we arrived at the baggage car the shirtless guy who was dozing inside took one look at our bikes and waved his hands to indicate we couldn’t put them on. Getting a little nervous, I ran back down to the ticket counter where the clerk told us not to worry and to just get on the next train. A few minutes later when that next train arrived, we again tried to get our bikes on but this time the baggage handler examined our tickets and said “wrong train.” After more discussions with the ticket clerk, we were told our train was running a little late and it would arrive at 5:45am and we would be on our way. Finally it did show up and we loaded our bikes on and made our way to our assigned car, but it was full! We nervously approached the Thai woman who was sitting in one of our seats and showed her our tickets. She stared at us like we were crazy and then got up in a huff without saying anything. We were a little confused at this point and then a friendly guy sitting behind her who spoke a little English asked to take a look our tickets and said we had tickets for train number 120, but were on train number 7. We had no seats! What was that ticket clerk thinking?! We searched around for a bit and found an empty seat where Sarah could sit. I stood at the front of the car and wasn’t in too bad of a mood until I realized the wasabi peas that I had bought were actually cuttlefish flavored. Fish food! (Comment from Sarah: For the record, I did offer to alternate spots with him, but he wouldn’t do it).

We finally arrived in Bangkok four hours later and decided to brave Bangkok’s famous traffic and ride our bicycles to the area of the city called Banglamphu where most of the cheap guesthouses are located. In reality, riding in the city really wasn’t that bad. Traffic was very heavy but it was moving so slowly that we felt pretty safe among the motorcycles, tuk-tuks, taxis, and buses. One thing that did live up to its reputation was the pollution. When we stopped to check our map along the way, we both asked each other the same thing; “Are your eyes burning?” Here is Sarah navigating a traffic jam.

When we cycled onto Khao San road, we were both a little shocked. I’m not sure what we were expecting, but what we found was a whole lot of dirty hippies. These two guys are wearing the typical fare around here; extremely baggy, loosely-woven cotton clothes. Sort of like what a raver would wear if he was going on safari.

The other thing that is huge here is getting your hair braided or dreadlocks. There are literally rows of chairs along the street with tourists patiently sitting while Thai women dred their hair. We are not sure why.

This street is filled with tailors, touts, pirated DVDs, tuk-tuks, and bars that stay open all night. This Slate article a friend sent us describes the scene very well. Anyone who knows us would probably laugh thinking about us in a place like this, but we were both tired and didn’t feel like searching the city so we set up camp in a guesthouse on Khao San for 300 baht (~US$8.60). One thing we didn’t think about was how loud it was going to be here at night. The music starts at 5pm and it seems like each bar is trying to entice customers with the prospect of deafening them if they actually step inside. The windows of our 3rd floor room rattle from the bass line of Gwen Stefani’s new song “The Sweet Escape” coming down the street. Good thing we are both heavy sleepers! Here is Khao San after dark. Utter mayhem.

Our second day in Bangkok, we did some sightseeing at the National Museum. The most impressive things there were the giant funeral chariots used by the royal family and the weapons and howdahs the ancient armies used when waging elephant warfare. Unfortunately, photographs were not allowed inside any of the galleries. Here are some pictures of the museum grounds.

After a day at the museum, we decided we should get some of our chores done, and first on our list was getting our China visa. When you walk out of your guesthouse on Khao San, you are greeted by two things. First, the sight of people drinking and smoking in bars at 7am, and second a steady stream of “Hello, where you go?” from tuk-tuk drivers who want to take you around the city. The tuk-tuk drivers make the most money from commissions they get from dropping people off outside tailors and gem shops, so they are constantly trying to add shopping to your list of things to do. After a lot of haggling, we finally got one to agree to take us to the Tourism Authority of Thailand with no stops for shopping for 40 baht (~US$1.15). Here we are speeding a long in the tuk-tuk.

When we arrived at the TAT we learned that they could only get us a thirty day visa and for anything longer we would have to go directly to the embassy. We also learned that the entire city of Bangkok basically shuts down from the 12th through 16th of April for the Songkran festival and there would be no way to get a visa during that time! With this new knowledge, we rushed over to the Chinese embassy on the other side of town via the subway, but when we arrived at noon we found out the visa office was only open from 9 to 11:30. Shoot, one day down the drain! Every time we experience something like this, we tell ourselves we should get used to it because it is going to be even more difficult in China. The next day we woke up bright and early and headed straight to the to Chinese embassy, which was very busy already at 9am. We filled out our forms, indicating that we wanted a 3 month visa in order to bicycle through the provinces of Yunnan, Szechuan, and Guanxi. When our number was called and we finally got to talk to a clerk, she examined our form and told us that to bicycle in China we needed an “invitation” from a tourist organization. What? All of the first-hand accounts we have read online have said that other bicycle tourists have just applied for visas through the normal process. The clerk gave us the names of some tourist companies we could contact, and we rushed over to the nearest internet cafe to try figure out what to do. After a little researching, we learned that most people don’t indicate they are bicycling on the visa application. They just apply for the visa without any mention of their bicycles and then ride into the country. We thought briefly about going back to the embassy and filling out some new forms without mentioning our bicycles, but we realized it was too late and the office was already closed so we emailed the tourist companies asking for any information and we also contacted BikeChina to see if they could give us any advice on what to do. After such a bitter disappointment, Sarah had to comfort herself (and stick to her Minnesota roots) by enjoying a Dairy Queen Blizzard. They are just as good in Bangkok as they are in Minneapolis!

Today we woke up and searched around on foot for a new guesthouse. Songkran starts tomorrow and from the looks of things Khao San is going to be one giant wet t-shirt contest, so we decided we better move to some place more low-key before we went nuts. A few blocks away from Khao San, still in Banglamphu, we found a place called Vimol Guesthouse for only 140 baht (~US$4) per night – the cheapest place in Thailand yet! When we walked up to the little old woman at the desk to enquire if she had any rooms, she looked at us and asked “Where are your bicycles?” Spooky! “How did you know we have bicycles?”, we asked. She just looked at us and tapped her temple with her index finger. We were too scared to ask anything else after that!

We also heard some gossip from other travelers that the road to Pnomh Penh is still very, very bad. There are rumors that the Cambodian airlines bribe the government to keep the road in horrible shape so people will fly instead. That’s the road we need to cycle on…

Stats from Thailand Week 2
4.02.2007 – 04.08.2007
3 days cycling, 4 days resting
321.68 kilometers
107.23 km / cycling day
16 hours, 2 minutes, 53 seconds in the saddle
5:20:58 / cycling day
US$31.80 / day

Finally, a typical Bangkok intersection.

Hua Hin

Friday, April 6th, 2007

Another early wake up for another early start and another 100km day to reach the city of Hua Hin. We rode along Highway 4 towards Hua Hin. The road was extremely flat so we made excellent time with our highest average speed ever (21.8km/h)! The road has been getting increasingly busy and ugly the closer we get to Bangkok and today was definitely the busiest and ugliest yet. Lots of trucks, lots of flat run down buildings full of garbage on the highway – definitely a scenic low point. We did pass our first rice paddy, though, which was a beautiful bright green:

We stopped for a Coke when we started to feel overheated. The girl at the counter asked if we wanted her to remove the bottle caps for us, we said yes. Then, she poured each of our drinks into one of the inescapable plastic bags! I’m not sure what the point of doing this is when the Coke comes in a nice glass bottle to start with…

We arrived in Hua Hin and were surprised to see that it was such a developed, tourist focused city. There were hotel high rises all over the place, and we saw our first Starbucks since entering Thailand. The guesthouses were a bit pricey and the ones we looked at were a little on the dirty side. We chose a place where we could lock our bikes right outside our room.

I took a shower as soon as we checked in and realized I’d developed heat rash all over my legs! I was pissed. I have had so many weird health-type issues on this trip and Jamie has had absolutely zero. I spent the rest of the afternoon out of the sun, reading my book in front of the fan. I also spent the afternoon fuming about my heat rash and the maddening fact that Jamie didn’t have it! By the next morning I’d gotten over my bitterness. I was also happy because we’d decided that we wouldn’t cycle to the next city, 65km away, but would instead take the train from Hua Hin to Bangkok. The highway is simply getting too busy and non-scenic to be enjoyable and neither of us want to waste any more days of our tour on this when we could be in other regions of the country.

In Hua Hin, we also saw the most Thai women with western men that we have seen so far. Our theory is that there are three types of arrangements: flat-out prostitutes, women who marry older men to improve their financial situation, and then something that seems like a girlfriend-for-hire. These are usually young, attractive Thai women spending time with young, western backpackers. Maybe some of these are actual love connections, but we have seen several of these girls (some of whom speak little English) dragging their backpacker “boyfriends” into shops with womens’ fashions to buy them expensive gifts. We keep looking for a book that explains what is going on – maybe there’s a guide on how to get a Thai girlfriend for a week? We are dying to know how this works, but it’s hard to decipher what’s going on just by watching these people on the street. I think Jamie should go into one of the tourist bars to chat up the Thai girls that hang out there and find out how it works, but he won’t do it. Hostess bars are also popular here. These are bars full of very attractive Thai girls where westerners buy the girls drinks and in return the girls flirt and chat with them for the evening.

Prachuap Khiri Khan

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

Prachuap Khiri Khan turned out to be one of the highlights of Thailand so far! After cleaning myself up a bit (refer to the last picture in the ‘Sweat Hogs’ post), we ventured out to the night markets. First stop was the market near our hotel, set up in a big parking lot. We ordered fruit shakes here, which are served in bags rather than cups. That’s the standard for most of the food stands in Thailand. This serving method means you can’t ever set your drink down and must either finish it quickly or carry it around like a purse on your wrist. The lady that made our fruit shakes approved of Jamie’s selection – watermelon – by saying ‘delicious’! She did not have anything good to say about my cantaloupe shake and only shook her head and said ‘no’. Here I am stealing a sip of the delicious watermelon shake:

Next we walked down near the water and through the town’s gigantic fair. It was being held in honor of the princess of Thailand’s birthday. There were rides for kids, carnival games with giant stuffed animal prizes, millions of food stands, and a lot of loud music. I sneakily took this picture of a cute little girl ordering crab-sticks at a vendor:

The next morning we got up early to beat the sun and walked around to see some of the temples. This one was immaculately maintained with beautiful gardens surrounding it. All the signs were in Thai and Prachuap Khiri Khan wasn’t mentioned in our guidebook so I don’t know much more than that.

Here’s another temple, in a different style. I need to learn the names of these styles and what they mean. We foolishly bought a ‘Southeast Asia’ guidebook rather than a Thailand specific book, so we usually don’t have enough information and feel like we don’t know what we’re seeing most of the time:

As we rode into the city yesterday we noticed a huge hill next to the sea, with a temple on the top. We were excited to climb to the top for the view! Here I am, halfway up the stairs. Even though it was extremely early in the morning I managed to completely soak my shirt with sweat again!

By far the strangest and most interesting thing about the climb to the top of the hill were the monkeys. There were literally hundreds upon hundreds of wild monkeys that lived on the hill. They owned the staircase and occupied most of the steps with activities like picking lice off each other, playing with rocks, play fighting with each other, nursing their babies, picking leaves off bushes and eating them, etc, etc. We literally had to squeeze past groups of monkeys sitting on the steps – they were not at all afraid of us and usually didn’t really get out of our way. It was actually a little bit creepy to be amongst hundreds of animals that aren’t at all afraid of you. Here is a mother, some babies, and some young monkeys huddled together either nursing or eating lice off each other:

Me warily picking my way through monkeys up the steps:

This was a small stray dog hanging out on the stairs. The poor thing had a horrific case of mange and had lots of raw bare skin showing through his fur. This little monkey came right up to him and started picking through his fur looking for bugs. The dog just stood patiently there and let the monkey groom him. Hilarious!

The views at the top of the hill were stunning!

On the way back down the stairs we had to pick our way through the monkeys again. There was a huge male monkey on one of the steps, playing with a shiny piece of metal. He was banging it on the ground and on the stairway railings. I must have looked too interested in his precious piece of metal because he glared at me and bared his teeth, then ran off the stairs to the hillside. He then started screeching and growling in a horrifically scary way… it was very low and guttural, and all the of monkeys on the hillside joined him. It was like he had sent up an alarm and all the other monkeys joined in on the growling to make sure everyone knew about the dangerous shiny metal coveting humans on the stairs. Jamie and I were both incredibly freaked out as we realized we were way on top of a deserted hill and surrounded by angry monkeys. To make it worse it was not just 10 or 15 monkeys growling – it was literally at least 100. Jamie said “Don’t act afraid! Just keep walking down the stairs!” So we did, the growling gradually died away, and we escaped with our lives!

Sweat Hogs

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

After posting our stats for last week, we were a little embarrassed that we rested more days than we rode and covered less than 200 kilometers. Are we getting soft? To prove our stamina (Sarah says to “deal with my inferiority complex”), we rode another 120 kilometers today to Prachuap Khiri Khan. We thought the heat was going to bother me more than Sarah, but it is actually the other way around. We both look like we have been barbequed, but the heat makes her much more uncomfortable than me and she also sweats a lot more when riding. At the end of the day, her arms, legs, and face are encrusted with salt. Good thing water is cheap because we are going through about ten liters a day.

After we left Chumpon, Highway 4 became a lot more busy. It is now four lanes instead of two and there are a lot more trucks on the road. For some reason, there are also many, many more dogs. Today we were chased on seven different occasions by dogs, sometimes by as many as five at once! Yelling and growling back no longer seems to work. It actually riles them up more and attracts additional dogs. The surprise of Sarah’s bell works on some of the timid dogs, but usually we just have to outrun the pack. Someone send us an air horn quick!

I’ve noticed I take a lot less pictures on the road here in Thailand. There is garbage everywhere here. We met a family from Australia who had been to Cambodia and they told us that Thailand is spotless in comparison. Uh oh! Today we saw a guy walk out of a 7-11 and just toss his garbage on the ground without a thought. We really can’t figure it out.

One neat thing along the road was this giant chicken shrine. It was right in front of a Buddhist temple and looked to be about thirty feet tall. We have never seen any statues of animals like this around temples before.

Coconut groves also line the road around here. We’ve seen workers pushing carts around the groves and collecting the coconuts off the ground. We’ve also traded the sheep trucks of New Zealand for pineapple and coconut trucks here. Here is a huge pile of coconuts waiting to be processed.

We also passed the narrowest spot in Thailand today. Only 10.96 kilometers wide! Not much else to say about that.

Prachuap Khiri Khan is not listed in our guidebook but is actually a very nice town. It is not too large, but has a beautiful beach and a busy night market. Here is the entrance to the city:

The waterfront has a lot of restaurants and hotels that look out over the islands and colorful boats.

We were riding around looking for a place to stay when we were approached by a crazy-looking Thai riding a dilapidated bicycle and tooting a clown horn every two seconds. “Bungalow, bungalow!”, he said and motioned for us to follow him, and we did. After about thirty seconds of riding in his wake, we realized this guy had not read The Rules of the Road. It appeared he believed traffic laws did not apply to him, for he had a magical clown horn. Is that light up ahead red? Well then toot your horn three times and ride right through the intersection. Need to turn right onto a busy street? Just toot twice straight up into the air and cut off a two ton truck. And last but not least, if you find yourself on the wrong side of the road just ride right down the middle right into traffic tooting constantly as cars swerve to avoid you. Thais believe in karma and this guy must have saved the King’s life because he thought he was invincible. Add that to the fact that he had three teeth, the single English word he knew was “today”, and the fact he was obviously a source of amusement for the locals and it made for a pretty interesting search for a place to stay! In the end we lived though and we found a clean room in a hotel with shared bathrooms for 160 baht. (~US$4.70)

Here is a sweaty Sarah happy to be alive and ready for a cool shower.