Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thailand - Changmai

Bangkok's new airport, named Suvarnabhumi - try telling a taxi driver that. Heavy on the tensile fabrics, but quite impressive in scale.

Last week was Lunar New Year, so along with much of the foreign contingent in Taiwan, jetted off to warmer climes. Sadly, one of the things I seemed to bring back was an violent aversion to eating, and I have spent the last day wrapped up with a belly that feels like it is on a spin cycle.

No matter. The holiday was fantastic. I plumped for a trip up to the north Thai city of Chang Mai, for no reason except to provide some symmetry to my trip to the south of Thailand a couple of years ago - was it really that long ago?

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I only had about five days to play with this time around, so I opted to divide it up a bit between doing sweet eff-eh, seeing the touristy sights, and getting into the hills for some hikin' and biking' action. It's always a tough balance, but I think I managed it, as I hope you can judge from the piccies below. Enjoy! I did.

None of the fans were running in the temples, indicating that the weather was, unlike Taipei, bang-on PERFECT. Cool - but sunny.


Renovation work

Adopt a tile

A rather gorgeous effigy coated in gold leaf and looking luxurious in the sunlight.

The awesome night markets - where I happened to bump into some of the senior guys from 3 and Orange cell phones in London. Ate on a curb, brainstorming interactions over street beer and kebabs. As it should be.

The food was superb. Mum & Dad - some here!

In the heart of the market - and continuously in peoples' way!

Words fail to describe how deliciously unhealthy a Roti (kind of a double fried pancake in butter) with Banana can taste after a night out on the tiles / bean bags.

Visiting a Teak carver (but not buying anything, for fear of chopping down more Burmese rainforests), I watched a plaque take shape - apparently, a 100x50cm piece could take 60 days to complete!

The silk factory was my favourite - I have never seen silk worms 'in action' and it was pretty amazing to see the stages of development, and then how they actually extract the thread - or rather, just unravel the cocoon... the pupae inside left afterwards was kind of horrid, though.

Seconds out...

I went and did the obligatory Muay Thai boxing, which starts with wee nippers, before progressing onto the heavier, cooler categories.

There were knock-outs, but the most blood thirsty people in the audience proved to be a row of very innocent looking foreign girls - quite surreal to watch with a sound track of "kill 'im! ... yeahhhh! ... phwoarrr!"

K.O. !!!

Ring side



And the house band.

Flight of the moth.

The route home - racing in a 'Tuk Tuk' (motorised rickshaw)

Zoom zoom

Tuk Tuk heroics

And into the hills the intrepid traveler climbed...

Got my shot of mountain biking, which was three hours of pretty fab downhilling, but on a rig that I would barely want to ride down the shops on.

My ride for the day - it didn't matter too much though, as descending along singletrack bamboo forest was pretty spectacular ... although it all could have gone horribly wrong - I had a puncture and the well organised mechanical team did not have a working pump between them.

And the next day, just to prove how healthy I am, a 7 hour hike through some pretty stunning scenery.

Hill tribe kids playing

A real life bat cave! - what you cannot appreciate in the movies is how much they stink of bat pooh.

Nice footrub after the hiking ... and then up to the rooftop bar for some beer

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Same Same ... But Different

A rather nice view from my bungalow overlooking the bay - so pleasant I fell asleep in my chair.

Here I am on Koh Pangan - home of the Full Moon beach party. Well, it would be but it is not the time of the month so the place is a bit more chill. Though that is relative - techno music pours out of the beachside clubs til dawn and fire spinners and pyrotechnicians provide the special FX.

Sadly, my time on the island is all too short, but I feel I have a good impresson of the place. The weather has been a bit crappy - resulting in choppy seas and a need to were a decent jumper in the wind, but I don't really care because it is more pleasant than the stifling heat and humidity I left behind in Taiwan.

My original plan had been to make it to the diving Mecca of Koh Tao, but that plan was scuppered by the fact that the plane on Koh Samui landed too late for the last boat out. All was well, however, as I got two dives in todayby taking the cat out to the island to join a dive boat for the day. The diving was okay - but buouancy problems as a result of the BCD slowly inflating constantly and a dive master that was less than fully attentive added to problems lowish vis and building confidence. It was okay, but overall a bit mediocre.

Tomorrow, I have most of the day on the beach, and then I catch the plane back to Bangkok for a last night in the city. It has definitely been worth staying out here. The beach hut clinging to the cliff overlooking the palm tree sandy bay, the fantastic fresh food and fruit drinks and joining a different stream of people with their minds a thousand miles away from work.

For now, though, I join the fire dancers and full bottles of beer on the beach!

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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Mods 'n' Rockers

What started out as a quiet night yesterday turned into an alcohol / petroleum fueled jaunt through Bangkok...

I had a final walk along Koasan Street and got a wee bite to eat at the food stall at the end of the street. Quite surprised how early all the bars and clubs shut, I was pleased to get chatting to some local guys sprawled over some of the most beautifully preserved original Vespas I have seen. My enthusiasm clearly rubbed off on them and they quickly took me under their wing feeding me beer and banana pancakes before taking me on the most kinetic of Bangkok tours ... on the back of a fire breathing, screaming mustard yellow Vespa scooter.

Somewhat different from Taipei, these machines can wheely and smoke tyres at will. Screaming through the streets, stopping at secret night markets selling 'borrowed' items, and whistling at girls, boys and whatever in between gave me quite simply the widest grin that my face could handle. Adrenaline and alcohol stoked an overwhelming feeling of being very fortunate to be living in Asia.

The guys hang out waiting for the action

Beautiful machines looked even better at night time

Today, I did the tourist thing and visited the obligatory Grand Palace (shiny), Temples (glittery), and food markets (tasty). I stay one more night here in Bangkok before jetting off to Koh Samui and then Koh Tao for some diving and hot beach action. I'll land back in Bangkok on Wednesday ready for my flight back to Taipei on Thursday lunch time. But for now, I think it is time to go and join the music rattling by the window and crack open a beer. Enjoy!

The Grand Palace in Bangkok

Guards mark the entrance of the inner Palace

While others seem more pensive...

A 'Wat' (temple) on the south of the river

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Thai Green Curry

So now i am in Bangkok! I guess. Well, I know.

It still totally amazes me when I land in another Asian country not so far away from Taiwan. Taiwan is strange, but I have got used to it by now, so coming to a place like Thailand is totally like falling off a log! But then I am like,"whoa, i am in Thailand" because I am in Thailand.
The same thing happened to me in Hong Kong. I was like "whoa, I'm in Hong Kong". Similarly, the root cause of that was because I was in Hong Kong.

But it is funny to regress. I walk down the main strip (pun intended) in Bangkok (pun intended) and it is cool. But there are so many Beckham haircuts and guys with hair styled to within an inch of its life! And sweat bands. Lots of them. And plenty of skinny red bull t -shirts. And drunk people. As a result, there is a part of me that feels like I am back home in, like, Leeds or somewhere. Maybe it's because there are not so so many bars in Taipei and certainly less foreigners.

I think I like Thailand. Reading up on it (okay, opening the wrapper of the Footprint guide on the airplane) gave the impression it was some archietctural nightmare. Well, frankly, I feel that things being relative Bangkok feels just fine. Taipei is, after all, one of the most ugly cities I have ever been to. But it does have its many many charms of course.

And the kids! The kids here rock. Maybe because the place was never colonised (remind me to find out why) there seems to be a certain confidence in the air. Like in europe. Something that does not exist in the same way in Taiwan. There, the hip hop / goth / rocker / prep kids seem to get their styles from a magazine. Here it seems a bit more flowy. Natural. And the motorbikes are way cooler. No need to display wealth and status - just coolth. I just walked by a bunch of guys with immaculate restored beemers. You would not find that in Taipei. Just the newest / most expensive / rarest.

The only thing I feel uncomfortable with is the very visible sex industry. I have friends who are clearly into this, but I do not get the link. But it is amazing to see girls who look like boys who look like girls. Enough to make you drop your falaffal. The perhaps positive side of this (stretching a point) is that the girls not involved are very self-aware and switched on. I have only walked up and down one street and had two beers, but there is not this cutesy cutesy hello kitty tendency I see in Taiwan. More strut yo funky stuff and give boys the eye.

And it is funny too - I think that when I get to a closer, warmer atmosphere I will meet some more people, but for now I have basically leaned against walls watching the world go by. Amazing and slightly abstract that I am here after such a bizarre week (moved house, got a new job, organised holiday - normally three things that I would count as stressful individually). Amazing that I actually made it and managed to squeeze so many abstract messages through my tiny brain. But I did it and next month will have some severe life upgrades. Looking forward to it.

Well well. I am in Thailand. One hundered bobs and I am here! Yes. Just looked outside and it is the same. Related to Malaysia. Different totally. Interesting.

For reference, I am staying at the Chart Guest House and will probably have another night there before heading out for some island action.

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