Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thailand and Cambodia (May 19, 2002)

This is another installment in the series: 'Round the World Revisited. I sent this email from Thailand on May 19, 2002 during our 6 month journey around the world.

Hello, everyone. Here's our latest installment from

Bangkok - our first experience in Asia. We call it
"organized chaos". Lots of people say they don't like
it because it's too crazy, but that's exactly why we
DO like it! You never know what you're going to see
when you turn the corner. It might be a beautiful old
temple, a modern skyscraper, a shabby market selling
mystery foods, a horrible pile of rubbish, or dozens
of shops selling huge Buddha statues. Whatever it is,
though, there's sure to be tons of dogs roaming the
street and through the shops (remember to watch your

Some observations on Thailand:

Food: Excellent! It's rare to find bad food here. Much
of it is nice and spicy, just how I like it. And
cheap, too. Coconut curry, Thai salad (Yam), and Pad
Thai are some of our favorites. It seems to be safe to
eat from dubious looking street vendors. At least, we
haven't had any problems yet. And there's food
everywhere. The most common Thai "restaurant" is a few
folding tables and chairs on a sidewalk, with a single
wok and surprisingly varied menu. At some places, we
saw carts selling roasted beetles, worms, crickets,
and even scorpions. It does a body good!

Transportation: roads are good, and Bangkok has modern
trains, good buses, and tons of taxis. They still
manually control the lights at many big intersections,
though. Public buses are cheap and reliable but
private ones (run by dubious tour companies) are often
delayed or broken down, and they stop way too often --
so the driver can collect a commision for bringing
tourists to a restaurant.

Plumbing: One thing they definitely have not mastered
is plumbing. They can't seem to connect two pipes
together, and often times our sink drains onto the
bathroom floor, sharing a floor drain with the shower.
In the (cheap) places we stay, we typically get a
sit-down toilet with a bucket to use for flushing. The
locals, though, normally have squat toilets.

Religion: Buddhism is prevalent. It's not quite what I
expected, though. Too superstitious. Every cab and bus
has a mini shrine hanging from the mirror or sitting
on the dash, and boats have ribbons made by monks
wrapped around their bows; this is to bring good luck.
(With the crazy way people drive here, they need it. )
Every shop and home has a spirit house (a small
shrine, usually on a pedestal) in which the spirits
live. Monks in their orange robes are omnipresent,
although talking on mobile phones and smoking call
into question their austerity. Apparently, one can be
ordained as a monk for as little as a week, then go
back to a normal life and add the honor to one's res

Language: Thai is a tough language for westerners.
Every syllable is spoken with one of 5 different tones
(low, medium, high, rising, or falling) and the
meaning of a word depends on its tone. Thus "Mai mai
mai mai mai" (with the correct tones) means "New wood
doesn't burn, does it?" Be careful how you say "thank
you" (khap kuhn khrap) or it may turn out to mean
something like "your mother was a hamster."

Massage: for about $4 per hour, you can get a great
massage here. The style they use is a mix between
"normal" massage, chiropractic, and accupressure.

Leeches: that's right -- worms that sink their teeth
into you and suck your blood. Really nasty buggers,
but apparently not really a danger. They seem to
prefer the taste of "farang" (westerners) over the
locals. Really creepy to find one squirming on your
body and chowing down when you didn't even feel it.

Here's how we've been spending our time. After a few
days in Bangkok, we travelled south to the islands.
First on the west coast, we stopped in Krabi and
visited Wat Tam Seur, an amazing monastery and temple.
We climbed 1200 steps to a shrine perched on top of a
sheer vertical cliff.

Next stop Ko Lanta (Ko means island), where we went
diving at an absolutely beautiful site, Ko Ha. 80 feet
of visibility, great corals, and 4 octupus changing
colors before our eyes. Then we took a small boat to
the small island of Ko Hai, which is relatively
undiscovered with only 3 small resorts on a beautiful
beach with a great view of 3 huge limestone pinnacles
facing the island. From here we took a day trip to
Emerald cave, where we swam through a cave and emerged
on the other end inside a hidden lagoon surrounded on
all sides by vertical cliffs several hundred feet

We did an overnight tour of Phang Nga bay, which is
amazingly beautiful. It's filled with hundreds of tall
pinnacles rising up to a thousand feet straight out of
the bay. We spent the night at a muslim fishing
village built on "stilts" rising out of the bay next
to a small island. Out of 250 buildings, only 2 are on

Before crossing the peninsula, we stopped for a few
days in Khao Sok national park, which is a thickly
forested area dominated by a large reservoir. This is
where we had our encounter with leeches. Other than
that, it was a really nice example of Asian jungle,
complete with bamboo, monkeys, and hornbills.

Now in the Gulf of Thailand, we spent several days on
Ko Tau, a nice little island with lots of good (and
cheap) diving.

After a short stopover in Bangkok, we travelled to
Angkor in Cambodia. This is the famous site of 8th to
14th century Khmer ruins. Getting there was a fiasco
in which we spent 14 hours travelling about 250 miles.
We spent 5 hours with 7 other people in the back of a
pickup truck on a terrible pot-holed, dusty road from
the Cambodia border to Siem Reap (the town near the
ruins). This is the Cambodian version of a bus. We
were supposed to be in a real bus, but our bus
supposedly was broken down (it was a scam all along --
there was no bus).

Despite all that, the pickup afforded a great view of
the Cambodian countryside and villages, which are
definitely third world. We saw men plowing their
fields with buffalo power, huge carts the size of a
U-haul being pushed by a dozen men, begging children
galore, whole families on a single moped, etc. So how
do you transport live pigs in Cambodia? Answer: tie it
upside down on a plank and strap it to the back of
your moped (legs kicking in the air). If you have
multiple pigs? Stuff 2 or 3 of them into a little
wicker cage and strap that to your moped.

Angkor is truly amazing -- words can't do it justice.
I would highly recommend it to anyone. It is the ruins
of an advanced civilization which build huge Hindu and
Buddhist stone temples with the finest artwork
imaginable. The largest and most famous temple, Angkor
Wat, is surrounded by a 600 foot wide moat. It's outer
wall is over 3 miles in perimeter, and it stands about
300 feet tall. Almost every square inch of stone is
covered in the highest quality carvings depicting
battles, Hindu epics, and everyday life. It's terrible
to think how wars have reduced this civilization to
such a primitive state.

That's all for now. Next up is northern Thailand and a
week or two in Laos. Hope everyone is doing well back

Brad and Amy

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