Going to India and Thailand - need some advice....

Reply Mon 27 Feb, 2006 08:00 am
Hello again.

Before you all think I'm spending all my time emailing instead of enjoying the holiday...Let me explain. It's so hot here that in the middle of the day you have to find a place to cool off and get out of the crowds.

Yesterday's email was cut short because of time restraints in the cafe, so I'll finish it off today. Oh yeah, please excuse my spelling/grammar...These are the weirdest keyboards. They are set up to accommodate the 35 letter Thai language and I'm hardly fluent with a keyboard to begin with.

So where was I...

This is a city of such diversity. In some ways its completely filthy or decrepit. Every sidewalk is uneven and heaving as if the country suffered from heavy frost. Chunks of pavement and odd paving blocks jut out and catch a klutzy foot unaware at every step. Yet there is very little litter on most streets. Legions of elderly women sweep errant rubbish with ancient looking stick brooms. Garbage bins are large baskets piled up or small plastic bags placed in the most unusual places on streets and sidewalks. Garbage collectors search through the helter skelter in order to gather their quarry and they must find it because there is very little to be found in the morning.
This is a city of smells. Incense perfumes the air, wafting from shrines in homes, yards, workplaces, Wats and other odd places. Fish sauce and durian compete with rubbish and petrol fumes causing many residents to wear surgical masks or pinch their noses as they walk or drive around the city. There are no buskers, none. No music at all, except for the ubiquitous American pop and rap. The few beggars I've seen are mostly women with tiny children draped across their laps seated on walkways.Very, very sad. I believe most are victims of Aids. The vast majority are gainfully employed. Selling something, everything and everywhere after the city comes alive after 10 am. Every shop competes with street vendors perched on their thresholds but street vendors are not promised a place. They seem to set up where ever they can. Sometimes moving several times a day. Great big massage chairs are set up and then torn down daily, hourly and then someone else comes along and sets up a different shop.

In certain ways Bangkok reminds me of the soviet union. There is a ministry for everything. Every ministry has an enormous building and aside from the Royal real estate and consulates,the only naked sidewalks exist in front of these buildings. It seems all the nations of earth have set up a consulate here (even the Irish???). I guess everyone wants to be in a paradise of sorts.

Romeo is happy. Ecstatic actually. We have left the "Best" Bangkok backpack shanties behind us and moved to classier digs. A four star hotel with a pool, a real unadvertised luxurious carpet and the biggest . We now overlook the entire city. Actually, even from our new lofty view you still can't see the outskirts of the city. Not just because of the haze or pollution either. It's a gigantic city. It goes on forever...But at night you'd never really know it. Most building turn off the electricity at night. No lights, no wasting power, no A/C!!! So malls and office towers are boiling by morning. In fact, hotel rooms have no power until the hotel room card is placed into an in room slot. So hotel rooms and hallways are sweltering for several minutes after returning or arriving.

Thai people are very devout. There are multitudes of Wats (temples) and shrines. You see people praying at all times of the day. Flower wreaths made of marigolds and other colourful flowers are placed along with water, beer, juice, fruit and other assorted goodies as offering to Buddha and Ganesh shrines. They are also incredibly loyal to their king. His image adorn bridges, building and parks to name a few. Politicians do not hold the same love apparently. It wasn't till late last night we found out about the 50,000 protesters at the democracy monument. Quite a surprise really. Talk about being out of the loop.

This morning we awoke to the news that Bush will be joining us in India. I can't say I'm a happy camper. In fact I'm a little choked. It's already difficult to blend in, I glow like neon snow for gods sake! So now the man who made it virtually impossible for westerners to travel safety around the world is going to screw up our vacation. Yeah.
Well, we weren't going for boring. I'm just going to have to wear a burka and hide if I see a Muslim militia crossing the Pakistani border. As if there weren't enough problems in this world, now we may have to contend with an angry anti-bush crowd.
We are headed in that direction Wednesday, so keep you're fingers crossed.
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Reply Mon 27 Feb, 2006 08:54 am
ceili, wonderful to hear from you! i feel like i'm there, sitting in a little sidewalk cafe, enjoying the smells and sounds, your description is so vivid.

don't let any fool spoil your vacation. you don't represent him, and people will know it. good luck on the rest of the journey, i hope we'll get to see some photos as well...?
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Reply Mon 27 Feb, 2006 10:55 am
Oooh, wonderful descriptions, thanks! (I loved "glow like neon snow", heh!)
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Reply Mon 27 Feb, 2006 10:07 pm
I read some where that Dravidians driven out from India by the invading Aryans went to southern China and eventually went to South East Asia i.e. Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, etc. That could account for the use of Sanskrit and Indian God Ganesh.
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Reply Wed 1 Mar, 2006 05:39 am
Today is another scorcher, 35C with high humidity and plenty of smog.

Internet cafes comes at a premium and are scarce. Some charge as much for an hour as I would pay for 1/2 a month cable hook-up.
1 to 2 baht per minute. yeouch!

Shortly after I last wrote we visited Khoa San Rd, or Backpackers row...as the foreigners call it. Neon lights hang above this street illuminating all that stroll below. Hawkers on the street selling everything a wayward traveller might need. Hairdressers sit street side backcombing dreadlocks or adding hair extensions for braids. It's a hippy's paradise. You can get a massage, pedicures and even a "sour" canadian beer. Blue Ice. We met Israeli's, Germans, French, Italians, Aussies, Americans, Brits and even a few Canadians. I decided my dogs could use a little freshening up so I went for a pedicure. The girl sitting next to me turned out to be from my back yard. Edmonton.
Small world.
As we walked along the street we watched two hobbit like brothers lip synching for their music video. The Thai girls were going crazy as if it were the Beatles. We asked who these boys might be and surprisingly they are apparently a Canadian Boy Band. Who knew???
I guess I'll have to look them up. The song I heard was like all other boy bands, kinda boring but melodic.
This is also pick-pocket central. If it ain't glued down or watched with a vigilant eye, your stuff will vanish quicker than it took to put it down in the first place. We have seen many signs in Wats and other Touristy places warning of such behavior but luckily we have not met with any problems. Although today as we finalized our next tour of Thailand from the 11th to the 22nd we read of one unlucky Irishman whose belongings were stolen in seconds, leaving the poor bahstad without his passport, visa, cash and air tickets home. So it seems the Irish consulate is warranted after all.
He had left a warning at the local T.A.T office. If I leave you all with any advice whilst travelling through Thailand it is this... use the government T.A.T offices. Everyone else will rip you off faster than you can ask for advice. T.A.T offices book everything from hotel rooms to train and airplane tickets. Today, I got a bit of free advice from our agent. He told me to make sure to stay away from Silom Rd., or at least not to let the dude venture there alone (he might not come back). But if we wanted to see fookeenshow (use imagination!!! it took me a minute and several repetitions to understand) it was the place to go. You do see a lot of fat, ugly older men with pretty young girls, kinda sad really. In the end they must all get what they want or it wouldn't happen.
As we left Khoa San Rd. the other night scores of police crammed into Toyota pick-up trucks showed up in full riot gear. We made a beeline for our hotel. I never did hear why they were there. Maybe for suspicion of drugs? You can get the death penalty for holding any amount, any kind.
Since we have developed a real aversion to the tuk-tuk drivers we have walked all over the centre of Bangkok. It's the only way to get a hold of the surroundings. Mind you, it's still tough to get your bearings. Every map is different and more confusing than the last.
The Thai people are lovely. This is truly the land of smiles. When they actually make eye-contact it's usually with a shy demeanor but with a ready toothy smile. Yet...as all true stereotypes dictate, mechanics or construction workers are true to the broad paint stroke. I think they have a thing for fat white women. ;-}
They must love to shop. Shops are everywhere and like NYC they have districts for the goods you wish to buy. Unlike North American shops are stuffed into every available corner. How anyone actually makes a living is beyond me. There seems to be more stuff than customers. Malls are stacked with 100sq ft shops or less and the quantity is overwhelming. Clothing, electronics, beauty products, food, car parts, rims, tires and on and on.
This city is filled with such opulence next to complete poverty. But you'd never know it from the sunny outlook most people seem to possess. Unlike N. America there is next to no graffiti or vandalism. People seem to take pride in their surroundings.
I finally had spicy shrimp noodle soup. Yummy! I swear I could eat it all the time. I've even managed to get Romeo eating Thai food. Mind you it's still beef but a step is a step eh!
We saw on the news today that people have already started to march in a pre-Bush demonstrations in New Delhi. I'm trying to keep my hopes up that all will be well but it is a little disconcerting as we leave Bangkok tomorrow. We have decided we will hop a train toot-sweet and head up north. The wedding is on the 5th so an early arrival will probably be for the best.

Well that is all for tonight. I'll write from the sub-continent when I get the chance. Keep well.
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Reply Sun 5 Mar, 2006 05:08 am
Hope you are enjoying your trip, Ceili. When are you reaching here?

India <arms spread out> is waiting for you! Very Happy
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Reply Sun 5 Mar, 2006 05:04 pm
In Jaipur hope you see 'Hava Mahal'.

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Reply Wed 8 Mar, 2006 05:23 am
talk72000 wrote:
I read some where that Dravidians driven out from India by the invading Aryans went to southern China and eventually went to South East Asia i.e. Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, etc. That could account for the use of Sanskrit and Indian God Ganesh.

wow.... but why would dravidians export sanskrit (the most aryan of languages) to thailand, vietnam, burma etc??

its buddhism.
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Reply Wed 8 Mar, 2006 07:01 am
brahmin wrote:
wow.... but why would dravidians export sanskrit (the most aryan of languages) to thailand, vietnam, burma etc??

its buddhism.

Buddhism? I don't agree.... Talk72000 is talking about the South Indian (dravidians) HINDUS located in South East Asia. Because they finally belonged to HINDUISM and required a language to elaborate their culture and traditions.

Its not FOR buddhism. But yes it did help buddhism to get more expressive about their ideas. Dravidians weren't helping buddhism by exporting Sanskrit. They were helping themselves.

Meanwhile the hindu Lord Murugan's temple in Kuala Lumpur is really an owesome site. Its in huge deep caves called as "Batu Caves".

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Reply Wed 8 Mar, 2006 11:06 am
er.. what i meant was that it wasnt dravidians who exported sanskrit to south east asia, but that sanskrit got exported when the south east asia took to buddhism (thanks to Emperor Ashok sending missionaries far and wide).

dravidians themselves cant speak much of sanskrit, so let alone export it.

also murugan is a god (or god's name) of dravidian manufacture and has nothing to do with Vedas or vedic hinduism. dravidians are NOT real hindus - they took to hinduism.
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Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 08:45 pm
Hi all...

Well it's been adventure so I'll begin at the beginning of the trip to hell and back.

We checked out of our hotel in Bangkok at 12 noon and squatted by the pool to escape the mid-day heat. By the end of the swimming session I resembled a pink quail's egg. With slightly more colour than normal and freckles in spots I didn't know I could get them. The rest of the day we meandered around Bangkok and watched an enormous aerobic class taking place near the city hall square."Krungthrepmahanakorn Amornrattanakosin Mahintrayuthaya Mahadilokpob Noparat Rajataniburirom Udomrajanivej Mahasatharn Amornpimarn Awatarnsatis Sakatadtiya Wisanukamprasit" or Prutnam as the locals call the city of Bangkok. We watched children leaving school in their uniforms that are similar to the Japanese cartoon characters/super heroes, short sleeves with big loose bow ties and blue shorts or skirts.
We walked around Khoa San road a wee bit more and then it was time to depart for the airport.

Our flight was due to leave at 2:45 am but departure was delayed a further 45 min. We should have taken this as a warning!!!! The harbinger of things to come. We finally got air born but 10 minutes into the flight we were turned around and sent back to Bangkok. Never, ever fly Air India. I repeat NEVER EVER FLY AIR INDIA. Even the Indian people laughed when we told them of our troubles. They never fly Air India unless they couldn't avoid the aggravation. We sat on the tarmac for 4 1/2 hours before we were asked to leave the plane. Then we boarded buses and were dropped in the middle of now where. Bangkok has a huge airport. We had to ask several people before we managed to find out where we were supposed to go, find our way through security again and then it was another 4 hours before anyone from Air India bothered to explain what the hell was going on. After waiting over 10 hours and hearing conflicting stories we finally made it on to the original plane, with much trepidation. What was supposed to be a four hour trip to New Delhi, unexpectedly found us in Bombay 6 1/2 hours later. Another trip through security found us boarding 747 to Delhi with now more expected problems. The doors wouldn't close. But eventually after sitting in extreme heat, no A/C, we passed Air One (this was our only brush with Bush) on the tarmac and we were finally headed to Delhi. We arrived at 10 pm local time and of course we missed our train up north. We insisted Air India put us up in a hotel, which they did...but it was a glorified Super Eight. As it turned out, Air India owned the hotel (probably because they were losing a fortune putting up their many disgruntled customers). We were told The Centaur was a 5 star hotel but it was a filthy joint that need a darn good cleaning and a hell of lot of bleach. I ordered a mulligatawny soup and the slop the sent me resembled the soup only in its dish water brown colour and the cannelloni had no similarity to anything I've ever eaten in my life.

We had arranged to take a taxi to Jalahnder the next morning. We were told the difference in payment would be slight as it would cost us extra for the last minute tickets and cab fare to the station. But of course...No taxi awaited us in the morning and the price had no jumped to triple the original arranged price. We were so upset we decided to take it anyway. $150 Canadian.

We arrived in Jalandher at 10 pm the next evening, a full 46 hrs after leaving the city of Bangkok proper. It should have taken us approx. 12hrs, at least, according to the original plan to reach Jalandhar. We spent ten hours (quoted six), in the cab with no A/C or shocks to speak of, to drive 430 kms (It would take approx. 31/4 hrs in Canada, or at least here in Alberta - where speed limits are sometimes just a suggestion, he he). It was a rude awakening. The roads in Bangkok were a teaser. This was sheer chaos. Everything you can imagine on a main highway was there. Stray cows, horses, oxen and donkeys pulling overloaded carts, bicycles, scooters and motorbikes with up to 5 passengers, three-wheelers (tuk-tuks here) trucks, buses, cars, SUVs, dogs and people on foot. You can't drive here without a horn, brakes are negotiable. The few street lights, red lights, are scrum session with everyone elbowing for space, one inch at a time and honking for the shear sake of noise.
We could not reach anyone till we made it to town. Every time Romeo called, whether from Bangkok or India, whoever answered the phone hung up because (of course) the spoke little or no English. Or as I later found out…Our accent and accelerated rate of speech was too hard to understand.
Our first night we stayed in the hotel owned by a Punjab ambassador to a European country. This place was equivalent to the first hotel but with better food. All mattresses in India are thin, cardboard thin, no fluffy mattress tops here!!! The people who picked us up were pleasant enough to us, but by God they treated the staff with little more than contempt. One guy had been a cab driver in NYC for 15 years. I guess he saved all his venom for his return. Of course they took advantage of our hosts hospitality and ate and drank (Peter Scot - I'll explain more later) till the wee hours. We probably wouldn't have slept anyway. There was a wedding banquet in the halls below and guests were erratically shooting air born in celebration of the recent nuptials.
They next day 5 of us piled into a compact car and headed to the wedding, 3 hrs away or in India about 50 kms away. The most beautiful buildings in India are in order of importance/impression...car show rooms, banquet palaces and the homes of the rich. Everything else is in some state of decay. India is a beautiful country, but blinders are needed.
The wedding banquet was held outdoors which was a good idea because the inside of the "palace" was pretty gruesome. The toilets alone sent cold shivers up me spine.
There were scores of colourful tents set up with more food and booze imaginable, a stage of dancers who entertained for 5 or so hours in the heat of the day and a ton of servants waited at your beck and call. Kudos to them all... The food and drink tents kept moving from the front area to the back then to front again.
The wedding itself was held in a temple a few kms away. It was a very simple building in the midst of repair. Its dome was being rebuilt. The inside walls were unadorned and white, women in swaths of coloured Punjabi suits and saris provided the eye candy. A group of classical musicians played and sang throughout the ceremony as did the priest? behind the simple alter? draped in gold cloth. The Bride wore a beautiful red sari, decorated with gold thread with crystal and pearl beads, hennaed hands and arms and the yellowiest of gold jewellery. The red turbaned groom suit was made of finely spun silk, gold and white richly blended and embroidered. In a Sikh ceremony, the bride and groom literally tie the knot. They walk around the alter 4 times, aided by family, in symbolic gesture of what the road ahead, what marriage really entails. It was very moving and thankfully very brief. Unlike some of the orthodox weddings I have been too.
Outside the premises, security guards kept the beggars away but they congregated around the temple and outskirts waiting a rambling guest. They would run and converge on us foreigners in the blink of an eye and they did, once, was enough of a lesson. There were line ups to take my picture. I'm a rare commodity in these places. White and Female. I was trying to be polite but Romeo and several friends had to rescue me or the sessions would have never ended.
After the afternoon attractions, we were invited to a private club. There we met the mayor of rural Jalandher and his cronies. More Peter Scot. He was everywhere. Indian scotch served up always in the same fashion. First came the highball glasses, then a bottle of water, then two bottles of soda then Peter would arrive followed by snacks. Same story every time. Indians don't eat dinner or lunch, they eat snacks.
We met another friend at the wedding who took us under his wing and brought us back to his house, where we stayed for the next few days. His father is a state government minister and federal MP as was his father before him. A family institution since the beginning of Indian independence. So from that time on we had police escorts, a roomy A/C SUV with a red revolving light on top to drive around in. It was quite nice actually. The disparity between the rich and powerful could not have been more obvious though. Even beggars generally gave us a miss.
If vehicles didn't move when expected the guards would jump out and point a gun in the offenders face forcing them to promise never to make the same mistake again. One man, a truck driver, even cried and begged for his life when confronted with an ak47. We think he was spared because of us, but then…we could be placing our importance rather high.
However, the vehicles have precedence. A vehicle is allowed to pass once, if it slows down and then tries to pass again, its good-bye sailor. You don't get a second chance.
The next morning we were awoken at 4:00am. The local priest in the village temple started his prayers, over the loudspeaker; he spoke a little and then sang the holy book words till day break. Then the street vendors peddling their bicycle through the village singing their wares. Each with a different tune, a harmony of exotic melodies.
The minister's house is huge with courtyards and balconies, a guest house and meeting house across the pathway, a school for girls and a memorial garden set up in his parent's memory are also within walking distance within his village. The village borders the city and is really a special subdivision with specially chosen neighbours.
The next night we went to the evening wedding reception, paid for by the groom's father, an even fancier shindig. Again held outdoors at another "5 Star" hotel/banquet palace", Tonnes of food under more beautiful tents, drinks and entertainment. I actually shot a gun into the air and almost deafened myself and shortly after was stopped by the second in command chief of the Police Rapid Action Force (for the 7 lower Indian states) and given a stern warning. Not, as I erroneously thought, because I was a woman, but because it is illegal for anyone.... There are signs everywhere forbidding such action but not one man paid attention. Thankfully, he is the groom's father's brother so he let my indiscretion slide.
We met a guru dressed in the finest silk outfit, who had sitar students in T.O., the family hosting him were all doctors but he was the "most auspicious guest".
We were taken to villages; saw how farmers lived and how they farmed.
Punjab at this time of year is like Alberta mid summer, mid twenties during the day - cool at night. They too have 4 distinct seasons but unlike ours, theirs are Hot, Foggy, Rainy and typical prairie summer. Punjab or all of India really is flat, Saskatchewan type flat but Punjab has water, unlike the rest of the country. When we flew from Bombay to Delhi we could see the land is dry, brown from above. It kinda looks like the back of an old peasant's hand. Slightly rounded mountains and shallow valleys predominant the sun burnt landscape.
In a country where water is a premium, I was shocked to see the complete disregard for water. Every waterway is polluted, canals and rivers are dumps. I saw a dead dog, bloated and floating, in the same water children played in. It's beyond disgusting. In Bangkok any standing water, including the smallest plant pot has fish to number the amount of mosquitoes, not so in India. Standing water there is putrid.

I will write more in a day or two.
I've been on the net for about 2 hrs and I want to go and do some stuff. I was going to go swimming but our so much of our stuff had been pilfered.
The Dude and I were also very, very sick. Up until two hrs ago, neither of us had eaten a thing in three days. Delhi Belly got us. Sadly the second we arrived in Bangkok we were affected. The minute I hit the heat I was puking. I honestly don't think I've ever been that ill. We still have the odd pain but I hope the end is in sight. We spent the first two and half days holed up in our overnight train compartment and then the hotel room for an entire day. We think it was food we had eaten in the Delhi airport. The restaurant was gross and the tomato soup was sour. For the first time, waiters didn't hover either. The restaurant was probably owned by Air India. But I guess we deserved it.
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Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 09:39 pm
Please excuse all grammar and spelling mistakes.
<<<These keyboards are difficult to manoeuvre around, and it's tough to keep all my thoughts in order. Romeo and I had to get some serious antibiotics to stem the food born illness and tonight I finally feel like myself.>>>

The moon here is turned a quarter degree. When we arrived in India I thought the crescent moon was smiling, greeting us. I soon realized it was leering.
The morning after the wedding we had breakfast with the minister who then gave us a brief tour of the village. He had graciously taken time from "International Woman's Day". He gets a day off from his government work. He showed us his parent's memorial garden and the girl's college he founded (sewing, computers and hairdressing) and then he tried to give me these poor girls handiwork. I just couldn't accept his offer. They work too hard for some foreign chick to take their school projects.
We were taken on a whirlwind tour of village life, Peter Scot (whiskey) and more snacks. We visited two different Punjabi village homes of Edmonton men. The wives and servants of course were in the kitchen and never left. There we met a dumb and deaf man who was fascinated by me. My first sight of him was seeing him peering into the room through a dark minaret shaped window for several long minutes, big wide eye staring at me, before he begged an introduction. We then took the necessary photos which pleased him to no end.
We saw flocks of parrots and doves and in one village peacocks flew in to town in the morning to display their beauty on rooftop stoops. The people here are generous and friendly when the meet you but will stare right through you, dissect you from afar when they realize you're from away. It is a little unnerving. However, they do have a huge appetite for laughter even if they did have a wee bit of fun at my expense. At one establishment, I made a chapatti. I think I was very brave. This entailed flattening the dough, then placing the raw dough on a tea cozy and pushing it under the lip of a very hot clay urn shaped oven. It took finesse.
We began to feel like excess baggage after the umpteenth visit to yet another 'friend's home', restaurant and/or bar, where upon I was the only female anywhere to be seen. Every place with another explanation as to why I was there... Even the staff were men. In India it apparently takes 4 people to do any job. People hover over you continuously. Waiting to put more food on your plate or refill an empty glass. They also have a hard time reconciling the word NO, no more please etc.... Conversations were very rarely done in English and everything it seemed had to be translated, but not all I'm sure.
By the time we made it back in the evenings, I was dead on my feet and praying for more variety than what appeared would be the daily norm.
The next day we made a trip to the Pakistani border. One of our host's friends was returning to his homeland. The border is an exercise in futility. Every truck that approaches the border must be emptied and coolies unload and carry all goods across the border by hand. Everything, box by box carried by old men for 11 rupees one way and eight the other, (I'm not sure which way is more profitable). The must carry there burden for about 1 km, over hot concrete barely shaded in areas by forlorn trees and barbwire. It is a very scary border one which I'm glad I will never have to cross. Our colleague paid a bribe to cross, even though big signs prohibit such behaviour. It was deftly tucked into a package of sweat socks. Pictures are strictly forbidden, as I was told after I taken a few snaps. That is, after they scared the beejeebers ought of me first. Who knew??
Then it was off to the obligatory tourist attraction, the Golden Temple, a fly by visit, for a whole twenty minutes before our host brought us to meet yet more dignitaries at another "5 star hotel". Not.
We met another mayor and a few councillors of Amritsar and I think another MP. They were nice and they did a fine job of feeding and watering us, but geez I was tired of the rigmarole.

To tell the truth we did not do much else. We were paraded around until both of us were tired of the pomp. It didn't matter where we went. Same story. We should have left after 4 days. I didn't get to do or see any of the things/sites I wanted to. I never saw the Taj, or visited any of the famed must see places. This disappoints me to no end.

Impressions and Observations of India....
India is a country built of bricks. The more money you have the more you can do with them. You can judge a 'mans' worth on his bricks. If you own land you fence it in. The more money the higher the fence, three brick widths and up. Everything is bricked in even 8 * 10 bits of land. Generally that is all that is done; the land is then left pretty much derelict until further direction. Barren land fenced and basically useless but worth the bragging rights of the owners driving by. If you have more money you can build a building. Less money buys cheap mortar. Plenty of buildings show testament to improper standards, cracks and decay predominate. Buildings in every shape and size are built from bricks and concrete floors. The poor build everything, including the fences to keep them out, for a few rupees a day, mostly without time saving tools. Women, old and young, carting wok size bowls of dirt, sand and bricks up and down bamboo scaffolding. Most homes for the rich are done in a semi-Spanish villa design with courtyards but with demurely muted, plastered or white washed colours. Many buildings are in some state of decay, scavenged, recycled then rebuilt. Piles of brick and sand for mortar are seen constantly as are the chimney spires spewing their thick black smoke. Punjab amongst its many riches also has a plethora of great clay for brick making. Some buildings are so narrow. 10 ft wide maybe… Looks as if you could blow them over. When more money comes they either build another floor on top or finish it off with plaster. Finally, when the brick is damaged or useless in its present condition, the poor are hired to break it, hours spent bent over smashing bricks endlessly. The pieces are then used for pilings, to provide a base for roads or buildings.

The roads are something fierce...
Every type of transportation known to man traverses Indian highways and byways. Tractors slugging along with oversize loads, people dangerously crammed into the back of overstuffed trucks, piled on top of buses and innumerable cows, donkeys, camels, bikes, scooters, buses, mini-cars and vans and all in the same lane, maddingly honking only to hear themselves it seemed. No one else seemed to pay attention much less make eye-contact. The highway is lined by eucalyptus trees, numbering in the thousands. I know because each tree is tattooed with a number to stop illegal foresting. Honeybee towers and the fruits of labour are also sold the entire roadside, as is wicker furniture and a myriad of other wares.
Shopping without a guide or someone you trust is difficult at best, impossible at worst. We didn't do much. The second day I bought a suit. A fancy Punjabi suit for the wedding. The first price quoted was 9000 rupees, 300$ Canadian. When our host and bodyguard showed up the price was halved. This scenario was repeated on several occasions
India is not a country for tourists, but for travellers. And there is a difference. If I can give one piece of advice…hire a driver, a translator. It's worth the effort and will solve most headaches.

In Thailand we missed a good full two days. We ended up on Antibiotics because of the Indian experience. The train trip up north, a 13 hr trip in an overnight bunk, was misery. The next day in the hotel wracked with pain wasn't much better. But...once we actually started to explore Chang Mai, northern Thailand, we had a blast. "The new city" is really a 700 yr old walled city. Much of the wall is destroyed but enough stands to impress. Chang Mai is a much slower city, with winding roads and back lanes and a night market to die for. We went on a bamboo raft ride, rode the elephants, saw a Wat or two and visited some Burmese Baptist Thai villages. Then we flew to Phuket.

We drove an hour from the airport to the hotel, it the food and the people in Phuket (Poo-Ket) are amazing. We got bit by sand mites whilst walking at night along the beach, met a couple of monkeys, elephants, butterflies and saw James Bond Island et al. Fantastic.

We are now in Phi-Phi, pronounced Pee-Pee, the most idyllic island ever. "The Beach" was filmed here. No vehicles just the unique Thai longboats roar around. We've had great food, seen amazing scenery and we are happy...

See you all in a few short days. I'll fill in the details then.
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Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 09:42 pm
Hello from Thailand.

Today we leave for Krabi. We've just spent the last two days on the Koh Phi Phi Islands. The only export here is fun and great memories.
The Tsunami did a lot of damage here. Now the most of the buildings are new or are being rebuilt and most sidewalks still remain remarkably flat. To the unknowing, history has been replaced and life carried on. There are many signs directing evacuation paths and loudspeaker systems on every beach and a few sweet memorials.
We dined on fresh lobster, actually getting to pick the poor buggers out of a tank of several species including the local monster Thai lobster. We watched the fire dancers juggle flame and contort to heavy beats from our restaurant table.
Menus and signs here all murder the English language. Sapaghetti, filet miggnong, bloddy mery are amongst my favourites. You are left to imagine and shudder at what the translations are like in other tongues. The islands are filled with tourists and ex pats from all over the planet. Strangely I haven't met one American. The people here are mainly Muslim, a happy variety. Unlike the north of Thailand where Wats out number all the churches in Italy, the south has mosques but there are far fewer. The culture is so integrated with tourists. A primary school is built mid-beach tucked between hotel bungalows. Homes for the locals and rooms for rent co-mingle. The people here are lovely. We rented a longboat and took our second tour of the islands, snorkelled with a colourful array of fish and visited beaches built for two cut from limestone cliffs. Monkeys stood us up, but hey - Life is easy, no worries eh mate!
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Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 09:49 pm
Last day in the Islands.

Tomorrow, we begin the journey home.
I wish, I wish, I wish we had spent the entire vacation here. I wouldn't have traded the whole experience for anything, but this is paradise. We've spent the last two days in Krabi, Aonang Beach. Endless beaches punctuated by soaring, ragged cliffs rounded at each end by the elements.
In Phuket, the largest, most developed of the islands you find the most diverse places and economies. We visited another Burmese Baptist village where pigs lie nonchalantly shaded under sticks and stone huts. Roosters and children run freely greeting you with various calls, 5 baht, 5 baht, cock-a-doodle doo. Everyone here sells something; it's a vast, fierce free market economy. The ladies peddling monkey food at the temples sounded eerily like their charges. 10 baht, 10 baht. We passed lychee, mango, banana and jackfruit orchards and the three generation investment Teak plantations. It takes a teak tree 100 years to grow as big as the 50 yr old big fella elm growing outside my front door. Phuket is also booming in real estate. Shops dominate the center of the island competing with rubber, pineapple and palm farms. Tourism is the main industry here, anywhere, it seems in Thailand. Yet, 20 years after tourism began its boom, people here are still resolutely their own people. They speak in their own incomprehensible way, their lazy tongues ending every word in a nasal soft ah. Even children in small tourist villages stay clear of direct contact. They cannot or have not learned much of any of the languages of their guests. The people here are very proud but private. I guess I can't blame them. They see people with such wealth everyday. Foreigners from places they will never visit and yet everyday they open their doors to us.
The Phi-Phi Islands are just beautiful. There are two islands; the smaller is a national park where the film "the Beach" was made. The larger has a sand swath between two mountains. When the Tsunami hit, it cleared a path flattening everything in its stead. Pictures of before and what now remains or what has been rebuilt are staggering. Much of the center of the island is still being rebuilt.
The first night here we went on an evening cruise. The proprietor, Aladeen, is a 19 year old kid who scraped up the money to open his first business, a large tour/party boat. He and his crew were all new to each other that night but they took us to some great spots, fire danced and took our pictures for their new brochure. We are going to be famous for years to come… The beaches here are white, soft pulverized coral - no sand mites at night. The atmosphere is laid back and the food is great.
The tuk-tuk drivers of the Andaman Sea are the longboat sailors. They will take you anywhere for a price and fast… Where you want go, pee-pee eyelahn 500 baht, 500 baht, but by God; I wish they'd leave us alone. What ever happened to 'If I need ya, I'll call ya."
Krabi is still in the midst of a growth spurt. The beach we are on the verge of being the next best thing. The hotel we're staying at is the coolest one yet. The Phra Nang Inn, a multi award winning hotel, is built in two wings. The first is done is a land theme, the Beetlenut wing. We are in the Coconut wing, dedicated to the sea. The walls are plastered with sand and shells and other surprising accruements. The exterior of the building is overgrown with beautiful flowers, trees and ivy overlooking the sea. The common areas are done in Bamboo and Palm wood and shell designs. Just lovely.
Today we went on a final cruise round the area. We snorkelled amid neon striped fish that actually bit me as I was fed them a banana. It hurt.
I panicked, I'm allergic to the little sea dwellers. We swam on a couple of beaches that defy description while being transported to each mach speed on a very powerful speedboat. In the distance you can see pearl farms appearing as stick picket fences run amok. Fishermen with beads of bell shaped light bulbs strung cross-boat bows ply their trade. At night the horizon doesn't remain hidden for long, the lights are switched on softly illuminating the distance.
The Thais give great massages. We enjoyed many, for the price we pay at home…I'll miss this service a lot. The bus service here and in most of Thailand is in the back of pickup trucks, neatly lined with plank seats and roller bars…just in case. In most of Asia; I'm told, the horn is used frequently. Here it is a friendly reminder or a tap on the shoulder and like the Caribbean, a way to say hello. In India they lay on the horn, constantly, not caring if it's a rude gesture or not. At home it's cause for a fight.
Tomorrow we catch the overnight train to Bangkok, after a brief stay in some place that starts with an S??? One more night in a crazy city then the long journey home.
I'm tired. A full day of sun, a wonderful lobster, shrimp and crab dinner, pampering…
It's been tough. I see ya all soon, probably out slogging in the snow…
Or maybe, it'll start to melt. he he.
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Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 09:51 pm
I would appear I hate long good-byes.
In twelve hours we are in the air. The temperature in Bangkok is 35C. Today while meandering about the city for the last time I noticed I wasn't sweating, or even feeling overly hot. I'm even kind of brown. I have finally acclimatized only to head back to the frigid north.
Its 6:00pm, the whole city has just paused for a minute while the national anthem is blared over loudspeakers. We are on Khoa San Road escaping the heat and passing street hawkers as they forcefully sell their wares. Roses, trinkets, croaking frogs, maps, zippos and other portable goods all brought to your table side, want it or not. Food and drinks are never brought to the table simultaneously. It's as if the servers are proud to have made each item and want to present it accordingly.
We are less than a block from where the continuing anti-government demonstrations have been held. The Democracy monument is clean and orderly today. No sign of the latest show of mass discontent. I'm told, taxi drivers refuse fares to this area whenever the marchers appear. They are in favour of the prime-minister and will toss you out if you discuss politics.

We took the overnight train from Suran Thani, after a 4 hours bus trip from Krabi. The centre of Thailand and this city are far from tourist central. Written English is hard to find. The landscape passed by the bus peacefully until the next tooth jarring pothole. We drove by lotus and fresh water pearl ponds and beautiful teak homes. The crowds of people disappear here and markets sell what people need. Plenty of fruit and veggies, meat in all its glorious cuts, fish - dried or fresh, nuts, chicken in every form hang from hooks, spices, clothing, tools, housing supplies and hats; the variety is endless. It's amazing the stuff you can find residing under a beat up tin roof. Life is lived for the most part on the street. There are people who do your laundry, cook and mind the children. Everyone works but the pay scale is foreign. It's based on percentage, makes sense since this truly is a free market society. The porters on the train work 28 days straight with two off for good behaviour. Their wages are based on the meals and drinks they sell. We met one fella who had a girlfriend on either side of the tracks. Smart guy...as the railway certainly doesn't put them up in hotels for the day, so he spent every other day, portside with la girl du jour. Last night the porters hinted at wanting some whiskey, not do subtly, so we obliged. I don't think it happens very often and it was hilarious. This morning they were all a little more sheepish yet still not afraid to ask for a tip or hurry us all off the train.
Everyplace we've been has its own unique character. The tuk-tuks changed from covered motorbikes to side-saddle to tiny mini-vans, the drivers remained the same.
Ok. I'm cool now, so it's off to more last minute adventures
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Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 10:14 pm
O.K I've been home now for almost two weeks. Things that have struck me since returning are...
One - goddamn its cold here. Or at least it was when we returned. It was -7C. It took me a full two days to warm up and I'm not sure if I'm there yet.
Two - the streets are sooooo quiet. You hear the odd screech of tires and the odd antagonistic honk but for the most part, the streets are organized and orderly with very little straying outside the box.
Three - the food is bland. I love the spices in India and Thailand and frankly I miss it.
Four - People here bitch too much. We have it so good and yet we bitch just to hear ourselves complain. The poorest of poor in Indian and Thailand always seemed to smile even though life was hopelessly one sided.
Five - too much vandalism and graffiti grace our edifices. We have no pride.
Six - Tim Horton's coffee cups and McDonalds crap will be our ruin. It wasn't till India that I realized what pollution was, but we are so much worse. In India burning garbage was a way to dispose of unwanted rubbage, no dumps you see. The skies in both Thailand and India were always smoggy. Burning undergrowth and unwanted stuff was a necessity. Here, we have proper garbage receptacles; yet we are slobs who seemingly prefer to be lazy and not use our advantages.
Seven- We have too many laws, bylaws, rules, regulations etc, I guess its governments way of keeping us in line, civilizing us. I think it just another form of frustration. No wonder we have road rage. In India where every car has battle wounds, people just take the chaos for granted. I only saw only fight between motorists, and I was amazed I didn't see more.
Eight - In the Canada I know, people aren't garbage. We are equal, men - women, poor, old, colour, religion - we are the same under the law. No advantage, no difference.

Well, that's what I did on my vacation. I loved it - I hated it. I can't wait till the next adventure.
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Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 10:23 pm
whow, Ceili, that was some vacation!
Probably too much excitement for me, I'm the lazy vacationer,
but I sure enjoyed reading your report. Excellent writing!
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Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 10:58 pm
Why thanks Jane...
I'm sure your take on a similar vacation would be just as enjoyable.
I learned a lot. Next time I'll be better prepared.
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Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 11:00 pm
Agree, I like your writing too. I was laughing in several places.. (you with the shotgun, for example). Anyway, it was vicarious travel for me..
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Mon 10 Apr, 2006 01:15 am
That has been one of the best travel reports I've read since a long time!

Thanks, Ceili!
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