cooking up a storm...

Well I had my first Thai cooking lesson today, one of two before I leave for my slow boat to Laos - I decided on the oldest cooking school in Chiang Mai, which has a very good reputation - downside being it's a couple of hundred baht more expensive ie. $10 NZ, but what the hell says I?) and the head tutor/chef is a popular TV personality... he popped in to show us how to make a few dishes before handing the show over to a couple of ladies, both very funny - you spend most of your time laughing, when your not fretting about burning your curry
paste.

Loads of fun and quite interesting, I got to make a few dishes.. from fish, pork, chicken, vegetable salads, noodles, papaya salad, steamed banana, soups.. all sorts, tomorrow I'm not sure what I'll be making, but no doubt it'll be fun and educational...though I'll have probably forgotten half the stuff I learnt today by the time I get home, so I wont be making any cullinary delights without alot of practice (and a decent wok 'n gas burner) - I still find it hard to get used to the fact that a lot of food here isn't eaten with chop sticks.. they
just work so well that your frustrated when they aren't available!

Last night I had some pahd thai at a local streetside restaurant (yummiest I've had so far, probably had msg in it ;o)
and then was going to walk home when I heard ninja tunes playing in the rooftop bar, kid koala in fact, so I stopped in and had a
beer and a gander at the stars while enjoying a bit of quality scratching seldom heard elsewhere on my
travels (hardly anyone I meet even knows the label, let alone the DJ's signed to it... or Tom Waits... meh) -
ended up talking to some people and scooted off to a disco (Bubbles, pretty tragic joint and it closes at 2am?) with some
Canadian girls to do some dancing - which provided some entertainment for the evening, one was a therapeutic massage
student studying Thai massage and the other a personal trainer - odd company for someone such as myself now that I think about
it... ended up spending most of the time watching the locals dancing away and making merry with their bottles of thai whiskey.

At any rate, tonight will be a rather quiet night in.. reading a book I do believe while I digest all the food I made..and then consumed today. Mmmm.. :)

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Alone again, again.

Alone again, again.  Or perhaps for the first time, who knows?

I must say I'm relieved as well (to be alone, that is) - the problem I've found so far with the random people I meet travelling is that you often have common interests when it comes to talking about future plans and swapping a few yarns over a drink, but in essence they are people I would never develop a friendship with, basically it's like going to a party and talking to random individuals.. and then meeting them for 3 days in a row, very much rinse and repeat.

And so today I'm back by myself as Anna, Allan and Kerryn are all off on the slow boat to Laos (which I'm also doing, but not till the 19th, I still need to pack a day or two of Thai cooking school in and maybe some sight seeing :) - I must say it's a relief, as I dont really feel like I've been by myself for more then a day or two in the last month and half since I started travelling, and well it's been fucking me off to put it bluntly - I may live in a flat, but my work, the job at the council (where their aren't too many young people) and my hour's meander too and from work on public transport offer me a lot of time to just mull things over by myself, I dont think I've been getting enough of that time so far while travelling - like a cat needs sleep, I need time alone.

Good songkran...

Anyway, Songrkan just got better and better, the second day was great - had loads of fun, and the expressions on some of the kids faces were priceless, indellible memories (but alas no photographs, too much water to take me camera out) though as the sun goes down you get a little bitter about being hit with a high pressure blast of freezing cold water (they love filling 44 gallon drums with big blocks of ice, and topping it up with water.... brrrr!) - that night we settled in with a bit of a meal then headed out to the roof top bar, which is close to the city gate on Chongklan road - full of idiots, but amusing.. I left here with Anna however when a band started up down on the stage by the gate, "silly fool", who are apparently very well known (i.e. big!) in Thailand.. they seemed like a linkin park crossed with creed type combination, but it wasn't that bad ;o) watching the Thai teenagers getting right into it was highly amusing, though they dont seem to do encores.. maybe it was just because it was a festival thing.

After that I headed back up to the roof top bar, had a rather pointless coversation with a drunken air brush artist hippy who just imigrated from Perth, Australia - though he was particularly harmless, at one point he seemed like he was about to burst into tears - It just reminded me of too many conversations I'd had with drunk people back when I lived in the Tomarata with my parents... heh

...and um.. oh yes, then another longer conversation with a girl from Brazil, who had been travelling for over a year and could not wait to get home and see her maid... interesting, I could not quite figure out if her maid was her best friend, or just a mother substitue - probably both, she was an only child with both parents being rather busy private doctors - having the financial hardships of Brazillian locals explained was a rather sobering experience, much like learning the details of China's working class - it generally just makes me bitter when you're sitting in some stupid tourist bar full of idiotic twenty somethings trying to give their end away, alot of people come away to see "Thailand" and then go out of their way to avoid it at every turn... What I really dont like about tourist bars though is that they seem inherantly unsafe, I really dont trust young white people drinking to excess... I'd far rather sit down and have a few beers with the locals.

On the third day we headed out a bit later, there were less people (I suspect alot of the domestic tourists head home to get back to work after the second day) but every was really into the swing of things.. lots of people drinking, dancing in the streets.. and a massive parade that took about 3 hours to go past through the town gates - loads of fun, and I spent quite a bit of time perusing the various food stalls and trying different random things.. most good but not great (all the fruit juices are too sweet that I've tried so far)

Bad Songkran...

We did see some strange (bad) things happen during Songkran too though, and it offered a little insight into something you don't see very often - Thai people getting angry.  The main incident happened on the second day, wandering around the square.. then suddenly there's yelling and running, then somebody throwing a bottle (which instead of hitting the person in question went through a ute window and hit a little girl on the noggin, she was alright but did have a bit of a lump and graze on her head...  and then a guy legging it off up the road through all the traffic... pursued by 5 or 6 young Thai guys (from 2 different utes)... at which point you get an appreciation for just how fit these little guys are, in jandals they were sprinting after eachother through a foot of water at break neck speed (faster then I could probably run down a hill, but that's not saying much hehe!) - deadly serious looks on their faces... we were walking in the opposite direction and after a couple of minutes everything resumed as per usual... but I would imagine they metered out justice in a fairly "practical" way on this guy once they got him, I certainly wasn't going to hang around and watch.

Though I didn't see it on the 3rd night, some western guy who Kerryn (the Aussie we were travelling with on the Trek) bumped into, fell down the stairs from the rooftop bar and hit against a door in hallway, which was the entrance to someones room we suspect.. the guy came out really angry and started squabbling, then another guy (I may be getting the story wrong..?) turned up and pulled a knife... all a bit scary, Kerryn managed to calm them down and walk the drunk out of the bar... but then when on the street the drunk guy was set on by another Thai guy who punched him right across the cheek, laying him out for 6 - some other Thai people came over and appologised and Kerryn left it at that, the guy was too drunk to know where he was staying, and had lost his keys and wallet... There really isn't much you can do for some people, apparently he'd lost his keys the night before as well too... he's probably been doing similar things everywhere he's travelled.

Really it's no worse then any other new years at home, I'm sure my brothers seen worse up the mount ;o) it's just we don't normally mix kids, teenagers, parents and grandparents into the same spaces - so it just seems worse.

At any rate, I can't say enough good things about this holiday, bad things included, I'm really glad I came here when I did, but I'll also be just as glad to get away and move onto a new place.

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Songkran!

Well what can I say... this place is amazing (at this time of
year), Songkran, is without a doubt, the most friendly and
pleasant festival ever -... I'm absoloutely soaked from head to
foot and just sat my big black 45 baht bucket-with-string next to
me in the internet cafe - brilliant, I cant really describe the
atmosphere here, but I wish we had anywhere near as much fun and
energy on a public holiday at home.

At any rate, lets cover what I've been up to... My trek for 3
days was really fun - my first night in Chiang Mai I met 2 of my
fellow trekers, A girl from Finland (Anna) and a guy from England
(Paul) - Paul is great, a very very interesting fellow who in his
30 years has a great deal of life experiences to share, not all
of them pleasant, but all the more interesting... Anna has a
wonderful command of the english language, and has studied
psychology and is a transient..and vid people watcher (like
myself) - so we get on quite well, we even got up to a bit of
drunken urban exploration as we wandered home last night.

First night of the trek we headed out and stayed a night with a
Karren (sp?) hill tribe - they dont speak standard Thai in these
regions, and as part of the "eco" tourism push they have been
oddly converted (no feed lines, but the tribes have solar panels,
T.V. aerials and catholic churches - catholicism in Thailand is
very interesting, I still haven't quite got the "measure" of it,
as they still celebrate budhist events such as Songkran and
generally are a little.. umm.. Odd.  Missionaries have a bit
of answer for ;o)

Second night we headed to a little village that had a waterfall,
very scenic... just kicking back and having a few drinks with our
trainee guide, Mr Bad Boy.. who's birthday apparently it was, but
wether it was true we're not quite sure.  Mr Ken (our main
guide), was hungover (among other things... hehe) from the night
before and let us be.

The last day we went bamboo rafting (and it was the first proper
day of Songkran) so we got very wet.. and then went for a half
hour ride on elephants at the elephant camp, which was definitely
an experience.. riding on an elephant is really quite something,
especially when they start scrambling up an eighty degree
incline..

My Trek was great, but the variety and amusement derived from the
people I met on the trek was even better - the social dynamics
are hilarious (the group consisted of a bunch of british girls
ranging from 18 through 22 and one english lad (Tom) who had been
teaching english in Thailand for the last 3 months, 2 Australians
(both pretty cool), Paul, Anna and Myself being the solo
travellers.  I can't really be bother putting it down into
words right now, but it's been a lot of fun, and the food was
great.

Today I had a lazy start, as we went out to the riverside bar and
grill for drinks and food last night and I was felling a little
run down (Honey coated pork spare ribs with spicey papaya salad
with prawns and a 2 litre pitcher of chang beer, so good!) - so I
had breakfast at 10:30 then read a book till 12 (Trigger by
Arthur.C.Clarke, which isn't a bad load of bollix) - and went
wandering with Paul.

Since then I've just been getting sprayed with water by kids and
old people alike (it's good luck to wet westerners :) almost
continually... there are people everywhere, and they're all
smiling... it's just amazing - you really have to be here to
understand, but you're very greatful for your Typhoid
shot!!  Everything is covered in the local water out of the
ping river and surrounding areas, deli belly central I'm sure...

Tonight I'm meeting up for drinks with the Trek'ing gang again at
8pm, which should be fun - I have the advantage of not really
having plans till after Songkran, so I can have a bit of a fun
without worrying about needing to move again the next day.

Once Songkran is over I'll book a thai cooking class for a couple
of days and arrange my slow boat to Luang Prabang in Laos (I've
already got my Visa being processed now) - and I take back what I
said about Chiang Mai weather, it's miles better then Bangkok
because the nights are a lovely 20 degrees.. just dont get out of
bed till lunch time and you have a 5 hours heat and then the
temperature eases off, I actually wore a pair of jeans last night
comfortably.. first time in Thailand.

Hope everyones doing swell, whats the weather back home like :?

 - Alex

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Chiang Mai first impressions

Well my hope that Chiang Mai would be any cooler then Bangkok were perhaps a little overzealous.. a couple of degrees less heat in the shade makes no difference, I'm still dying... and it seems even more humid here, but at least the polution is a little less (to be honest, it's non-existent on my scale, China really prepares you for dirty air... My throat seems to be better today as well, which is probably directly related, I've had a sore throat and phlegm since I got sick in China - which Ian, our resident doctor suspected might just be a bad reaction to Air pollution.

I got my train from Hualonpong station (I was a bit stressed about the whole affair.. as you're never too sure if your TAT office is reputable, even with a valid license, as they all have dodgy looking business cards with yahoo and hotmail addresses...

My ticket was a second class sleeper with air conditioning - lower bunk.  It was very comfy and clean, you're oriented the other way to sleeper trains in China, as your head/feet are paralell with the train, and the top bunk folds down and the bottom two sets become the lower bunk.  Really nice, though I couldn't see much out of my window (they cover them with a semi-transparent black mesh print to cut down the sun pouring in from outside) - took my sleep in 1 hour portions, and dont feel too bad today - like a couple of trips in China I've been on, it's quite hard to sleep when their pulling into stations every half hour to hour during the night.

After I got off the train, the guesthouse that I booked the Trek with picked me up... because It was early morning (about 10 by the time I got to the guesthouse) - my room wasn't empty, so I dumped my pack in a locker room and went for an "orientation" walk - first away from town, till the dogs looked like they would bit me, and then into town - at the same time I arranged for them to do my Laos 30 day visa - though it always makes me nervous when people need my passport... however it's a necessary evil, and better then pissing about at the border - Laos being my next planned port of call (I've heard of a slow boat you can take to Luang Prabang? sounds fun...) 

Chiang Mai has a biggish river running down one side, and an inner square of city surrounded by walls and gates next to it, not to Chinas standard - more like something you'd see created in a medium sized New Zealand town to "beautify" a city... it even has fountains, no doubt it will be a focal point during Sohkran (sp?).  All the buildings aren't particularly tall, from 1 to 3 or 4 stories.  When you first arrive you hardly notice it, but when looking away from Town there's a great sodding green mountain range rearing up high above the city - I imagine that's where I'm off too tomorrow on my Trek - assuming they steer clear of the bandits (all the TAT licensed operators are pretty cautious) everything should be peachy keen, though It'll probably be a bit strenuous in places... I think I ride an elephant too, which will be a novelty... heh

At any rate thats all for now - my next 3 days will be fairly busy (and strenuous, I'll probably regret the beers I've had in bangkok - though I'm sure they just get sweated out ;o) - after that I plan to do not very much as I'll be around for the last 2/3 days of Sohkran.. which, from what I've been reading thismornin' has such grand hilights as the "beautiful girl on bicycle" competition... and of course water fights.

First impressions of Chiang Mai?  Pretty nice.. but I still find the heat brutal, it really does slow you down - though I might tire of it before long, so I may try and only do a few days of cooking school before I'm off toward Laos.

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All by myself... do dooo dooooo

Well I'm all by Myself now.. lets see what I've been up to since my last post.

  • Met up with Ed & Scarlets friends, Lorna & Tim, who have been travelling through India for the last 2 months by themselves - pretty keen for a couple of 19 year old people, but they seemed to do really well.
  • Sweating.. this 38 degrees in the shade business is complete bollix, and to make matters worse the beer is double the strength of China (Chang beer is 6.3%, Leo is undrinkable rubbish, Thai Beer is 6.4% and Tiger is too expensive quite often - most beer in China is between and 3 & 3.5%) - so you have to keep your wits about you, unless in the company of people I trust I can't see myself drinking a great deal as you just feel dazed and confused, not a particularly wise idea in the middle of Bangkok.
  • Visited the Emerald Buddah, which is in fact made of Jade, and rather small.. (but on a huge gold pedestal) .. Thai temples and architecture is quite a departure from Chinese Budhism with it's Taoist and ancestor worship ties.  The Thai have a lot of Demons and Serpents, everything is "spangly" and pretty Garish.  Best viewed from afar :) The temple surrounding the Emerald Buddah is amazing - truely huge, and in immaculate condition - the endless murals that flow continuously around hall ways and walls are amazing to look at.  Getting used to no pointing your feet in temples is another interesting challenge, though there is no "wrong" or "right" leg to cross into a temple on (In china I think it was left leg first for males, right leg first for females).
  • Went for a few rides on a river Taxi, had some nice pork & ginger - also had my first green coconut to drink (what a noob) - had some durian (?) fruit, basically yellow mushy stuff that comes from the centre of the spikey big fruit.  Quite a mild taste, and no detectable odur.  The river taxi is confusing, as it doesn't give or expect exact change... you give here 20 baht, it'll cost 20 baht.. give them 8, it costs 8.  Your screwed without small change :)
  • Had some drinks and good food to Celebrate Scarlets 19th birthday.. all these young whiper schnappers I dont know.  I'm impressed by their confidence at times, at 19 I was pretty different to any of them - interesting times.
  • Upgraded to a double bed and own bathroom for 240 (or was it 280? I forget) baht a day.. small comforts.

Tonight I'm off to Qualompong (sp?) Train station to head up to Chiang Mai.. Should be good, second class sleepers sound a little classier then what I was used to in China, but I forgot to insist on AirCon so I may end up with Fan - guess we'll see, I cant imagine I'll sleep a great deal at any rate.  My room in Chiang Mai for the first week is a little extra because it has AirCon.. luxuary :)

In the mean time I have to check out in half an hour, find a locker to stash my backpack and then go and get some brunch.

I'll be so greatful to be shot of Khao San road and the surrounding area... I dont care about it being a dive, but it's just dripping with Trendy weirdos - I'd far rather watch locals, then tourists spending silly money on crap - and even worse the vendors in and around Khao San road dont actully Barter.. so you ask how much, they tell you the price.. knowing full well what the end price will be, and it's only ever 20% less... The "walk away" tactic so useful in China & India doesn't wash in this little pocket of Madness.. hopefully the rest of Thailand is a little better in that respect - one store was charging 450 baht for a crappy little pair of battery amplified computer speakers.. $16 NZ, which is insane, you'd pay 5 or 10 Yuan in China (like $1 to $2).. a Train ticket costs about 500 baht!... but the problem is there's always another silly tourist who'll pay the price, hell I'm one of them half the time because you just dont know any better at the start.

Nobody seems too concerned about the Hat Yai bombing last week here either, which is interesting - I guess it's so far south as to only be a mild concern for people doing a Malaysian border run, the TAT office was desperate to try and sell me some Southern Thailand packages as their is such a downturn in visitors (I guess a mass grave 15 minutes walk away from your hotel can be off putting?) and bombing and continuing Insurgence problems can't be helping either, even if the hot spot is far away from Phuket and surrounding Islands.

Till next time...

 - Alex

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