"There's an island in the Pacific, and everything about it is terrific..." this tune I once heard on an old 50s album I couldn't stop humming on my arrival to Bangkok. For those friends and family who might not yet know it, I have left Prague after almost 7 years for the balmy tropical paradise that is Thailand.
Since I was last in America back when Clinton was running against Dole, many of my references will be from what I knew in Prague. Don't worry about this being too long, it's just a letter to say hello, good-bye and hope to see you all again soon.
Prague is a magical city, full of history and ancient energy. It is very beautiful in all it's seasons, and there are no women more beautiful and grand than Czech women (except Moravian women, but that's another story altogether!)
Landing in Bangkok, I took a luxury Mercedes taxi to a cheap guest house, both the check in girl and driver being quite confused about me.
The ride into town took about half an hour, just the right amount of time for me to realize I was in a city of the magnitude of Los Angeles, if not bigger! Like LA, the air is hazy with smoke, and congested with cars of all kinds.
When I finally arrived at the Peachy Guest House and got my stuff into my room, I was dying to get some famous Thai food into my stomach, but all the had at the guesthouse was scrambled eggs and toast. I sat down and ate with two dreadlocked New Zealanders, Mike and Simon, who have been traveling around the region teaching English for some time.
Luckily, they orientated me to my surroundings and introduced me to some nice locals, Tomu, from Japan and his Thai girlfriend Jasmin. Keith, the other Thinker from Prague, was due to arrive awhile later, so I had a chance to wander about the area of Khoa san (CO-San) road, where my guest house was located, famous for being the spot for cheap backpackers, and where you can get anything from travel tickets to fake designer goods to a Harvard diploma!
Here you will also find travelers from all over the world, many just in town to check in before returning to more remote locals, to those passing through and traveling on a budget.
Soon Keith arrived, and for our first night on the town, he, I and some Swiss guy whose name I can't recall headed down to the infamous Patpong red light district, where as my good friend Colin Shea once said, there is no pride in being a man. Prostitution and the objectification of women is a well established institution, and like gambling is illegal under Thai law, although both are two of it's largest industries.
Thai girls are pretty in a uniquely exotic manner, but nothing is sadder and for me, uninspiring than women being exploited for money. Not wanting to go into one of the brothels, I decided to take a seat on a sidewalk bar to watch a Thai band play jazz funk. Immediately I was joined by an attractive woman with a belly button piercing and a tattoo of a rose above her navel.
Her name is Chadaporn, but she goes by her nickname of Tun (pronounced Toon). She had quite an infectious laugh, with a rather nice lilting voice, and meeting her turned out to be quite a blessing. Unlike the many bar girls and freelancers, Tun comes down to the Patpong area just to meet foreign men, as her husband divorced her and remarried a Muslim woman from Singapore, where he now lives.
She has been so incredibly helpful, and has become a great friend, and she hopes to go back to Switzerland once more, as soon as she can. She is Issan, from the north, in the Khorat plains, on the Laotian boarder. She is 31 years old, and considers herself an 'old lady'! Yet she is wise beyond her years, and has a heart of gold.
As for the bar girls, I only met one, they are cold, calculating and only interested in money. Another friend of mine, Mike G., is traveling through the region, and is staying in an area called Nana, where me and Keith went to meet him.
Of course, Nana is another red-light district, and I met a girl there who showed me where the Ministry of Sound nightclub was, where I ditched her and spent the night dancing. She was such a crass and negative person I couldn't wait for her to be gone.
Except for that one night out, I've been under Tun's wings, so to speak, and she came along with me to Koh Samui, her third trip to the south, and before she left, she said there would be some bad luck, as she always had bad luck traveling south. Well, sure enough, the bus, which costs only 8 dollars to travel 12 hours, broke down on the way, and could only drive slowly, making it in just under 18 hours!
The bus was comfortable enough, but one thing I've noticed about Thai people, is that if there is a knob, they crank it all the way to maximum, at least on stereos and air conditioners. The whole way there, people trying to sleep as shoot-em-up war movies exploded impossibly loud, and the air conditioning was so cold, I actually felt like I was still in Prague!
One night, Tun and I went to see a movie in the multiplex, and it was so freezing my exposed toes (in sandals) almost got frostbite! Another interesting thing, before every movie, you must stand with head bowed in respect to the king, for about five minutes while they run a commercial about his greatness. It would kinda be like having to say the pledge of allegiance every time you went to the cinema! But they love their king, so don't even bring it up is what I understand!
Anyways, we're now in Koh Samui, my new home for the next few months.
She helped me find a house, brand new (I'm the first tenant) fully furnished, with air conditioning, screen windows, cable TV and a modern kitchen, plus a motorbike, for $235 a month!!! Right on the beach, with a view of Koh Phan Ngan island!!! I just love it here, and wonder why I didn't end up in a place like this long ago.
The food is fantastic, every meal is a new discovery, spicy or not, with noodles or sticky rice, in a bowl or on a skewer, and all of it so cheap, I have to laugh! And believe it or not, I eat more, and yet I've lost 10 kilograms (about 20 pounds). The average 3 course meal for two people is about $2.50. Of course, this in a locals place and not some tourist rip off, and even that's not too bad, I had a massive sushi feast for $35 for two, including drinks.
And there are so many places to eat, even moped side-cart restaurants. They have this one treat I love, it's a sweet rice and coconut mix, cooked inside a bamboo stick, just yummy. They have fresh seafood and produce everywhere. And the people are quite friendly, and helpful and respectful, I guess that's just the Buddhist way.
The nature is wonderful, frogs and birds and lizards everywhere you go, saw a monkey riding on the back of a scooter like any bored teenager. The whole place is a lush tropical paradise, it was once the world's largest coconut plantation, and from what I gather, just about every plant on the island ends up in some kinda dish. I wonder how long that lifestyle will last though, with all the McDonalds, Dunkin' Donuts, Pizza Huts, and Burger Kings which have sprouted up.
In fact, in Koh Samui, they've just opened a Tesco Hypermart, and if you've ever shopped in Prague, you'll be shocked, when, before ringing up your order, they fold their hands in Wei (like in prayer) and thank you for shopping at their store, then ring it all up and bag it for you, in what seems a comical three to five items per bag! (In Czech, they hate you for bothering them, and will only give you one flimsy bag, and that costs you 5 crowns!)
So that is just a few details from my first two weeks in Asia, read on to see how my travels went.
- Next >>