Saturday, February 14, 2009

We Hate the Beach

So… you know how a lot of people love the beach? Cheryl and I are not two of those people. We sort of already knew that about ourselves, we’ve been to Mexico a couple of times together, and both of us have been to Hawaii many times, and don’t get me wrong, we love those places, we just aren’t sun worshippers, and god knows, I don’t need a tan. But for some reason we figured a beach in Thailand would be different; we should have known better. The beach we chose is called Railay and it’s a 45 minute boat ride from a town called Krabi which we flew to from Chiang Mai. We got here today, wandered from where the boat dropped us to our hotel… and then really didn’t know what to do with ourselves. The beach is very small, and we’re not crazy, we recognize that it’s beautiful, and sure we could slather ourselves with sunscreen and possibly go in the water for a swim (doing our best to avoid the jelly-fish), but then what? What we ended up doing was sitting by the pool for a couple of hours while both individually but simultaneously coming the conclusion that we should leave. Soon. It’s just not for us. It’s a very small beach and the area around it is kind of crowded with a few shops, a few restaurants, and lots of tourists. This seems to be the place for a typical European family vacation. It’s also full of hippies. And couples. And hippie-couples. No offense to Europeans, hippies, or couples, but it’s just not the atmosphere we were looking for. Railay is also a rock-climbing Mecca and I had considered doing a climb or two since they have a lot of beginner routes, so first I made some inquires at the local climbing school, but then left with the prospect facing some limestone cliff in the blazing sun versus heading back to Bangkok, we decided to just let the beach go – and leave tomorrow… after one day here.

I’ve always had this love-hate relationship with the beach. I love the ocean and I’d rather be looking at open water, waves, and surf than any other scenic view; I LOVED my beach-front hotel in Galle where I stayed during the lit fest, and spent what seemed like a lot of time staring at the water and letting the waves hypnotize me; I’d rather go for a walk on a coast-line in Northern California, Oregon, or Washington than anywhere else, but a tropical beach where there’s really nothing to do but lie out in the sun and maybe go for a dip before practicing my hacky-sacking skills, isn’t for me. Or Cheryl, so we’re heading back to the city—back to Bangkok.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Last Stop: Thailand

On February 7th, I finally had four months worth of stuff—both brought and accumulated, packed up, had said good bye to all my friends in Colombo, told Velu how much I was going to miss his cooking and his company, and made my way to the airport for a 1:30am flight to Bangkok. I was on my way home via a vacation in Thailand (you know, because I needed a vacation after four months of loafing around Sri Lanka). My friend Cheryl met me at the hotel in Bangkok for the beginning of a twelve day stop-over in Thailand on my way home to Seattle. We were both really tired that first day in Bangkok; I hadn’t slept at all the night before because of the middle-of-the-night-flight, and Cheryl’s connection in Tokyo had been cancelled so she was actually late getting to Bangkok and had been traveling for a day and half by the time she got there. So we napped much of our first day. Eventually we got up though and made our way to a lovely Thai restaurant which had been recommended by two different friends and had a lovely dinner before heading back to the hotel. Really good Thai food here.

On our second day in Bangkok we made our way via taxi and river boat, to the Grand Palace, former royal residence and current Buddhist temple. Cheryl has never been to Asia before and while I had been to the Grand Palace a couple of times, it was really fun to go there with someone who had never seen any Asian temples before. We wandered around the palace grounds, checked out the jade Buddha and the other lesser Buddhas, took tons of photos of the various buildings with their crazy, gilded, tiled walls and details, and then made our way down the road to the temple of the giant, reclining, gold Buddha. I don’t know if that’s it’s official name, but take a look at the photos, what would you call it? After that we were tired and hot so we made our way back to our hotel for a rest and then got up and headed to one of the night markets in Bangkok to try and find some food on a stick for dinner. The market we ended up at (via sky train) wasn’t terribly exciting so we ate at a Thai restaurant that we passed on the way, no tourists in sight, and pretty good Thai food. Then as we were walking from the sky train station back to the hotel, we passed the kazillionth road-side massage parlor and decided we needed foot massages. These massage places are EVERYWHERE, and they are CHEAP, and they are NOT fronts for prostitution (although there are plenty of those two, although not right where we’re staying). We were in a room that looked like a hair salon except instead of hair cutting stations, the room had a long row of reclining chairs with footstools in front of them. We plopped in chairs, side by side, and the little Thai ladies went to work on us. What we expected to be a one-hour foot massage turned out to be a one-hour foot, leg, shoulder, back, skull, arm, and hand massage – for $9.00. It was a much slower walk back from the sky train station than it had been to it.

The next day we left for Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a one hour flight north of Bangkok, a great town that had been recommended by friends who had been here; it’s main draw for us was a Thai cooking class that sounded like a lot of fun. We arrived Tuesday and spent most of the first day just wandering around town. We passed a bunch of temples, walked through some markets, found the cooking school we wanted and signed up for a class, came back to the hotel to rest, and then made our way to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar which is a bustling night-time market. Neither Cheryl nor I are much into shopping right now so it was fun to see the sights and the booths and all the crazy stuff for sale, but we didn’t buy anything, just ended up eating some pretty decent Indian food for dinner there ($6.00 for the two of us). On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at another road-side massage place and had much the same treatment as in Bangkok—a big open room, but thick, foam mats on the floor this time instead of recliners, some Australian dude on one side of me, Cheryl on the other, and again, tiny Thai ladies who started on our feet but worked their way up. This massage was more in the “Thai massage” style, in that it was very physical—basically the person giving you a massage is contorting your body into yoga poses while you lie there like a flounder. Frankly, this is the only way I ever want to do yoga. This was also a good massage experience but there was a bit too much chatter going on in the room for my taste. I like it quiet when someone is rubbing me all over. We paid $6.50 for an hour this time.

The next day was dedicated to the Thai Farm Cooking School. We were picked up from our hotel and driven about 30 minutes out of town to the school which is part of a small, organic farm. There are cooking stations for three classes of twelve students and we had a great time with all the people in our class. Our teacher’s name was Nice and she was a lovely young Thai woman who did a great job of conducting our class. One of the cool things about this particular class was that we got to choose the dishes we made from a small selection of options. Cheryl and I both made green curry with chicken, coconut milk soup with chicken, chicken with cashew nuts, pad Thai, and sticky rice with mangos. It was all delicious and fun – starting with our trip to the market where Nice gave us a tour of ingredients and shopped for our supplies. We were tired by the end of the day and since half our food was sent back with us as leftovers, we didn’t have to go out for dinner that night.

Which brings me to today… today we went to Tiger Kingdom. Cheryl has had a life-long dream to pet a tiger and here was the opportunity staring us in the face, how could we not? Tiger Kingdom is a place where you very simply pay to pet a tiger. You pay by size. I petted a small one ($15), Cheryl petted three different sizes ($30). And sure, arguments can be made that people should not be petting wild tigers, but the fact is these tigers are bred in captivity, raised by humans, are part of a zoo-breeding program, and exist in order to perpetuate the species. And yes, it’s possible that they’re all on giant doses of Xanax, and/or could rip our throats out at any given moment (Roy-style), but… we really wanted to pet a tiger, and managed to do so without getting maimed.

Tomorrow we head for the beach.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Galle Literary Festival, 2009 -- Part II

There wasn’t much I was interested in checking out on Saturday. I went down to the fest at about 11:30 to catch Colin Thurbron talking about his 7,000 mile journey from China to Turkey. Colin is an quietly entertaining speaker, very… British in his delivery, and a hell of a nice guy. After his talk I hung out with some of my friends, we wandered around the “Fort” area of Galle which is where almost all the festival venues were – it’s an old Dutch fort from the Dutch colonial times, with ramparts all the way around, fending off attacks by sea I suppose. Now the fort is mostly a tourist area with shops and restaurants. We wandered around, running into people we knew… Sumathi and Sophie, friends from Colombo, and Jess whom we had picked up along the way; she’s on a break from university in Australia and traveling around India and Sri Lanka for a month with her mother. We also ran into Ellen, and Melony and Tenzing, and about half a dozen other Colombo homies.

We made it back in time to see Edna O’Brien who was billed as “Ireland’s most famous living writer” or something like that. I wanted to read at least one book by one of the Lit Fest authors, and the one I got my hands on was one of Edna’s. It was good, no denying her ability as a writer, but her talk was a little confusing. She spoke for 45 minutes and it was like listening to Garrison Keillor on mushrooms. She rambled and ambled on and on, and I had no idea what the f she was saying. I talked to at least three other people afterwards who said the same thing. She had notes which she referred to, made quotes, brought up Dickinson and James Joyce, and closed with a poem about Obama, but seriously, I have no clue what she was going on about.

I went back to the hotel after that, back into the pool which I had to myself (LOVE the tiny hotels with just a few guests at a time!), and then my four-poster bed for a nap. The closing night party was Saturday night so I had to rest up. At about 10pm, my brother and Riyaz came to pick me up for the party which was at the Lighthouse Hotel, probably the most prominent hotel in the area and one of the major sponsors of the festival. The party was on a terrace which was pretty much the roof of the building and it was pretty rocking. Ran into more friends there whom I hadn’t seen at the festival, had several margaritas, danced until my shirt was soaked through, and finally shut the place down with Riyaz and Sunila (who was finally, FINALLY very nearly done with her massive task of getting this event over and done with) around 2.

Slept in Sunday, packed up, and caught a ride back to Colombo with my brother. There was another party for staff and volunteers back on Geoffrey’s island on Sunday night, but I was all partied out and decided to skip it and head back on Sunday afternoon.

I thought the festival was wonderful – it was a great combination of speakers and friends and beach vacation. Congratulations to everyone, especially Sunila, for putting on such a great show.

If anyone wants to see the entire festival line-up/program, you can do so at