Saturday, October 31, 2009


I love Halloween. This is my second in Thailand and, if you remember, they don't celebrate it nearly as much (mega bummer) I spent most of this week in class reading scary stories and doing halloween activities. It's great because I remember teachers in elementary school really getting into certain holidays and now it's come full circle.

Just wishing everyone an awesome Halloween.

Have a spooky one!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Oh man. Trang was a righteous vacation. We spent 3 solid days of jungle exploration and beach relaxin’ in a relatively uninhabited paradise. This is one of my longer posts so proceed with caution.

I’m not gonna say we came close to not going, but things were definitely more difficult than anticipated. When we last left our hero he was on the precipice of a tropical vacation but a train strike threatened to “derail” his holiday plans (sorry). Well, the strike did indeed quash our hopes of riding the night train down to Trang, but there is more than one way to get there. We decided to take a bus from the South Station. The only problems with that idea? Tickets have to be purchased at the station, can’t do it online; The station is an hour from the apartment and I don’t get off work till 5:00; It’ll be packed with travelers whose train tickets are now also no good; Also I still hadn’t packed… When we finally got to the South Station all the tickets were gone. This did not come as a surprise. We quickly busted out the map and started setting a new course. We weren’t sure where we were going but we knew we had to leave that night. Waiting for the next Trang bus in the morning would’ve cost us a whole day (it was around a 12 hr drive!) Dozens of options presented themselves. Phuket? Krabi? Where?! We decided on a town called Phattalung which was way East of Trang City but about equidistant to the scenic highway we planned on taking. Perfect! We’ll just rent motorbikes there instead of in Trang City and the itinerary will hardly change at all! We boarded our bus and besides the mandatory 3am stop at the roadside diner/snack shop/bathroom we had a pretty smooth ride.

Day 1
During the bus ride, we discussed how our trip was similar to some sort of ‘amazing race’ reality show: “Alright teams, you have 24 hours to get to a tropical beach in South Thailand BUT the train workers’ union just went on strike, AND there’s no more bus tickets to Trang tonight!” Well when we arrived in Phattalung, it kept getting more ridiculous. Phattalung is actually a pretty quiet town which receives almost no tourists. Thai or Farang. That said, they didn’t have a single place that rented motorbikes. Everyone we asked said that we had to go to Trang to rent anything. That’s not entirely true. Everyone we talked to began searching the train station for someone who spoke any English to help translate (AND there’re no motorbikes in the whole city, AND no-one speaks English (or cares that you speak Thai)) We eventually found out that our only option was to take a bus to Trang, but that bus left from a different bus station 10 minutes away. Only then could we get our bikes and start our trip. Luckily it was only 8am so we were still doing pretty good as far as time, and we were all still sleepy enough that this nonsense wasn’t fully soaking in. I’ll spare you the finer details of what happened next, but let’s just say it wasn’t much easier to rent the bikes once in Trang. We finally got underway and backtracked to the scenic road that took us south past tons of natural wonders. Aside from the already beautiful sky, mountains, and rubber tree farms, there were dozens of caves and waterfalls to see. We had big plans to get to the pier in La Ngoo before nightfall so we didn’t stop for everything but we did make two very radical stops. The first one was an unmarked cave that totally surprised us. From the road it just looked like a really cool little mountain so we went to check it out and the other side had a sweet little cave and running water. The second one was an enormous waterfall. Enormous. It wasn’t the big, freefall kind, but the kind that runs down a long steep cliff face. It was enormous and it as not easily accessible. Just like everything we explored, some trailblazing was required. The path was all washed out and swallowed up by vegetation on more than one occasion and we made most of the ascent within the riverbed itself. Scrambling on rocks and along tree trunks was a very cool way to get to the splash zone and made the view that much more enjoyable. As we stood in awe of the roaring waters and swan around in them, a giant cloud formed and descended down washed out part of the mountain until it sat right over us and preceded to soak us with one of those biblical rainstorms. We were already wet from the swim and our stuff was already sealed dry so we could just enjoy the storm as we made our way back to our bikes. We ended up spending a while at the waterfall and it was apparent we wouldn’t make it to La Ngoo that night. We opted to stay in a little town right on the coast called Pa Lian. It was already dark and we stumbled on a little place that had a couple bungalows and also cooked us dinner right on the water. We were pretty lucky because it’s still low season and lots of places to stay aren’t operational yet. The fact that we were Farangs traveling in remote places of Trang province was already weird enough that it blew most people’s minds, but it was compounded by the fact that it was the rainy season and they didn’t normally get tourists of any kind. Anyway, I had no problem falling asleep after such a busy day…

Day 2
I awoke to nice, fresh country air and a great enthusiasm to get back on the road. The pier at La Ngoo was still a fair drive and we wanted to catch the ferry as soon as possible. We oriented ourselves and were able to get aboard the noon ferry to Koh Lipe (lee-pay). Lipe was awesome. A handful of motorbikes and a tractor were the only land vehicles I saw. We spent the earlier part of our afternoon exploring the island, swimming around, and hanging out with a cool dog who joined our group somewhere in the forest. In all seriousness, the island is actually inhabited by Sea Gypsies who fish, hang out, and generally live a gypsy life. Chris brought a soccer ball and the gypsy kids around our bungalow loved it. When we got hungry, it was time to move. The whole island only had three interconnecting footpaths to get everywhere and our map looked pretty much like a treasure map. It even had treasure-map-quill-scrawl font. On our way we passed by a sign for a temple but to get there we had to go up some rocky stairs in between two huge boulders. That part wasn’t foreboding. The foreboding part was that both boulders had a giant black dog on top giving out a low growl. It was a lot like that scene from The Omen. We went up anyway and were treated to a very different scene than the temple’s guardians had projected. The place was FULL of baby animals. There were two litters of puppies, one of kitties, and a whole bunch of little chicks. Very adorable. It was tough to leave but hunger called. We began our search for restaurants by asking the question “Where’s the pool table” and were eventually pointed in the direction of a place that had very excellent pizza. This vacation was already unbelievably righteous and we hadn’t even started day three!

Day 3
Our trip had already gone Bangkok>Trang>Pa Lian>Koh Lipe. We had whittled down our contact with people to almost nothing. It was time to reach the ultimate. We contracted a fisherman to take us over to Koh Adong, an adjacent island that was almost all national park and had practically no one on it. The one guy we saw all morning was the guy who worked for the parks dept. and he just hung in his office and read charts. We decided to check out the waterfall on the island and began a cool hike up a mountain trail that had a view of crystal blue water almost the whole way. One thing that I kinda didn’t like was a big black hose running along the trail at times. I didn’t like it until I realized that the ‘trail’ we were walking along was actually more of a service road for the pipe that brought fresh water down from the top of the ‘fall and that made the path that much more genuine. We got to the top and did some more scrambling. The trail actually just went to the top and didn’t run along its path so we had to explore more. After a fair bit of exploration we headed back down to the beach to eat our lunches. We had a healthy picnic lunch of tuna fish sandwiches and chips and proceeded to lounge around on our beautiful private beach. We did a little swimming with some cool, florescent, pet-store fish and tried fishing with a reel we rented for the day from some guy on Lipe. Not a whole lot of luck fishing with the butt-ends of our loaf of bread but fun nonetheless. Upon all of that, we were treated to one of the all-time coolest sunsets I’ve ever seen. It was one of those where you can tell it’s gonna be awesome like 45 minutes before the sun even gets low so we just planted ourselves and soaked it in. No-one wanted to miss a minute of it so we didn’t go about finding a way off the island until it was dark. Luckily, one of the few people who live on the island was out fishing and actually placed a call to a guy with a boat who took us back to Lipe (he actually had his back turned to the sunset as he fished like it was no big deal!) After we got all cleaned up we went back for another shot at that delicious pizza and then went over to reggae bar (every island has a bar called reggae bar) where they had a beach performance. But instead of a guy twirling fireballs around to tribal drums, pretty standard on these southern islands, there was a guy swirling orbs of tranquil light in tune with the reggae. Very cool. It went very well with the sky which had more stars than I’ve seen in a long time.

Day 4
Ryan and I got up early to get the ferry back and start our long journey home. No problems except that we initially boarded the wrong 9am ferry and had to sprint 100 yards down the beach to a different 9am ferry that was already pulling away from the beach. (again!?) Luckily they saw us and we were able to get on. Once back on the mainland we had to get back to Trang to drop off the bikes so we set a course to head up the coast. We made one quick stop at another waterfall. This one had an elevated walkway to traverse the swamp and reach it, but the walkway was rotted out in a lot of places and a couple times we had to climb down and proceed on foot. We were pretty used to that by then. We returned the bikes with no problems and found our way to the bus station in plenty of time for our 5pm bus. The newspaper headlines in the station informed me that the train strike was now over (no joke) but we were pretty much already on the bus so we didn’t bother changing. It wasn’t a big deal anyway, I was so exhausted that I slept just fine, I just thought the timing was particularly funny. We got back to BKK around 4:30am Friday where I happily enjoyed one last day-off to readjust.

That was my Trang trip. Sorry it took so long to get this up here but I was waiting for pictures which aren’t all in yet. I’ll upload them in a second post soon. For now, here’s a pic of that sunset as a tease.

Much love,

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Trouble with Trains

If you recall, my Songkran trip to Chiang Mai coincided with massive protests in the capital and we just barely made it out of here on the last train before the blockades went up. Well, something similar threatens to ruin another holiday of mine. Ryan, Chris, Matt, and I had planned an awesome trip to Trang province way down in the south. It’s a tropical paradise with lots to see and do and it receives almost no farang tourists. Needless to say I was super excited for a 5-day vacation there. But now, not even 6 hours from my departure, the train worker’s union has staged a strike and it looks like there won’t be any trains heading south for a while. Bummer! It’s still the early stages of the strike and there’s a chance a few of the lines are still operating. But most people seem pretty pessimistic that it’s shut down completely. Worst case scenario we could just head North or East where trains are still running, but I’ve had my heart set on Trang for a while.

Here’s a link to the article. (Feel free to skip over any mention of “deadly derailments”)

Whether we manage to leave to Trang or not I’ll probably be off the grid for the next few days so don’t worry about the radio silence on this end. I come back on Friday arriving Saturday morning.

much love

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Balls of Fire

There is a strange phenomenon that happensevery year in North-East Thailand. During the first week in October, around the final day of Buddhist vassa, small fiery orbs shoot up out of the Mekong river and disappear into the night sky. The cool thing is that no one is really sure what they are or why this happens. Explanations range from combustable river sediment, to tracer fire, to the belief that they're caused by a great snake in the river. (That's how they got the name naga fireballs). I read about this a while ago and really wanted to get up to see it but by the time I noticed it again in the paper there wasn't enough time to take the train out to Nong Khai before the festival ended. Bummer. So anyway, here's a youtube clip of the fireballs in action. Enjoy.