PLANES, TRAINS, AUTOMOBILES - AND BOATS...

Trip Start Jan 12, 2003
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Trip End Dec 20, 2003


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Sunday, February 2, 2003

PLANES, TRAINS, AUTOMOBILES - AND BOATS...

Phetchaburi, a small city of about 40,000, sits slightly south of where the land mass of Thailand shrinks into a long arm descending south towards Malaysia, creating a vast shoreline against the Gulf of Thailand to the east, and a continuation of the Myanmar (Burma) land border to the west. A great place to visit some wats (Buddhist temple-monasteries) built as early as the 13th century, and it also made for a nice stopover for our journey south to the island of Ko Pha-Ngan. It was also our first experience with city monkeys. When planning this trip we thought, "No problem, a monkey now and then." But when you actually see them out on the town, running across the street, wrestling with each other on shop roofs, and dangling from high power lines, it sure is a strange feeling. Not to mention, we just knew they MUST be eyeing our fresh bag of pineapple! Soon it was obvious. The monkeys live with you, and you live with the monkeys. So be it.

On south we go via the train to the islands! Ko Pha-Ngan is a 190 square mile island in the southern Gulf of Thailand, approximately 40 miles offshore to the closest point of the mainland. The population is approximately 10,000 Thai residents, but upon arrival, you'd swear there are more foreigners than locals. And oh what a collection: hippies, young college students searching for a good party, tourists looking to get away from it all, and expats that once showed up and decided they had no reason to return to where they had came from. Sitting in a restaurant in the main town of Thong Sala, you'll hear conversations in countless languages. For each beach on the island that has development (in other words, a passable road leads there), several bungalow operations exist, typically complete with a restaurant. They may be quite basic or quite luxurious. We settled on the beach of Hat Salat on the north-western side of the island, and chose the more basic variety. How basic? Well, the pictures will give you an idea, but think Gilligan's Island, put the hut on stilts, add running cold water, and a mosquito net to keep away the nasties at night. It even came with a host of friends that we'd usually discover as one of us was preoccupied in the bathroom. First a small scorpion, followed by his buddy, the 4'' across hairy brown spider the next evening. On the last day, for good measure, a rather fat frog swimming in the bathroom bucket and the slightly smaller cousin of our spider friend - this guy was only 3'' across. Ahhh, nature! All this for less than $5 a day. But what we didn't mention were the 2 hammocks on the porch, the 200 yard span of beach which rarely had more than 10 people on it at any one time, coconut palms starting at the sand and rolling up the hillside, a small bay with calm blue waters, sunsets that make you forget all that is bad in the world, and telling time by the angle of the sun or where it shines on you while laying in your hammock. A little slice of paradise that we had for 6 days...and then we had to move on.

North again, on a night sleeper train, we made our way to Kanchanaburi, 80 miles west of Bangkok. The site of the infamous "Bridge on the River Kwai," and where the Japanese used Allied POWs to build what has been aptly titled The Death Railway during their march across Asia in World War II. All totaled, 16,000 POWs and 100,000 Southeast Asians died under horrible working conditions. A testament of history and where we have been as a human race. Turning from death to discos, Kanchanaburi is also well known for it's floating discos and karaoke bars. At first we thought these were simply pontoon platforms on the river moored to land. But imagine if you will, these platforms (they actually look like floating patios with a roof) being pulled up and down the river by another boat, blaring dance music and/or a slightly tipsy Thai crooning his best version of the latest Thai hits. In a word, bizarre. We awoke on our second day to the loud popping of firecrackers - the Chinese New Year had begun. Liz wanted to get up because drum beats of a "parade" had caught her attention. Alas, no parade. Just another floating disco on it's way up river at 8:30 in the morning.

A must note: Bless many Thai restauranteurs for developing menus with both Thai and English writing. We find these helpful when the stress of traveling about gets to you. However, on occasion, a little bit is lost in the translation or spelling. Our favorites so far have been the ever popular Preserved Garbage Salad and the always tasty Fried Water each at only 35 Baht.

So, after a true local's experience riding on the local bus lines along with 70 of our gracious Thai hosts and 3 or 4 chickens, all the while wondering just how many more they can squeeze on, we have arrived in the city of Ayuthaya. But, that will have to wait...

Until Next Time,

Jon and Liz
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