Archive for the ‘preparations’ Category

Luxury in Tulamben

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Yesterday afternoon, Jon and I arrived in Tulamben around half past four. The others were there already, lounging lazily in the lovely open livingroom of our huge villa. We had a nice little pool, a fantastic lawn, and the sea just beyond. We joined them in the good life until we were picked up for the dive at six. We entered the water right after sundown, and had a wonderful dive on the Liberty. At first sight of the wreck, there was a group of massive bumphead parrotfish, and the dive was filled with life from end to end. Before we went up, the last skill we had to demonstrate, was a 3 minute lights out while kneeling on the sand. The amount of luminescent algae was impressive, and being the total geek that I am, I was gesticulating and casting “fireballs” the whole time…

After dinner, we were driven back to the villa, where we emptied the minibars, joked and laughed. This morning there was breakfast next door, and then I had a long HOT shower in the classy roofless bathroom… πŸ˜€

We did two dives today as well, just for fun. The first dive was on the wreck, and the second one in Coral Garden. Now we are on our way back to Blue Season, and I’ll spend my last night in Bali at Leo’s.

Liftoff

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

When I returned to Norway in October, I stayed for a while on my friend Hallgeir’s couch in the basement, and then on a camping bed in my friend Oddi’s living room. Since then I’ve lived cheaply (for Stavanger) in a loft, paying NOK 3500 per month, wi-fi included.

I temped as a kindergarten assistant for three weeks, until I managed to land a job as administrative director in Varden church in Stavanger. It was demanding and challenging, as I’ve never had the responsibility of being anyone’s boss before, but rewarding as well, when I got things done.

On Wednesday I managed to gather a surprisingly large group of friends at The Irishman to say “screw you guys, I’m outta here.” Thursday I packed the rest of my stuff and headed to my parents’ place in Vanse, and Friday morning we drove to Arendal, where I’ve spent the weekend with them, my two youngest sisters, my grandparents and my aunt, uncle and cousin. My oldest sister took her husband and son to Paris this weekend, and tried to robb us of a 1-year birthday party, which we still celebrated, without the guest of honour! πŸ™‚

Right now I’m on a bus on my way to Torp airport, where RyanAir is hopefully flying me out to London Stansted at 13:55. I’m supposed to be there at 14:50 local time, and my AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur is scheduled for 23:20. I arrive in KL tomorrow night at 20:20 local time, spend the night, and leave again Thursday morning at 10:25. Arrival at my final destination, Bali, will be at 13:25 local time. My Instrucor Development Course (IDC) starts on Friday. Wish me luck!

This is posted from my iPhone, because I’ve managed to mess up my eeePC so it’s stopped working, in my attempt to reinstall XP. πŸ™ In the desperate attempt to fix it in my sleep deprived state in the wee hours of this morning, I just made matters worse, by fumbling a format of the thumb drive I was trying to install from, and instead accidentally formatting my external hard drive… I saw that I’d entered the wrong drive letter a fraction of a second after I’d pressed OK, and would’ve wept a river if my eyes hadn’t been all dried up after hours of futile labour…

Nevertheless, I greet all those who remain in the frozen, snowy hell that is Norway with a wide grin and a hearty “SO LONG, SUCKERS!” πŸ˜€

Uncle travelling Gjerulf is dusting off his sandals

Monday, February 15th, 2010

The next chapter in the story of Uncle Travelling Gjerulf starts soon… keep an eye out for updates in the weeks and months to come!

Farewell Perhentians and Sunlight Divers

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Uncle Travelling Gjerulf will travel once again! I have lived in Moonlight Chalets on Long Beach on Perhentian Kecil for two months and ten days, but tomorrow morning I head out to Taman Negara. The boat leaves the island at eight, and my bus from Kuala Besut to Taman Negara leaves at ten, and if we keep to the schedule I’ll arrive around four pm. That means that most of my birthday will be spent travelling, but that is only fitting. πŸ™‚ I haven’t decided how long I’ll be staying in Taman Negara, but I’d like to do a proper jungle trek, so possibly a week. After that I head out to Kuala Lumpur.

As for the the snorkel test, I survived, although my rib came out the other end a little worse for wear… The first thing we had to do was get dressed up in clothes that were supplied by the instructors. We then had a quiz about obscure diving knowledge, where for every question not answered, or answered wrong, we’d have a shot of monkey juice. (Orang Utan, a local fortified wine) Then came some charades where the three of us were miming different fish, and competing against everyone else, with the punishment for us if the others guessed it first being another shot of the monkey. This was followed by an obstacle course on the beach, and finally the snorkelling itself. The mix was evil, but Rich spared us his home brew, so we all survived. The rib, which I’ve kept bruising when it’s just about healed, bruised up in the end of the obstacle course, where we had to wrestle our way past the instructors to get to the finish line… πŸ˜›

I love the island, and the crew here, so I’ll be back!

Boat trip to The Beach

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

For those who were wondering;I still don’t have a tattoo. I came to the conclusion that I want to try it in Henna or something before I do the real thing, to find out whether it looks the way I want on me. πŸ™‚

On Sunday night we went to watch Farang kicking the shit out of each other Muay Thai style at the Reggae bar, and while I was sitting there, craning my neck to see the fights, my neck and shoulders started hurting. It just got worse, so I took a relatively early night, and headed out to get a massage first thing Monday morning. I was looking for a place where I could get a cheap head-neck-shoulder massage in a calm environment, so when I found a nice, quiet place with relaxing music, I asked what I’d have to pay for that kind of massage. The woman kept saying “Full Body Massage 600 Baht,” so I thought she didn’t understand me, but when the masseur came out, they quickly conferred with each other, and told me I could get it for 300. The guy started massaging my back and neck, and then reached under my belly and massaged my stomach. He said “mhm, aha” and declared that he knew why my shoulders hurt; I had gas… It might have been a trick to make me pay more, but it was true that I was a little upset in the stomach, so I decided to trust him. I had a long, painful and uncomfortable massage where he mostly was standing on me massaging with his feet, and at the end he gave me lukewarm water and a herbal laxative. It worked after a couple of hours, and the pain has not returned. πŸ™‚ Money well spent!
I headed out to a beach bar called Sunflower, where they were supposed to have WiFi, but they didn’t, so I instead spent a few hours editing my underwater photos from my first two dives. Resetting the white balance made them look a lot more like what it actually looks like under water! That night I danced on the beach until the wee hours of the morning, and slept like a baby for a long time.

On Tuesday Helena and I rented a kayak, and headed toward Monkey Beach. We saw it, but saw no monkeys, so we crossed the bay to the south, and stopped for snorkling on a small beach where we met some other kayakers. Then we headed further south, and found a big, deserted beach where we went looking for coconuts to have for lunch. It seemed to be regularly searched, though, cause we found no ripe nuts on the ground. We headed back, and got in a half hour too late, right as the sun set. After dinner, we stopped in at a bar where they were showing Iron Man. It was nice to just sit and watch a movie, it’s been a long time…

Wednesday we rented a kayak again, and this time brought the camera. We went out to the same small beach for snorkling, and stayed there until the sun went behind a pinnacle, and headed back to the bay. We stopped for sunset on a rocky outcrop in the bay, and got some nice pictures. As we were taking the kayak back in the water, I slipped and cut my right foot right under the ankle on a rock, and it was bleeding a lot. By the time we got back, the bottom of the kayak was full of blood and water, and I was making bloody tracks all the way to our room. When I was cleaning out the wound, I saw that it was about six centimetres long, pretty deep, and I could see my pulse in there… it had gone straight through all the skin, about half a centimeter, and then started skinning me up the foot a little less than a centimeter. I didn’t want to go get it stitched up, although I probably should have. Instead I bought some strips specially made for closing deep cuts, pulled the edges together, and Helena put the strips on. I closed it in with a lot of gauze and medical tape, and headed out to dinner, and then bought tickets for a sigtseeing boat trip the next day. When I came back it had bled through all the gauze and run down my foot, so I was again making blood tracks along the island… I figured there should be no more walking for me that evening, so I changed the bandage and applied more iodine gel, and we watched American Dad and Mythbusters on my laptop.

On Thursday the longtail-boat-trip started at eleven, and we went out to Monkey Beach. I’d brought the camera, so we were filming along the way. There were loads of monkeys, drinking water out of bottles, coke out of glasses and beer out of cans, and eating the bananas and bread people brought them. I must say I don’t feel quite comfortable with feeding wild animals like that, and giving them beer and coca cola is just plain wrong!

On the way to our next stop, Phi Leh Bay, we went past the so-called Viking Cave, which is off limits because they collect birds’ nests there for bird’s nest soup… We swam in Phi Leh Bay, and my bandage fell off my foot… the strips stayed on though, so the woundΒ  didn’t open up. I took the chance of snorkling in the next bay as well, and then we stopped for an hour on The Beach, officially named Ma Ya Beach, but famous for the twenty seconds it featured in the movie “The Beach”…
Lunch was taken on The Beach, and then we stopped for snorkling on Shark Point, before we headed north to Bamboo Island. Both that Island and Phi Phi Leh, where Ma Ya Beach is, are part of the Phi Phi Marine National Park, but the park entry fee was covered by our boat ticket, so we could walk around. On the way back to Phi Phi Don, we stopped for more snorkling, and then on the tip of the island for sunset. The waves were large-ish, so it was difficult to take pictures and film, but I managed to get some good sunset shots. I now have WAY too many sunset pictures… πŸ˜‰

Yesterday we spent chilling out, and I was planning to not get my foot wet, but I had to give in and head to the beach, so I put a sock on my foot, and we waded out to a raft tied a little off the beach. We stayed there sleeping, reading and writing for a long time, and after dinner we took the camera around to get some good pictures of things we want to remember from the island, like Song who makes the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had, and Muzh who makes killer fruit shakes. πŸ™‚ We were planning to take pictures of us fighting with a cute little three-year-old who lives next to Adventure Club diving… He is always around, always trying to fight Muay Thai with us, but not that night, so we’ll have to try again. He has the best hair cut ever, shaved head except from a circle in the back, where he has a whip! Aksel, a German diving instructer who Helena took her courses with, has taught him something that the thai ladies around don’t much like; if the kid is playing with a girl or woman, Aksel says “Num!” to the kid, and the cute little boy grabs a handful of boob! -I suspect num means breast in Thai- πŸ˜€
We had a lot of fun telling the kid NUM! when Helena was fighting with him. πŸ˜‰ Helena is almost as tall as I am, so the kid was standing on the tips of his toes trying to reach, but I suspect with the thai women he’s even more of a nuisance, since many of them are almost a head shorter than her…

We also booked a dive trip last night, and this morning we got up early and went for two dives. The diving is still fantastic, and it was Helena’s first fun dives, so she was really eager. πŸ™‚ On the second dive we again saw two Leopard sharks lounging on the bottom. They are magnificent creatures!

Tomorrow I am planning to book a ticket to Malaysia, and head off to Pulau Perhentian someday soon. Helena is staying a few days longer, because she’s really hit it off with Tim the German, and then she’s planning to come join me in Perhentian for some more diving. Fingers crossed that I can find a place where they need a divemaster, so I can get a job once I’m done with my course.

Shabbath Shalom in Koh Pha Ngan

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

On Tuesday Lucas left for Koh Tao, and Helena’s roommate left as well, so we’ve been sharing the room Lucas and I had in the Israeli guest house. We rented a motorbike on Tuesday afternoon, and headed out to find some waterfalls. The bike was crappy and the roads were worse, and the first gear kept slipping when the hills got too steep, so every once in a while the one that wasn’t driving had to get off the bike and walk up the hill… We still headed north to look for Than Prawes waterfall, but when we couldn’t find it, and the locals had sent us on a couple of wild goose chases, we turned back south to find some other waterfalls. We got to Thong Nang waterfall, and were rather unimpressed, but we had a little dip in a shallow pond to cool off before continuing. The next waterfall we came to was Saampan, a couple of kilometers further down the road-cum-dried-up-riverbed. Although the waterfall wasn’t impressive or spectacular in any way, it was a lot of fun! The river, which technically isn’t more than a stream this time of year, gathered up in a narrow cleft, where it plunges down intoΒ  a pool, where you can sit and let the water massage your head and back. Below a couple smaller “steps” where you can sit, is a deep pond where you can swim, and around it there are nice rocks to lie down and relax on. The whole place is surrounded by green jungle, and when the sun started to set, dragonflies were zooming around everywhere. Beautiful. On the way back we stopped at a local restaurant for dinner high up in the hillside, and lay on pillows by a low table on the balcony, watching a thunderstorm over Koh Samui, the neighbouring island to the south.
Late at night, we got a spur of the moment idea to head out and see if the pool party at Coral Bungalows was all that it was cracked up to be, and seeing as it was all that, the plans of an early night and early next morning melted away like a snowman at a pool party. πŸ˜‰

The next day we decided to hand back the ratty moped, and instead rented a scooter from a different company. It was a lot newer, a little stronger, and a lot more comfortable to drive, as it was an automatic. It took us up and down the ridiculously steep and winding road, as we headed past Saampan waterfall and out to the sea at Ao Thong Reng. To my surprise, the coast there looked a lot like the coast along southern Norway, with rounded rocks lining the sea. We found a place out of sight of everyone and everything, and after a long swim, just lay there reading and sleeping until almost sunset, and we had to return quickly, before it got too dark to see the deep gouges left by heavy rains, crisscrossing the road crossing the island. Dinner was taken at the same restaurant, watching that night’s lightning show.

On Thursday we headed all the way up north, since we’d heard of some good snorkling there. We rented masks, snorkels and fins in Baan Chaloklum, and were directed by the nice lady in the dive shop, to Haad Khom, Coral Bay. It certainly lived up to it’s name, and we spent hours floating around the clear water in the bay. We saw a couple of boats come in, some snorklers whisped around for a half hour, and then they were off again. We kept congratulating ourselves on having made the right choice, seeing as we’d paid way less money, had way more freedom than the people on the boat. The road up there was even quite good, and our trusty scooter took us there fast as the wind. πŸ™‚ We saw striped fish, bright blue fish, neon-rainbow coloured fish, leopard spotted fish, green corals, red corals, brown corals, spiky corals, soft corals, in such a great variety that I have to say it’s my best snorkling so far. On the way back, we stopped at the night market in Baan Thong Sala where we had some grilled squid on a stick, a grilled cob of corn, and an absolutely brilliant Pad Thai. We got a little basket, and filled it with the ingredients we wanted, then the chef prepared it while we waited. It was fantastically tasty!

On Friday when we got up and paid for the room, Levi, one of the guys who runs the guest house asked if we wanted to join them for the Sabbath meal that night, and we accepted. We then tried to reach Ao Haad Khuat, Bottle Beach, on the crummy roads across the island, but when we were about a kilometer away, we reached a point where the scooter was unable to cross the bumps and loose sand. We were too high up in the hillside to consider leaving the scooter there and walking the rest of the way in the oppressive heat, so we had to turn back. Instead we went to Ao Thong Nai Pan Yai, where we spent some hours in the sun and then some in hammocks in the shade. When we were ready to leave, we wanted to stop by the Saampan waterfall again, and do some filming, since I’d finally remembered to bring my camera. We also filmed a little while we were looking for the road to take us to the waterfall along the coast, but again the road was impassable unless you had a 250cc off roader or better which was exactly what our scooter wasn’t. We still went there the long way around, and when we returned to Haad Rin, and our guest house, it was almost time for dinner.

Some jewish travellers had gathered there for the Shabbath Shalom, the meal, all with their little hats on the backs of their heads, and Levi started the meal by saying a prayer, breaking the bread, and handing out pieces of bread dipped in salt. We then got a taste of wine, and then the meal started. Out came more and more dishes, different fish dishes, meat balls, chicken, salad, loads of sauces, and we ate until we couldn’t eat any more. Then there was a shot of Sambuca, a whole lot of Mazel Tov’ing, and the guests started leaving. I noticed that all the smokers went outside to smoke, even though they usually smoke inside in that restaurant, and one of the jewish guys told me it was because they didn’t want to break the rule of the Sabbath of not lighting a light, i.e. cigarette lighter, INSIDE the house, so they went outside. The guy who told me this was from Stavanger, which strengthens my view that our planet is really the size of a small town…

This morning, Saturday, we left for Kho Tao. On the boat getting here, I spoke to a lot of Scuba divers, and we are currently staying in a dive resort. Helena is considering taking her Open Water certificate here, and I have thought about doing my Dive Master here, but none of us have quite decided. Malaysia is supposed to be cheaper for diving, and one of the guys I spoke to on the boat told me that Perhentian in north east Malaysia he met a couple of girls who did their DM on an internship, without paying for it. That’s what I want to do. They say they have an internship here as well, so I’ll check into it, and find out how long I have to stay here for if they do. I also want to do some dives here to see if it’s worth staying a few months, or if I’ll get bored with the dive sites in the first couple of weeks…

Full Moon Party in Koh Pha Ngan

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Friday night I took the night bus from Bangkok to Chumporn, and the boat from there to Koh Pha Ngan. I walked around for a bit, looking for a guest house, but all I could find was way too expensive, so I was preparing to find a place to store my luggage and just sleep on the beach, when I found a place that had bungalows at a price that wasn’t blood curdling… I had just checked in, when another traveller in the same situation came walking up. He was a bit put off by the price, and I suggested we share a bungalow, seeing ass they all had two beds anyway. His name is Lucas, he’s from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, but has been living the last seven years in London. He’s a fun guy, friendly and outgoing and flamboyantly gay. πŸ˜›

The atmosphere here is a little like Vang Vieng, with lots of people out to party, but it’s both a bit less laid back and has a bit older crowd, i.e. more people my age… The reason why I came here was the full moon party last night, and it was a lot of fun. πŸ™‚ All the guest houses and restaurants along the beach rig up with bars and music and lights on the beach itself, and the whole beach is crammed with people dancing, eating, drinking or just sitting around talking. I met Helena again, that I went sightseeing in Vientiane with, Lucas attracted both girls and gay guys, and we ended up being a big group of people having fun together. I’ve also seen a few other people that I’ve met around South East Asia, but not as many as expected. The party was even bigger than I’d expected, apparently tens of thousands of people, and the chances of meeting people again in such a throng are not very great.

This morning we watched the sunrise on the beach, and then went to bed for a few hours before we had to check out. We found an even cheaper place to stay, at an Israeli guest house, and have moved there now. Lucas is really happy that it has aircon, but I’m afraid I’ll get a cold again… Today has been spent like the last two days, lounging on the beach, and my nose is peeling from too much sun. I am generally good at remembering the spf, but on the boat out here it was packed in my big backpack, and I spent all three hours of the crossing on deck, which was a thoroughly stupid thing to do. The water is so warm here that it doesn’t really cool you down very much, so people spend hours on end in the sea. It feels nice, but it’s not helping my sunburn, seeing as there’s no shade out there… πŸ˜›

Tonight I am planning to head to bed early, and tomorrow I might rent a moped and drive around the island. There are supposed to be some nice beaches away from the crowds out on the east side of the island, so I’ll try to find one of them and relax with my new book. I couldn’t find any of the books I was looking for in the book exchange store I went to, so I decided on a classic, Anna Karenina. I am looking into doing an internship for my Dive Master course, but I’m not sure where I’ll end up. I hope to find something out on Koh Similian or Koh Phi Phi, because those islands have the best dive sites in Thailand, but I’m also trying to find out about diving in Malaysia.

Bangkok stopover

Friday, June 5th, 2009

On Tuesday Hannah and I rented bicycles and headed south on Don Det, to the old railway bridge connecting it with the larger island of Don Khon. We rode past the remains of a small, old French locomotive, and west out to the Tat Somphamit waterfalls. The part of the Mekong that runs west of the islands comes crashing down through rocky canyons, and the mighty river, that has turned brown with the tons of silt washed out by the rains now in the rainy season, roars with a deep bass that resonates with something deep inside the stomach. It was a truly breathtaking experience! From there we cycled south, to a much lauded beach that turned out to be a smelly stretch of dirty, brown sand, where we stopped for a soda in the heat. We turned our bikes east on a small dirt path, until we reached the course of the old railroad again. The French built the little stretch of rails to transport goods from boats downstream of the waterfalls to the boats waiting to take them further upstream to Vientiane and beyond, but now the rails are gone, and we bumped south on the coarse gravel on which the tracks used to lie. My travel guide informs me that the government is talking about restoring the little railroad, but warns me not to hold my breath waiting…

We reached the tiny village of Ban Hang Khon at the south tip of the island, and across the river was Cambodia. It is possible to rent a boat to go out and try to spot the rare Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins, but like in Lake Baikal it was both too expensive and also the wrong season to go fresh water dolphin spotting… Instead we turned back north, and followed the eastern edge of Don Khon up to Don Khon Village. We stopped for a late lunch, and while we were sitting there, a mighty rainshower turned the road to mud, which the scorching hot sun turned dry again before long. Back in our guest house on Don Det, Mama Tan Orn’s Rasta Cafe and Guest House, the rest of the day was spent in exactly the way we came to the four thousand islands for to begin with: In hammocks with our respective books. πŸ™‚

On Wednesday Hannah had to catch the boat and bus back to Vientiane to pick up her new passport from the Australian Embassy. She left at eleven, and shortly after I went to enquire about tickets to go to southern Thailand. I found that the best way would be to just buy a bus ticket to Ubon Ratchatani, and find my own way to the railway station and buy a ticket on the night train to Bangkok from there. For lunch I went to a bakery run jointly by a Laotian family and a man from Australia that has some amazing cinnamon rolls for next to nothing. I sat there for hours, reading, until an incredibly fierce rainshower crashed down over us, while the sun was still shiningΒ  just as strongly as always. After about three minutes it stopped as abruptly as it had started, and it was difficult to comprehend how much it had rained just seconds earlier! The only other customer and I looked unbelievingly at each other, and simultaneously exclaimed “That was unreal!”

We got to talking, and discussed what was worth doing on the islands. Her name was Lisa, she was from Germany, and she’d rented a bicycle that morning, but hadn’t found the waterfalls. I told her where they were, and that they were worth an extra trip out there. We figured that there was just enough time to go out there and back again before it would get dark, so off we went in a hurry. While we were out at the waterfalls it started raining so hard that when we found shelter after a couple of minutes I could wring several deciliters of water out of my T-shirt… The only other traveller out there so late was Kaye from England, who was hoping to get some video shots of the sunset over the waterfalls. She wants to be a TV announcer, and was using her travels as an opportunity to compile a show-reel to send with her applications when she returns home, and I remembered seeing her filming herself buying a donut in the bakery earlier that day. We all waited out the rain, but there was no sunset to film. The three of us headed back to Don Det together as it was getting dark, and then went out for dinner together. Kaye was tired, and went to bed early, and Lisa was leaving for Cambodia early the next morning, but we stayed on the back porch of my guest house until almost midnight anyway, because she wanted to see some photos from Nepal, as she was thinking of going there later.

Yesterday morning I bought the bus ticket I’d forgotten all about the night before, and had breakfast with Kaye in the bakery before I went to the pier to take the boat to the mainland. From there I went to Pakse in a minibus, and from Pakse across the border on a VIP bus. We arrived at the border just too late to change our Laotian Kip into Thai Baht, and the bus driver offered a totally unacceptable rate, so I got in a sawngthaew, a pick-up truck with two benches along the sides in the back, to go to the train station, hoping to be able to exchange there. I got to talking to a Lao man who spoke incredibly good English on the truck, and he told me there were no places that would accept Lao Kip anywhere outside of Laos and it’s borders. I almost considered going back to the bus station to make the change with the greedy bus driver, even though that would mean missing my train, because I had way to much Kip left to let it slide, when the guy offered to buy the Kip from me! We looked up the going rate online on his palmtop, and I insisted on giving him a slightly more favorable rate, seeing as he had just saved me from a much greater loss. I find that the people around south east Asia are extremely friendly and helpful, it’s just too bad that communication is so difficult when I don’t speak their language, and very few of them can speak enough English to communicate properly!

The train ticket was cheap, and I bought the cheapest option with a bed, second class with fan, upper bunk, but I couldn’t buy a ticket all the way to Suratani, where the boat to Koh Pha-Ngan leaves from, I would have to buy the Bangkok-Suratani ticket in Bangkok. I spent some time in the restaurant car, and had several “conversations” with Thai people who spoke no more than five words of English between them, but insisted I sit down and share their food and have a glass of Thai beer with ice. πŸ™‚ When the restaurant car closed at 22hrs, I went to bed, watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica on my laptop, and slept like a baby until the conductor woke me up at 7:25, five minutes before we rolled into Bangkok station.

When I got to the ticket counter there, it turned out that because of the upcoming full moon party, all the trains were fully booked… I went instead to a travel agency, that managed to find an available seat on a night bus, with the boat ticket included. The bus doesn’t leave Bangkok till seven pm, which meant I had over ten hours to kill in Bangkok. I used the facilities in the train station to brush my teeth and have a shave, before I caught the subway out to Lumpini park, where I had breakfast at the food court. A very outgoing lady there wanted to serve me a Herbalife shake for breakfast, but laughed with me when I broke out in laughter at the thought of ME drinking a weight-loss shake when what I really needed was something that would put some meat back on my rather lanky frame… πŸ˜› It’s funny how when I travel, I loose weight even when I feel I do nothing but eat!

The lady showed me where the best food in the food court was, and pointed out her favorites, all the while talking about her friend in Bergen, and her involvment in CISV, Children’s International Summer Villages. I got her card, and she urged me to try volunteering for CISV when I return to Norway. After breakfast, I walked around the park for a while, looking at the wealthy and bored Bangkokians working out, or just enjoying a morning stroll in the painstakingly trimmed green lung in the middle of this smoggy metropolis. It is weird to think that only a few hundred meters away, people are struggling to eke out a living in the squallor of Bangkok’s slums…
When I came out of the park, a Tuk-Tuk driver immediately pulled up, as I was rifling through my Lonely Planet guide to come up with something else to pass the time. He asked me where I wanted to go, and looked a little confused when I said I didn’t know… A little explanation later, he understood my situation, and suggested to give me a tour of the main sights. I lied and said that I’d seen them all, and was just looking for a way to while away eight more hours. For some reason, Bangkok is not a city where I feel the need to see the temples, pagodas and museums, but I didn’t think I would be able to make him understand, seeing as I don’t really understand it myself. It’s just something about the city that tells me to observe the things that I accidentally come across, instead of seeking out the sights. The driver pointed out a couple of things within walking distance, wished me luck and a good journey, and drove off in search of people with a little more specific goals for the day…

I walked aimlessly up wide boulevards with noisy, polluting traffic and down narrow alleys with exotic, but by now familiar smells coming from the food stalls lining them, until I happened upon a Starbucks… I haven’t been to Starbucks since Xian in China around Christmas time, so I decided to treat myself to a Grande of Today’s special coffee, and surf the net. It turned out I have to pay for the web access, but the Columbian blend was completely worth it, although it cost twice as much as my entire breakfast in the park… I have gotten to actually enjoy the ice coffee with sweet condensed milk that’s served in street stalls and small side walk cafes, but a nice, hot cup o’ joe, black as sin and bitter as an old widower, consumed sitting feet-up on a soft leather couch in an airconditioned Starbucks is a luxury I’m thoroughly enjoying, and charging my laptop while I’m at it is an added bonus. πŸ˜‰

Here’s hoping there’re rooms available in Koh Pha-Ngan tomorrow, so I don’t have to sleep on the beach. πŸ˜›

Four thousand islands in the Mekong river

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

On Thursday I got up early-ish, and headed out to the Thai embassy to get a visa. They are giving away 60 day visas until June 4, so I figured I’d take advantage of that. In the visa office I met a Norwegian-Swedish girl called Helena who stayed at the same guest house as me, and that I’d spoken to a bit the night before. It was a looong wait to get to the counter where I handed in my application and my passport, and then an almost equally long wait to the next counter where I got a receipt for it. We talked most of the time, and decided to do some sightseeing once we got out of there. We first went to see the golden stupa, Pha That Luang, which is a symbol of Laos both nationally and religiously, but it wasn’t all that impressive, to be honest. The best part of it was that we met a couple of monks that were sitting around studying English and Japanese, and they wanted to talk to us to practice their English. Helena had recently studied Japanese for a few months, so they accidentally got to practice their Japanese as well, while all I said was wakarimasen, I don’t understand… πŸ˜›
On the way back we went through the Patuxai, which is a symbol of peace, but looks like the Arc de Triomphe. We stopped by Wat Si Saket as well, which was the only temple to survive the Siamese sacking of Vientiane in 1828, but it was closed, so we didn’t get in. We had dinner at an outdoor restaurant by the Mekong, where I ordered Mekong fish, and got a giant barbequed fish
on my plate, with some stickyrice on the side. πŸ™‚

The next morning we met at breakfast in the guest house, and both had to go pick up our passports with the Thai visas, so we stuck together again. We stopped for lunch on the way, and almost got to the embassy to late. It was open till 3pm, and we got there at 2:59, but with the result that we were in and back out in less than a minute! That night we went out with two Brits and an Australian, to the same place at the Mekong riverfront. Me and Helena were planning to pick up dinner at the night market, but since the others were eating there, I couldn’t resist getting what they called a “hatched egg”, which basically means a boiled egg with a foetus inside… It looked thoroughly disgusting, but it tasted like a hard boiled egg. For dinner at the night market I picked up some beef jerkey, fried rice, a really nice sausage, something that turned out to be herbs and liver in an intestine, and a bag of deep fried beetles that looked like giant stink bugs… πŸ˜› The food was good, but the beetle-snack was just salty and dry as dust, so I passed the bag around, and a Swedish guy ended up finishing it!

That night I got to talking to an Australian girl, Hannah, in my dormitory, who’d lost her passport and had been in Vientiane waiting for a new one for nine days. I told her I wanted to go out to Phu Khao Khuai National Park to go Elephant spotting, and she asked if she could come, so Saturday morning the two of us took a local bus out to the park, and a Tuk-Tuk to the nearest village, Ban Na. We found the office, had lunch, and headed out into the park. After a few kilometers we reached the Elephant Observation Tower, where we were going to spend the night with our two guides. They were two “for our protection”, but armed with flip-flops and umbrellas I’m not entirely sure they could do much than try to distract any giant pachyderm trying to attack us… We had a dip in the water hole where the elephants come to drink, and then settled in for a night of Elephant spotting. The tower is built right on a salt lick where they come to add some much needed minerals to their diet, by licking the salty rocks. It was a gorgeous night in the jungle, but the closest we got to wild elephants was a prodigious snort deep in the woods.

Sunday morning we headed out for a trek, and saw where the elephants had gone through last night. We went to a beautiful waterfall where we were playing around in the water for a while, and when we got back up, our things were literally COVERED in butterflies! I had to shake them off my camera bag to get out my camera, and it was hard to get good pictures, since they kept landing on the camera while I was trying to photograph them. When we were packing up to leave again, I had to wave the butterflies out of my backpack, camerabag and shoes… We stopped for lunch by another stream, and had another dip there to cool off in the killingly hot and damp jungle. A cool thing about that stream was that some of the water went under a ledge, and came bubbling out of a hole further down the stream, so it was like a natural jacuzzi!
We were back at Ban Na village a little before 3pm, and walked out to the river to catch a bus south to a place in the Mekong river called the four thousand islands. At a quarter to four a bus came past that was going to Pakse, and we got on it. Twelve hours later, we arrived in Pakse, where we had to wait for three hours before we could get a bus to Si Phan Don, the Four Thousand Islands. From the bus we got a ride on motorbikes down to the river, and then on a longboat across to the island of Don Det. We arrived at 11am, on Monday morning, a good 19 hours after we left… Needless to say, Monday was not a very active day on our part, we spent most of it in the hammocks on the terrace in our guest house, which is built on stilts over the edge of the Mekong. Here I met some Dutch girls that I spoke to in Vang Vieng, and that I might meet up with in Koh Panang on Sunday. This morning we’re planning to rent bicycles and go around the island of Don Det, and cross the bridge to Don Khon. Hannah has to go back to Vientiane tomorrow morning to pick up her new passport, while I’m staying another day before I head back to Thailand, and down south to the islands. The idea is to get to Koh Panang in time for the full moon party, the biggest beach party in the world. A lot of the travellers in South East Asia try to catch one of those while they’re here, and I expect to meet quite a few of the people I’ve met around the place in the past couple of months. πŸ™‚

May 17 in Pattaya

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

May 15

I reached a decision as to where to head next on Wednesday, and bought a bus ticket to Bangkok for the following morning. The dreaded road from Siem Reap to the Thai border has been renewed, and is now one of the best roads I’ve seen in months. The border crossing was long, hot and tedious, and the wait for our connection from the border into Bangkok was just as bad, but around 6pm we were finally there. I tagged along with some other travellers from the same bus, and we found a cheap guest house in the pouring rain. The rainy season is just on time, and at least a shower is to be expected every afternoon, but that doesn’t make it any colder, only more wet… πŸ˜›

This morning we all went out for breakfast together, before I started looking for a way to get to Pattaya. A crowded inner city bus took me from the backpacker area around Khao San Road to Siam Square, and from there I got on the Sky Train. It’s been over six years since the last time I was riding that same line to my then hotel on Sukhumvit Road, with the aircon blasting, and an ingratiating female voice announcing the stations, my favorite being NANA, pronounced in a distinctive nasal voice… I got off next to the bus staion on Ekkamai, bought a ticket, and was on the bus about ten minutes later.

Last night I did a CouchSearch, and put out a request for a couch in Pattaya. When I arrived here, I found a place where I could use the net, Viking hotel and restaurant, and found to my surprise that the request went through, on such short notice! One of the girls working here let me borrow her cell to call the guy, and now I’m expecting him here in a few minutes.

Tomorrow I guess I’ll see if I can find the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, and on Sunday I’ll be celebrating there, with the Norwegian community here. I’m curious to see what it’ll be like, I’ve never been to an official celebration the Norwegian National Day outside of Norway before. When I lived in Italy we’d get together for a breakfast and some waving of flags, but here I’ve read they even have a march! πŸ™‚ For all of you back home, enjoy the weekend, and have a good 17th of May, hipp hipp hurra!

May 16

So. Things don’t always work out as planned. The couchsurfer I was going to stay with showed up, but he had a Thai girl with him, and said I couldn’t come because she was going to stay with him. We went out for dinner, I met a couple of his friends, and I checked into a crappy guest house instead. Pattaya is known for the sex tourists coming here, but I had no idea to what degree before I got here. One of the couchsurfers’ friends was showing me around, since my host was “busy”, and the friend stated quite matter-of-factly that he’d slept with 20 girls in the past 10 days, but he did not consider himself a sex tourist, since he didn’t go with girls that wanted payment, only the opportunists looking for a rich husband. He was in his mid-thirties, doing his job over the net, and doing quite well for himself, so he put himself in a different category than the retired old men who come here for whores. Like he said, “they know that I’m only in it for the sex, and I know that they’re only looking to land a rich, western husband or lover and benefactor, so the playing field is level and we both know the rules…” He did not appear to have any qualms about taking advantage of the fact that these girls have only that one chance to find a way out of poverty, or even considering himself to be taking advantage of it. He was an otherwise nice guy, and wanted to show me more of the city today, but I didn’t know if I could take another evening talking to someone with opinions that deluded, so I claimed to have plans…

I found out in other ways too, why the Thais in Bangkok that I asked about how to get to Pattaya looked confusedly at me and wondered if I was sure I wanted to go there… There are at least two “Go go bars” or strip clubs on every street. The pubs that aren’t strip joints, have “bar-girls”, pretty girls who hang around and shout lewd suggestions at people walking by, or physically ambush them, to get them into the pub.Β  There are at least three massage parlors on every street, and two of them will offer a “happy ending.” The staff at any kind of establishment will also offer other services, like this example from yesterday: I needed to do some laundry, so I took a bag of my dirty clothes to a place that offered laundry service. One of the women working there sorted through the clothes, told me how much it would cost to clean and also wanted to know if I’d like to have sex with her while the clothes were being washed!

This morning I checked out of my guest house because it smelled too much of mould in the room, seeing as it had no window, except one facing the hallway… At noon I headed over to the church for the Saturday Rice Porridge, and met some of the people who live here. There were a lot of retired people, as I had expected, but also a couple of other backpackers, here to celebrate May 17 as well. I asked one of the volunteers there if there were any decent but cheap places to stay, and she was going to show the three of us to an OK place. One of the retired people I’d talked to over dinner, Liv, came over as I was talking to the other backpackers, though, and said she had a spare bedroom, and asked if I wanted to borrow it for a couple of nights! Here I am now, in a big appartment on the 31st floor, with my own bedroom and bathroom! πŸ™‚ Tomorrow we’re getting a free May 17 breakfast at the church before Service, and later there’ll be the celebrations.

May 19

SjomannskirkenThe celebrations for May 17 were very nice. At ten am there was a short service outside the church, and then a proper Norwegian breakfast. At noon there was the parade, but the marching band was exchanged for a pick up truck with a sound system. πŸ™‚ The parade ended on a big lawn, where there were the usual speaches, ice cream, hot dogs and games. Most of the time the weather was swelteringly hot, but we had a half hour of tropical rain as well… There were somewhere between 150 and 200 people, most of them retired people who’d moved out there, but there were a couple of other backpackers as well. They were going to Bangkok the next day as well, so after we’d spent the evening together, we made plans to meet up the next day and go together. We arrived back in Bangkok yesterday afternoon, and tomorrow we’re headed out to Laos on the overnight train.

We met some nice Brits in Bangkok last night, and with them, we tried crickets and some roachlike insects. They were pretty good, but they obviously look gross… πŸ˜›