Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Thought in Progress...

It is difficult to give an accurate portrayal of the last few days. I have met so many new people and tried so many new things. I guess I need to stress that while this is a physical journey, it is also a spiritual one. The life lesson is one of balance.

I decided to try meditating during my Thai massage today, which was rather ambitious of me considering all my trouble with meditating in the last couple of years. Something that once came naturally to me was thwarted by the way I had come to view the world. The effects of today's experiment, however, were amazing. It seems the massage lends itself to the meditative mind quite readily. Such clarity! It helped me to appreciate my own gifts and the gifts of others more, and to understand the importance of unity among people.

Chiang Mai is by definition a melting pot. People I have met here are from all over the world: England, the USA, Austria, France, China, Ireland, Australia, India, Greece, and of course the Thai people themselves. People here are so friendly compared to in Bangkok. There is very much a small town mentality. Their English seems better too, but it is Thailand and I am here to learn from the Thai culture, or perhaps more broadly, Eastern Philosophy. The East has a certain sense of balance that the West fails to achieve. The West is far too focused on the mind alone and I am beginning to see how that creates social illnesses. Everyday we see the horrors of sick and unrealistic sexual fantasies, wars based on fear, and television taking the place of a god. These things root themselves in the very nature of our condition, which is to forget about our physical and spiritual desires in favor of our minds. We ignore these needs for so long that they finally erupt in unhealthy forms, having been unable to capture our attention in any other way. This needs to change. There is a lot that Westerners could learn from the East.

When I first came to Thailand there were things about the very structure of the society here that deeply disturbed me. I was horrified by things that my Western mind could not understand. As I became more aware of the cultural contexts and beliefs that created these things I realized that there was really nothing fundamentally wrong with any of them. My limited Western view had caused me to find imagined problems in what I was seeing. These differences are just that, different from what I have been accustomed to in the past. In the West we hold high the idea of the individual and this shapes our worldview. In the East the ideal holds the benefit of the community at its core. To this end the whole society works like clockwork. What seemed bizarre and perhaps "wrong" is a perfectly fitting cog within this system. Everything runs as it should under this worldview, and I am beginning to wonder if it is not a healthier worldview.

Morality has proven subjective and therefore cannot be trusted. We must throw away this idea of how things should be and focus on why, instead, they are the way they are.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


One of my absolute favorite places in Thailand is Kanchanaburi and there is so much to see there, I would not hesitate to go back again. The first thing you need to see is Erawan falls! It is at a National Park just outside of town. You could spend the whole day there hiking and swimming in the pools at the base of each of the 7 tiers of the water fall. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th are supposedly the best. If you make it all the way to 7 you will be in serious need of a dip and the water will look so inviting to you! It is the perfect blue colour. The hike gets difficult after the 3rd tier and increasingly so. Sometimes it is hard to tell if you are still on the path because there are huge boulders you have to climb over. It is well worth it! The scenery is spectacular and if you pay close attention you will see a good deal of the local fauna. I saw armies of ants, a millipede, giant spiders, monkeys, fish of all sorts, a crab, a lizard, butterflies, and birds. Beware the monkeys. They are vicious pests at this particular site. Do not leave your belongings unattended at the lower levels of the trail and do not feed them. Your guide will remind you.

The lower levels have fish in the pools. They will bite your feet if you do not continuously move. This tickles. They eat the dead skin off your feet. It is what is called a Thai pedicure or fish massage. If you are into that sort of thing take advantage of it because they will charge you huge amounts at massage parlors for the same treatment.

Other highlights are the Bridge over the river Kwai, and the Death Railway. These sites are reminiscent of World War II. There is also a war museum near the market in Kanchanaburi, that is worth a visit if you are interested in the history. Take a ride on the Death Railway. It is a thrilling ride along the precarious trestles and passing many fields with bright red soil. It is well worth the trip. I was especially fascinated by the bomb shelter cave that was near the station where we got onto the train. It has old barrels and cots still in it. Prisoners of war built the railway under the Japanese. Thousands died from hard labour and malnutrition. I could not believe there was a huge golden Buddha inside the bomb shelter. I wonder if it was built there at that time or put there later.

If you have not seen elephants there is elephant riding or elephant bathing. There is also bamboo rafting. It is suggested you BYOB or cold soft drinks. There are hotsprings or you could take a trip to the tiger temple. Remember to wear proper clothing for the tiger temple, long pants and shirts that cover your shoulders for the women. I think if I was to go again I would go on a jungle safari. A friend went and they had amazing close-ups of zebras. You could spend a week or more in Kanchanburi and not be bored.

The Jolly Frog hostel has a wonderful restaurant worth checking out. If you are into the nightlife there is lots of it. Phong Phen guesthouse is lovely and rustic. It is right along the river. It is affordable and has a good restaurant and a nice big pool. I absolutely adore the wooden furniture. The only thing I did not like was the talking birds that made noises like sirens at their own discretion. I am not a bird person, however, so some people might find them endearing. Kanchanaburi is about an hour and a half bus side from the Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok. It is not suggested you take the number 81 city bus from Phetkasem as I did on the way back. It stops at every stop and they turned off the fans randomly halfway through the trip. If you take the bus from the terminal it is nice and they will give you complimentary water.


Two weekends ago I took a bus to Pattaya by myself. I should say that first I took a taxi and then the BTS (skytrain) to get to the Eastern Bus Terminal. Getting off at the correct stop I was unsure where the bus station was because it was dwarfed by the other buildings. I followed the only other Westerners, who were speaking German, figuring at least I would be less likely to get lost. It turned out we were all headed to Pattaya. One of the Germans sat next to me but could not speak English. He slept most of the way and I took pictures of the jungle-covered mountains. It was between 2 and a half and 3 hours to Pattaya. I ended up finding a hotel because I just missed the afternoon tour of the Sri Racha tiger zoo by 30 minutes. The hotel cost me an arm and a leg. I would've found a cheaper one had I not gone through a travel agency. The room was huge, at least 2 times the size of my apartment. This was only a 3 star hotel. I spent the afternoon on the beach and then went to the Hard Rock café for dinner. Their Pad Thai was wonderful and they had a special for Singha. The meal was expensive because it was the Hard Rock Café. I went back to the hotel room and watched Australian zoo rescue shows until I could not stay awake any longer. I am not very good at being alone. I have never really lived alone for very long and I find that I do not know what to do with myself. This trip is becoming a test of how well I can be alone. It is good for me. If I want other people to feel comfortable around me I first need to be comfortable around myself.
The next day bright an early I was up for my tiger zoo tour. I went downstairs for the complimentary breakfast buffet. It had Thai breakfast items, fresh fruit, and western options. The only thing they were missing was scrambled eggs. I like them better than eggs sunnyside up so I built myself a breakfast sandwich instead. The tour van driver was very late and I'm not sure why. There were only 2 people in the van when it got there. I suspect he was on Thai time. We picked up another group. I was the only one who spoke English. We arrived at the zoo and the English map and signs were very confusing. After getting my picture taken with a baby tiger and some crocodiles I wandered around aimlessly trying to find the tiger enclosure. It was raining pretty hard. I found the place to get my photo taken with a big tiger so I did that. Then I saw the place to see the Scorpion Queen but it had an entrance fee so I didn't go. Then it was time for the shows. They were amazing, especially the tiger and elephant shows. I did not care for their treatment of the crocodiles because it was clear they kept them very cold so they would be sluggish. Afterwards I had only 20 minutes before I had to go back. I realized the tiger enclosure was along a dirt road that was so muddy from the rain I would not want to go there that day. I could see it looked extremely jungle-like in that direction so I decided it would be a comfortable enclosure for the tigers. Because it was raining I decided to head directly back to Bangkok.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Khao San Cuisine

And you thought you'd seen enough with the frog! If you are queasy (or vegan) you are advised not to watch!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tastes Just Like Chicken!

So I have been unable to find bugs so far. However, I have been eyeing up the BBQed frog at the market for 3 days now. Here goes nothing:

Grade 11 frog dissection never prepared me for this!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blissful Bangkok

There is little hope for it. I just cannot keep up with all the exciting things happening to me lately. I will tell you about this weekend and then attempt to post separate entries for past events that occurred in the last few weeks.

On Friday night I walked over to my friend Gale's house. It is about a 10-15 minute walk from my house. This was not so bad as it was relatively cool from the rain that had fell earlier in the afternoon. However, it was also very muddy and slippery at the edge of the road. I was carrying a watermelon because it is customary to bring a gift when going to visit someone's house. Generally acceptable gifts are flowers, chocolate, or fruit. I figured fruit was the easiest to find and safest (since some flowers symbolize death). I did not factor in the weight or slipperiness of the roads when I decided on a watermelon, however. The watermelon made it in one piece, but my toenail did not. I was wearing sandals, as I always do when not walking to or from school. I slipped in the mud and the top of my foot went skidding across the cement before I regained my balance. The result was a blood-covered toe, and broken toenail. Luckily the toe did not get infected.

I spent a lovely evening with Gale and her husband. They asked me many questions and fed me rambutans, mangosteens, and pork dumplings. And then a dessert of pickled santol fruit is an icy soup. Gale said she would take me to the market and sightseeing on Sunday at 10am. I decided this was a great idea.

On Saturday I got up bright and early to make the morning journey by taxi, BTS (skytrain), and foot to the US Embassy apartment block where we would meet a friend of a friend who was in the SCA. For those of you not familiar with the SCA here is the website:

There was to be a fighting tournament, but first came the usual mad rush of last minute organization that precedes these sorts of events. The event was to be held at a university nearby. The issue was getting all the gear from the apartment to the university... there were only two cars. It was made even more difficult because as it turned out there was a graduation going on at the university and students were all out in their silk grad gowns getting their photos taken on every set of stairs on campus. There were were in street clothes, hauling armour through their shots. The room the group had rented was fabulous, with carpet and huge red curtains. We made a throne-like setup that was extremely good. I borrowed a dress from the baroness, the first long sleeves I had worn since arriving in Thailand. I became the score keeper for the tournament, which was lots of fun, apart from me not knowing everyone's name. People were really cooperative with helping me out though so that was nice. We drew a large crowd of spectators. After the fighting we had dinner and there was gift-giving for the winning team. The dinner was huge, and like a multi-course banquet. The set up was extremely ideal for the event. I was very impressed. Then there was a video conference with the King of the Far West, who lives in Japan. It went very well, and was really neat to see. This barony of the SCA covers three countries, which is madness to say the least. Overall, a very exciting and wonderful day. Oh and below is a video of a Viking Birthday song I learned. The SCA members were quite interested in Vikings, among other things. :-)

Today I went with Gale first to Buddha Mountain, which is like a huge set of gardens, with a giant Buddha image, and temple. Gale showed me some of the Buddhist ceremonies and told me more about the Buddha, and how this site was very similar to the one at Buddha's birthplace in India. She had me do a ceremony with wax, where I prayed for my family. Then we went out and fed the catfish in the ponds. She says the Thai people will not eat the catfish. I think they are sacred, although I do not know the details. Many temples have ponds full of catfish here.

Then Gale took me to a huge outdoor market that was apparently extremely small compared to other markets in Bangkok. I would have no trouble getting lost in this one. We spent 3 hours there. 2 hours alone in the plant section. Gale was looking at ferns, which she collects. I was looking at orchids and taking pictures for my grandmother. We ate authentic Pad Thai for lunch with banana flower and something similar to green onion that Gale said was not onion. Gale told me that the south of Thailand has very spicy food, but central and northern Thailand does not. She says she does not like spicy food. There was so much to see at the market but it became too hot in the afternoon so we ended up leaving.

I cooled off at the apartment and then went and bought mangosteens, the queen of fruit (durian is the king of fruit) and sushi for dinner at the market. I waited until it was late enough I could call dad for father's day because he would no longer be sleeping in his part of the world. All in all, a good weekend! Next weekend I will go to Chiang Mai!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Temple Tour

There has been so much going on since I last updated here. I have been literally run off my feet. I went on a temple tour in Bangkok weekends ago. The first stop was Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. I have never seen anything quite like the luxury displayed there. The buildings were the most ornate I had ever seen. There were buildings and monuments to house Buddhist relics and manuscripts surrounding the temple. One of the buildings was made of 1 inch aquare tiles in a moziac. These tiles were made of 24kt gold! Other buildings had gold, mirrors, coloured, stones, and paint in the most intricate patterns imaginable. There were entire doors made out of abalone shell in picture designs or mother of pearl. The floors were all marble. In buildings around the outside of the temple were hand painted images. (Somewhere around 167 in total) These floor to ceiling images told the mythology of the first Rama king defeating the demon king. There was a scale model of the old capital city which had been beautiful but was destroyed in war. Monkey guardians were situated all around, because in the story they came to the aid of the Rama king. There were also golden statues of angels. Male angels are half bird and half man. Female angels are half woman and half lion. The emerald Buddha was relatively small but considering just how much emerald it was made of that made it no less amazing.

Grand Palace itself was huge and ornate. Guards all in white stood at all the entrances. Like the guards at Buckingham palace they are not allowed to move or smile. In front of Grand Palace was a garden of giant Bonsai trees which my guide refered to as "beautiful topiary." There were many buildings all around in different architectural styles. One in particular looked like a big Victorian style mansion.
The next stop was the Reclining Buddha. The actual temple was closed for a ceremony of some sort but the reclining Buddha was in a separate building. It is huge and has designs in Mother of Pearl on its feet. Some people were dropping coins into pots along the side of the building. I don't know what the purpose was but there were many pots and they dropped a coin into each one. Standing guard at all the archways in the courtyard surrounding were statues that looked Chinese in style but some seemed to be wearing top hats.

The last temple was the Temple of the Rising Dawn. We took a ferry across the river to see it. It was huge and looked much like an aztec pyramid except it was covered with all sorts of designs and statues. There were two different levels with viewing platforms, accessed by any of four sets of stairs. The stairs were so steep that when I reached the top I actually considered staying up there rather than getting close enough to the edge to attempt climbing back down! The view was quite spectacular. We then caught a long-tailed boat, also referred to as a "James Bond" because they were used in a James Bond movie. We toured through the floating market, and got a good view of life along the canals in Bangkok. We then headed for lunch.

After lunch we visited a place were they polish gemstones and make and sell jewellery. They tried to sell us jewellery, and although it was quite a good deal the cheapest items looked too much like engagement rings for me to considering buying one.