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Thailand: You Want Massage Mista?

a travel blog by TwoSouls

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The Beach

Ko Phangan, Thailand

So I got what I wanted... well almost. Since our arrival in Thailand on the 10th, we've found ourselves on the beach almost every day. But with the beaches there are tourists. And tourists can be pretty obnoxious in large quantities. Nevertheless, we are enjoying ourselves and are currently in a little pocket of heaven on the North end of Koh Phangan.

Phuket: Two words. Hotel Envy. Just like that dang Lonely Planet guide

warned us about. While every one and their brother in amidst a swanky two-week vacation, spending their mornings in the massage parlor, their lunch hour at the poolside bar and their nights eating fresh seafood at top-notch restaurants, we are trudging around with our humongous backpacks trying to find the cheapest hotel possible. Not fun. It's not that the budget hotels are total sh-t holes, but it just isn't as romantic as one might first imagine. Toilets that flush are always nice, but it's rare in the backpacker hotels. If you get two ratty towels and a roll of toilet paper, you are doing the victory dance. With all that said, we enjoyed our time there and did get to relax on the beach. Amen.

Ao Nang: A nice little spot outside of Krabi, this was a little more to our liking, as the pace was a bit slower and we seemed to have more in common with the average traveler here. Unfortunately, Tim was sick the first two days of our stay and we didn't get to explore Railay and the islands beyond. When he was revving at full speed again, we finally found our courage and ate at one of the local food carts. The whole experience was pretty classic - the "chef" was a pregnant woman propped up sideways on a motorbike over a pot full of steaming curry. To ensure it's perfect spiciness, she'd take numerous sips right from the pot before throwing it in a bowl and serving it up. Top notch food for under $2... and no belly aches.

Crowded Bus Ride #26: When we started on this trip, one of our intentions was to see the country by land - many, many trains, buses, taxis and vans. Again, it all sounds very romantic when flipping through a travel guide in the comfort of you own air-conditioned home... but not so much when you are stuck in the middle of it. We've certainly done our best to save money on transportation and be sensible about our options, and we are now pretty much over it. Get me on an plane... and I'd like some peanuts and a pillow please. We inevitabley have more long, uncomfortable journeys in front of us... and numerous stinky travelers will burst our personal space bubbles. Even I, as petite and slight-footed as I am (we are all laughing now, right?), have been known to wander into other people's personal bubble... oopsie.

Ko Phangan: Ah... this is the good island life. We picked a bungalow on the entirely opposite side of the island from the Infamous Full Moon Party. Our days are filled with hammock dwelling, dusty scooter rides around town, sunbathing, snorkeling and yummy grubbing at our host's beachfront restaurant. We managed to make our way to the Party last night, arriving just after 11:00 pm. Some party-goers had obviously gotten an early start... a shame really, but probably best for them to nap on the beach, even if face down in the sand under the feet of 6,000 people.

We managed to stay pretty tame, despite the pandamoniom thumping around us. We connected with a couple of Canadian gals we'd met in Phuket and wandered up and down the beach for a few hours. When it was apparent that the vibe wasn't getting any better, we decided to make our way through "broken bottle /broken spirit" alley to our scooter (pictures don't do this mess any justice). We certainly appreciate a good party, but we seem to shy away from it a bit more than we used to. Out hearts are drifting towards home and we think often about the excitement and anxiety of settling back in amoungst our family and friends. We are plotting our departure as we continue to embrace each moment and enjoy the journey at hand. We also see the journey home as an equally important part of this entire process, so it deserves our attention as well.

After we returned from the party last night, I made my way down to the beach and swung from the treeswing... listening to the sound of the waves lapping against the shore... realizing how small our part is in this big world, yet knowing that our impact is considerable. I made a promise to myself as I stared up at the glowing moon - I promised to love myself no matter what. That has been pretty hard some days over the last few months, but it is the biggest step in my contribution back to this world...

Lots of love,

P.S. Thanks for letting me vent a bit...

permalink written by  TwoSouls on April 21, 2008 from Ko Phangan, Thailand
from the travel blog: Thailand: You Want Massage Mista?
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A Real Hotel and Shop-Till-You-Drop!

Chiang Mai, Thailand

The getaway from Koh Phangan was not that easy...

After a recovery day from the Full Moon Party, we were booked (I should say over-booked) on ferry to Koh Tao, a smaller island close by known for it's diving. Unfortunately we were turned away and had to spend one more night on Koh Phangan. The following day was much the same, but we showed up early and managed to secure a spot.

Koh Tao is a diving mecca with wall to wall dive resorts (some nice, some not so nice), and heaps of dive boats side-by-side near the jetty's. We had pre-booked at Black Tip Resort per suggestion and were met at the dock on arrival. (It sure is cool to have someone waiting for you with a sign!)

Black Tip was unfortunately 4km from town, isolating Jen from nightlife and shopping. The weather wasn't cooperating either, so swimming in the pool was out as well. For me, even though the dives I had booked were cancelled- I managed to talk the dive master into going out (just the two of us). We went out at 7am and had two pretty good dives of 60 minutes each. There really wasn't much reef to see, but the marine life was fantastic. We were chased around a few times by some large, very territorial triggerfish. The dive master (who goes by Boy) had warned me that this would happen and seemed convinced that it was just him that they were after. Funny, huh?

After just two nights on Koh Tao, we were prepared for a long day's travel to Bangkok. We took a taxi to the pier to meet a high-speed catamaran that was to transfer us to Chumphon, on the mainland. Just before we were allowed to board, a storm blew in quickly and with it...torrential downpour. Everyone was soaked just getting down the dock to the boat. Again, the boat seemed way overbooked and a few upset passengers were made to sit in the aisles or stand along the side. The passage was very nerve-racking as the overloaded/overcrowded cat listed from port to starboard in the heavy seas. Even 'I' was worried! Catamarans are usually quite stable! We did make it out ok, but there were many seasick backpackers that day. (and it was mayhem trying to get our bags from the bottom of the pile and onto the dock)

Once we reached Chumphon, our connection to Bangkok was aboard a comfortable new dbl-decker bus. We arrived in the BIG CITY tired from the day of travel, but relieved it was over and we were safe. Our stay in Bangkok was just for one night and we caught a quick flight to Chiang Mai (in Northern Thailand) the next day. The plan for Chiang Mai - relax and stay in one spot for 5 days, shop in the markets, get massage, and swim in the hotel pool. Wow! Did I just type HOTEL? Yes, we finally decided to splurge and get a real room. It was soooo nice to have a cozy bed, hot shower, cable t.v., a bellhop, and of course - the pool!

Many people recommended Chiang Mai to us- and rightfully so. What a great city! Jen and I shopped (together o.m.g.) at the night markets and the Sunday market. We tried the Thai massage and were delighted that it wasn't as painful as we thought it would be (if you don't mind being twisted into a pretzel). We were given the massages side-by-side so I got to see just how flexible Jen really is...didn't know she could bend like that!

At one point Jen pulled the "need-a-day-by-the-pool" card so I took the opportunity to get out for a tour to the Golden Triangle. The tour included a stop off at a really old Wat (13th century), a stop in a border town to Myanmar (Burma), views across the Mekong River to Laos and Myanmar, and visits to 2 Thai hill people villages.
When I returned to the hotel, Jen surprised me with the gift of a beautiful hammock and tickets for 2 to the Thai boxing match at 8pm. What a day! God, I Love this woman!!

After 5 days we were pretty "shopped out" and relaxed...ready to fly back to Bangkok to explore some more. We went back down to the "backpackers strip" (the infamous Th Khao San) where we had stayed previously, and found another quality budget guesthouse. I call this the "strip" because it is chocked full of backpackers from all over. One end of this curvy road is loaded with bars and nightlife, the other with guesthouses (many with their own restaurant), internet cafes, street vendors, and travel offices. It's really the optimal place to be if you're a backpacker in Bangkok. We managed to connect again with our friends Sarah and Kevin from England who we'd met on Gili T. After sharing some cocktails and a tower of Sing-Ha over dinner, we bid our farewells once again. These two are a wonderful couple and inspire us a great deal! "Dreaming of Gili T!"

From here were are heading into Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh. More on this in our next blog...
Our thoughts and love go out to you all!

permalink written by  TwoSouls on May 5, 2008 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
from the travel blog: Thailand: You Want Massage Mista?
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Binge Drinkers and Bloated Bellies in Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand

Please don't let me lead you astray... WE ARE NOT binge drinking in Bangkok, or any other city for that matter, but it seems that the majority of our fellow travelers, as well as the locals like to "get their drink on" regularly. It's a great spot to stupify oneself, with many hip bars and alley-style cocktail stands to choose from, but it also leaves a certain residue on everything and, as we've found on more than one occasion in Thailand, makes it tough to get a good night sleep.

This is definitley a 24-hour city. You've got the bar patrons stumbling back to their rooms next door until the wee hours of the morning. You've got those catching an early flight banging around as they pack up and head out before breakfast is served. Then you've got the weary ones that are just stepping off a bus to find a cheap room to drop their stuff and start it all over again. We've found ourselves in the last two scenarios more than once and have as much patience as we can for those in that situation, but we seem to have less and less patience for the late night stream of drunken backpackers. We even had one girl try to open our door at 2:00 in the morning thinking that our room was hers...

It's not hard to spot these hardy partiers during the breakfast people-watching session. The younger guys can usually get away with a hangover a day over the course of a few weeks on the road, but some show their post-party fatigue like a badge of honor. We don't envy them, and while we do complain from time to time about the disruption they cause throughout the night, we are glad top be on the other side. We've slowed down and prefer snuggling to singapore slings... and to be honest, this makes the whole travel scene a bit difficult. I guess we are just getting a little older - there, I said it.

As for the bloated bellies, there are a few different kinds.

There is what I call the "Fried Rice 15" (as opposed to the "Freshman 15") and I would have to admit that I fall into that category. I thought I would lose weight with the lack of western fast-food and the abundance of rice (coupled with walking tours and the absense of red wine), but I was wrong. 70% of the menu falls under fried foods - fried rice, fried noodles, fried ginger, fried snails. 20% falls under curry - delicious, coconut-milk laden heaven, with heaps of calories. The other 10% falls under western food - eggs, bacon, hamburgers, club sandwiches, french fried (not an error -that's how they say it) and pancakes. And if none of that suits you, there is a 7-11 on every other corner... not a nutritious item on the shelves. So I'm feeling the bloated belly, but will likely continue to eat yummy curry and pad-thai - I'm looking forward to a proper ceasar salad when I get home, but I know I'll miss REAL thai food.

The other type of bloated belly is that which belongs to the MANY, MANY western men that come here looking for that "special massage". I don't mean to be rude and I try not to judge, but I have to say that this phenomenon, which has been going on for decades, is hard to swallow for both Tim and I. We come across endless couples walking hand in hand - the oversized, older white men with the young, petite and usually "out-of-their-league" beautiful girls. It's disturbing and confusing. And because it's a major part of Thailand's economy, it's something that I'd like to understand better. Do these men pay for all her food and buy her gifts for his entire stay? Do they summon the same girl on subsequent trips? Is there some level of "faithfullness" that occurs between these two? Did he find her in a massage parlor or was it a buddy that gave a referral? It feels like it unbalances the world, but perhaps I am just naive. We all need a little love and affection, so maybe it's perfectly harmless? The feminist in me thinks not, and I suspect that I'm not the only one who feels this way.

So Bangkok... sassy and convenient. loud and tough to cross the street. yummy smells waffing from one corner and sewage under your feet on the next. a strong sense of pride and a great place to buy a custom suit. a mixed bag.

Mmm... ceasar salad sounds good.
Peace out - Jen

permalink written by  TwoSouls on May 7, 2008 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Thailand: You Want Massage Mista?
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We are going to explore the unknown and there's no turning back now. Why explore? Here are a few reasons why we start on this journey...

- To breathe deeply, appreciate the moment and SLOW DOWN
- To let go of our fears
- To rebel… prove that we can live outside the system
- To challenge...

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