Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chiang Mai Travels

It's been good to be back in Chiang Mai. It's still very hot in the afternoons but the humidity is less so it's much more comfortable than Bangkok -- mornings and evenings are idyllic. When we got here we had not yet arranged a place to stay so based on Internet reviews we had the taxi drop us at a new (to me) guesthouse off Ratchadamnoen Rd, Soi-1. Luckily Baan Nud-Kun had two rooms available and after glancing around at the pleasant surroundings we booked them. Pierre and Pai came here on a different bus and we teamed up at the bus station. We've been here for a week and this is decidedly a very nice guesthouse, one I'll be sure to visit again. There are many amenities for guests out in the open air lounge: toaster, hot water for tea or coffee, a fridge, a microwave, free fruit and bottled water, hammocks -- 500 baht per night (A/C, fan, hot water, desk, separate toilet/shower, Wi-Fi, all for about 15 bucks). Fabulous place, highly recommended.



Early next morning I walked over to Tony's Big Bikes to pick up the Honda Phantom I had arranged for over the Internet. Tony is a real nice guy, an English expat who's been living in Thailand for over 20 years. He has a stable of nice bikes but the dependable Phantom is the mainstay of his rental business. We talked about biking in Thailand and joked about Thai women -- he too has a Thai girlfriend -- apparently Nut's penchant for finding a bargain is a common one among Thais. Before I drove the Phantom back to the hotel I took a short spin on a Honda Super-Four, a small-displacement "crotch-rocket" -- it has a lovely sound, four cylinders, 400 cc - but it's not made for touring two-up. Tony suggested I rent one for a day after I get back from my tour with by buddies. Probably shouldn't but probably will ;-))

Nut and I took a couple of day trips to see how the Phantom would work for the coming trip. For our first trip we drove north for about 30 miles to the lovely Mae Rim Valley. We saw elephants in the road, some lovely waterfalls, and beautiful forests. Compared to my time here last year, during the dry season, Thailand is green and lush now. Flowers abound and the air is tinged with delicate fragrances. Below is a view from the road side high above the Mae Rim valley.

We stopped at the locally famous Mae Sa waterfall for a look see. There are ten separate cascades in the river; this one is number four. The heat was getting to me at this point so we didn't go any further.



We drank some iced coffee near the above spot and as we were gazing down at the view we noticed a lovely floral aroma. There were some tall yellow flowers nearby. They reminded me a bit of sunflowers or huge daisies. Sure enough, that's where the smell was coming from.



On the way back we saw elephants trekking along the roadside. There are tourist spots where you can see elephants working, and even ride one, but I typically avoid such attractions. Still, in Alaska where moose in the road  can present a big problem, especially at night in a winter snow storm, imagine running into one of these guys. Just about at this point it started raining. We ran for cover and just in time, found some under a veranda in a small village. The rain came down in buckets but as is typical in the tropics, it was over in about 10 minutes. We left the veranda a bit too quickly and soon caught up with the trailing edge of the squall. We got slightly wet but the water was so warm it was refreshing rather than life threatening as it could have been in Alaska under similar circumstances.

 
The next day we went south to Doi Inthanon in the national park by the same name. At about 8,000 ft, this is Thailand's highest mountain. The air was chilly and rain was threatening. Again, and stupidly because I brought a rain jacket and pants to Thailand, we did not have any of that gear along on this trip. We got to the pair of chedi (temples) near the top (at about 7200 ft) but decided to stop there and wait the rain out. Just as we parked the bike, down it came. We had coffee and cocoa in the snack bar and before long the rain stopped. It didn't really clear up enough for great pictures but the flower gardens surrounding the chedi were beautiful and the subdued light brought out the colors superbly. Below is a shot of one of those temples and one of the tile mosaic panels surrounding it.




 Nut and I at Doi Inthanon





As the sun tried to poke its way through the mist I took a bunch of photos in an effort to get the effect of air and cloud that was so lovely to see with the eye but so difficult to catch with a camera. Below is my best effort. I did a bunch of Photoshopping on this particular shot to bring out the cloud detail but it's close to what I remember seeing.


Below is a road scene from the trip home. Again, because it's just after the rainy season, everything is in bloom -- even trees -- it was mighty fine motorcycling in the shade of the trees that lined the parkway.


Yesterday we took another ride, this one to the west of town, up to Doi Pui. We wanted to visit the Hmong village up there and got lost on a muddy road before finding it. Later I learned that we stopped just short of the Maesa Elephant Camp. Had I known that we might've persevered and driven there but the mud was scary and difficult to ride through. The hills around here are full of coffee plantations and the cup of locally grown Arabica was the best coffee I've had in Thailand so far.

It's getting late and we start out on our 3 or possibly 4-day ride to Udon early tomorrow so I'm just going to load the photos from our visit to Doi Pui. There were some gorgeous flowers and some great food to go along with the colorfully dressed Hmong people. This is a popular tourist destination so we had to pay 10 baht (30 cents) to get into the town's lovely Waterfall Garden.




This little 7-year old girl approached us while we were eating lunch. She was a trip. She was quite a talker and spoke fluent Thai as well as Hmong. She and Nut chatted away while I shot photos of her and her 8 month old brother. Usually she charges 10 baht for a photo (remember, this is a tourist spot) but we gave her a persimmon we had bought for 20 baht and was seemed satisfied with the trade. What a beautiful and smart little girl. I was very impressed.


I have photos of the moo gra~ta scene in Chiang Ma that I wanted to include here but it's late and a certain exotic Asian woman is distracting me so I'll close for now. Catch you later....

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chinatown in Bangkok

Chinatown Street Scene

Friday, October 22:

We're enroute to Chiang Mai as I write this. This is the way to travel, this first class bus way. There are only  21 passengers on the entire bus and each of us is seated in a very comfortable recliner seat equipped with back massage vibrators. They're power operated and very comfy, sort of like the 1st class seats  on an airplane but  more spacious. The bathroom is clean and convenient. There are video screens for each passenger and although the movie offerings are all in Thai the music is good, mostly American pop. And there is a pretty, sharply dressed attendant who periodically brings us snacks and water. We've had one light meal so far on this 9-hour journey and although plain by Thai street-side standards it was fairly good; rice and chicken strips, fresh cucumber slices and a tiny tomato. Our tickets cost 800 baht apiece, about $20.

We arrived in Chiangmai after a comfortable trip. The pace was slow but steady. I gave up trying to write more on the rest of the trip because the Thai roads aren't as smooth as ours so even though the ride itself was fine there was too much jiggling to type. Let's get back to Bangkok and Chinatown.

I wanted to write a bit about our visits to Chinatown but a few pictures will pretty much tell the story. Because the food and service were so damn good we ate at the same street-side restaurant twice, the first time it was just Nut and me. We went to buy a smoked, dried duck for Nut's best friend Kaew who lives in Chiangmai but of course while we were there we had to eat, right? The second time we went with one of her best friends, Pai, and her falang boyfriend Pierre, a Frenchman. This couple met on the Internet, which was convenient, because Pierre cannot speak. It isn't just that he can't speak Thai, he cannot speak at all. His hearing is normal though and he understands French of course but Pai doesn't speak French, only Thai and a bit of English. Their communication problems make ours seem trivial by comparison.



Anyway, Chinatown, like much of Bangkok, is jammed with food sellers, snack stands, and sidewalk restaurants. We were trying to walk by this one particular eatery situated on a main street corner but the waiters hammered us trying to convince us to have a seat and eat with them. Usually we resist this sort of hard sell but the food we could see on the tables nearby looked fantastic so we relented and took a seat. Our guy, the one who was so pushy on the street was the best waitperson I've had in all of Thailand. Attentive to the point of supplying us with fresh napkins as soon as ours were soiled, topping off my beer glass constantly, and bringing us a container of water awash with lime slices to clean our hands, in essence, the perfect waiter. And the food! I had a garlic encrusted deep fried sea bass with chilies and fresh basil that was so good I ordered another when we had the first one almost eaten. This place was fairly expensive by Thailand standards: the meal plus two beers came to about 500 baht, about 7 bucks and change.

We bought durian from this woman. This stuff has a awful smell but the fruit inside is quite nice. When fully ripe it's tasty, sweet and has a consistency something like firm custard, but the smell puts many people off to the point that they don't even give it a chance. It's Nut's favorite fruit by far. I have all I can do to keep her away from the durian sellers because whenever we buy it she sits down and eats the whole bagful, every time. She's an addict. What you see in the photo is the hard shell of the whole fruit which must be cut through to get to the edible fruit inside. When handling this stuff you need to wear leather gloves as those knobby spines will otherwise abrade your skin badly.


The shop where we bought the dried duck for Kaew - ducks are shown in the inset at left

And below are photos from the night we went with Pai and Pierre. I had the garlic fried fish again (bottom center) while Pierre ordered a poached fish (center) which is served boiling on a small brazier or chafing dish. Also shown are an order of grilled prawns and a seafood vegetable stir-fry that Nut ordered. We also had a scallop vegetable dish that was splendid. The Thai basil in that one is one of my favorite seasonings -- it brings to mind the flavor of fennel, or anise. I simply love it! I've said it before and no doubt I'll say it again, IF YOU LIKE TO EAT, COME TO THAILAND:


 After dinner we were destroying the durian Nut just had to have and I asked Pierre to take this shot. It's a bit shaky but you get the idea. Her buddy Pai is in the picture along with us.



Tuesday, October 27, Chiangmai:

Back to the current situation: So far I'm loving Chiangmai. I was here twice last spring so it was a foregone conclusion that I'd like it again, especially considering that I'm traveling with Nut. I rented a Honda Phantom again but this one is from Tony's Big Bikes  and it's practically brand new with only 5,000 km on the speedo, unlike the beater I rented  in Udon last spring. I had a great chat with Tony, a Brit expat who's lived in Thailand for 20 some years. He takes very good care of his bikes and so far Nut and I have made a couple of day trips to test the waters, so to speak, for the our trip to Udon to meet up with my Alaska buddies-- it's a solid ride. At a whopping 200 cc  displacement these Phantoms are a bit underpowered compared to the superbikes running around in the rest of the world but it's a practical and simple touring bike for Thailand. I was worried that riding two-up on such a small-bore machine would be impractical but considering that Nut weighs in at about 100 lb soaking wet, I think it will get us to Udon alright.

I'll post an article about our first motorcycle trips in the next day or so. Talk to you later.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bangkok

Dateline Bangkok, Tuesday, October 19th:

Nut and I went to her brother's for what turned out to be a big family gathering on Sunday. I had thought it would be just Nut and me and Moo's family but as it was Wan-yut, a Thai holiday, so the whole clan was there, or much of it anyway. Her brother is in the orchid business and orchid farms surround his home in the suburb of Bang Phai to the west of Bangkok. There is a huge covered workspace filled with tables that are used when packaging orchids for shipment to various places in the world -- this is where we hung out and ate the meal.

After arriving at Moo's and the introductions made, we immediately piled into Moo's van to drive to a seafood market where the best, freshest fish and crabs were to be had. Of course Thais never go far without needing something to eat along the way. It was a longish drive to this particular market and after about 15 minutes or so the general clamor for food was acknowledged and Moo pulled the van into a roadside market for snacks. Here are a couple of shots of the family chowing down as we drove along. In the photo clockwise from bottom left are, Nut's mom, sister Aou, daughter Dui-dui, cousin Pim (her father, Nut's brother, died years ago), Nut, Aou's son Ice, and brother Muk, a clamorous and very friendly group.



Moo's house is situated on a klong, or canal. These are peaceful waterways where boats, both powered long-tails and paddled flat-bottomed "canoes" I'll call them, pass by constantly on their way to a neighbor's perhaps or a nearby market. They're very common in Bangkok and this one was particularly attractive in this rural setting. It was very quiet, a relief from Bangkok's noise and traffic, and before long exotic birdsong filled the quiet evening air. All the klongs seem to be loaded with fish that are constantly seen in great numbers when they hit the surface to feed. Her brother tells me some of them weigh in excess of 15 lb -- considering the water quality I don't think I would dare to eat one but many locals fish the klongs and of course, of necessity I imagine, eat what they catch. Nut and I took a short ride in one of the boats used for traveling on these waterways. It was a flat bottomed affair with no keel I could detect that I found very difficult to keep headed in a straight line even as I tried to apply what I could remember of the J-stroke from my canoeing days.




Above is their klong-side picnic area which is surrounded with beautiful trees and shrubs. One tree caught my eye because the blossoms were spectacular and colorful. Nut told me it was a rose-apple. I've eaten the fruit before and can say it's delicious.



Just before we were ready to sit down and feast, a lady showed up paddling her boat along the klong selling fruits and vegetables. Nut's brother Moo is in the photo; he's buying some eggs and ginger root for the cooks at work in the kitchen.



Below are some shots of the folks preparing the food for the feast. In the first one Nut's sister Aou and brother Muk are cleaning fish and prawns. Below that are her mom with brother Moo and his wife Uh in the kitchen. In the last one is Dui-dui, Nut's daughter, frying some fish in a huge wok:




I might as well admit that I've pretty much fallen for Nut. And she seems, for some strange reason, to feel the same way about me. She is smart, fiery, lovable and sexy. I caught her in this great candid photo as she was collecting coconut meat for the tom yum Aou was making.


I wish I had caught more of the dinner on film but I was busy eating and drinking with the brothers. The women worked all during the meal presenting plate after plate of great chow: fried fish, steamed fish, curried chicken and fish, mussels, crab, tom yum, assorted vegetables, platters of huge grilled prawns, watermelon, pineapple. And of course many beers and glasses of 100 Pipers, a Thai brand of scotch whiskey, with soda added to the scene. Neighbors and an Aussie expat with is Thai wife dropped in to join in the fun. I ate and drank quite a bit but managed to remain sober what with all the food I was putting away along with the beer.

Thursday, October 21, Bangkok:

In the interim since beginning this entry we made a visit to Chinatown and had a memorable dinner there which I'll cover in another post. Tomorrow morning we will travel by 1st class bus (recliner seats and cold aircon) to Chiang Mai for a week or so before heading to Udon to meet up with my friends from Homer for another motorcycle tour.

Then, around the 2nd or 3rd of November Nut and I will ride to Udon. It will be interesting to see if we can load the bike with all of our stuff for the two day trip to Udon. I'll rent a Phantom again, or maybe a bigger bike, for the ride. Albie and DC will arrive Nov 4th and 5th, and Big Al arrives Bangkok on the 25th. He'll head to Udon also to meet up with the rest of the gang. Another friend from Homer, Sean, will join us on the ride this year. We four, the same crew as last spring along with Andy from Canada, and Sean, will tour together this season.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hong's farm

Dateline Bangkok, Monday October 18

We traveled by bus back to Pranburi Thursday, arriving towards evening at the Phasook Hotel, the same place we had stayed on the trip down to Koh Tao. It's a pretty nice hotel even if by stateside standards a trifle run down. It has wireless Internet, air conditioning, and nice showers with hot water, an important feature this time of year, and cost only 450 baht per night (about $15). Not all hotels where I've stayed in Thailand offer hot water but in the summertime it doesn't matter - the cold water is plenty warm enough! Nighttime temperatures outside of Bangkok at this time of year are quite pleasant -- we didn't have air conditioning on Koh Tao -- the overhead fans worked very well. We often shut them off completely at night.

On Friday we returned to the farm of Hong and her family. I'm actually sorry we missed the season of rice-planting because it would have been interesting to see this in person. I'm sure I would have wilted away in the heat but I was willing to try it even though merely walking about the place at mid-day was enough to give me bigtime sweats. Of course Hong wore a long sleeved jacket and Nut hid under an umbrella to stave off the sun's harsh rays. In the photos below I show a shot of Hong's grandmother as she was heading out to feed the fish. The fish food is in the large bowl. Granny seemed to enjoy the attention.




Feeding frenzy



Nut and Hong picking wild chili peppers
After these photos were taken we were hanging out in the family's outdoor kitchen when I noticed the sky darkening in the south. Soon torrential rain hammered the sheet metal roof and strong gusts bent the trees violently as the weather front hit. The roof over the main part of the house has good, leak proof  sheet metal but the stuff over the kitchen is so old and thin in places that you can literally see though it. The entire kitchen area was dripping wet in minutes. A nearby papaya tree was knocked flat in one gust. But I enjoyed the storm. After it peaked I walked around out by the fish ponds under an umbrella digging the rain. The water was, after all, warm and basically friendly feeling. Unlike up in Alaska where a soaking rain like this could turn out to be a killer even in the summer.


Friday was haircut day as well. I got my hair cut fairly short, although not as short as when the maniacal barber in Trat last March practically scalped me; that particular "haircut" lasted for over four months! Nut was just sitting there watching so she decided to have her hair washed, dried and brushed out. The two old ladies who worked on us giggled as they chatted with Nut about her falang boyfriend. They charged 250 baht (8 bucks) for the two of us, an exhorbitant amount in Nut's opinion. She says they took advantage of us because they think you are rich! Nut is very protective of me and is ever vigilant in defending me from rip-offs. I've taken to calling her ma-mam at times.

Next day we had planned to accompany Hong and her father to market and a nearby temple but we awoke to more rain and decided to grab a mini-van back to Bangkok. We had the dinner with Nut's brother Moo coming up Sunday and despite my resistance to ever riding in one of these vans again (see my rant in an earlier entry) we thought hell, it will be faster than the government bus and the aircon will be good so I relented and we climbed aboard. This humorous sign was posted on the van's door:


The first three are obvious, no pets, no booze, no smoking. The next one we don't have a clue about. No bugs, no cuttlefish, no carrots?? The last one needs no explanation.





My foreboding about these vans, actually the drivers of these vans, was not inappropriate. The guy was a goddamn maniac, a speed-freak, a macho idiot. We traveled at speeds averaging 80 mph most of the time but reached a maximum of 91 mph (150 km/hr). And this with a fully loaded vehicle; twelve helpless passengers looked on as we weaved in and out of traffic on the 4-lane divided highway. When Mr. Speed Demon wanted to pass a slower moving vehicle he just moved up to within 4 or 5 feet of its rear bumper and waited for the driver to notice and pull over. Sometimes he flicked his lights, sometimes he blew the horn, and it that failed to achieve the desired response, he merely moved over and passed. In this way we raced northward to Bangkok.

These vans make stops along the way to discharge or take on passengers. Due to the way he drove when these stops occurred he had to jam on the brakes but then because of our excessive speed often overshot and had to back up. As if that isn't bad enough the backing up was done in the active lane of the highway -- cars and trucks hurtled by in the adjoining lane but anyone of them could easily have rear-ended us. And then just outside of Bangkok we stopped for a break to get fuel. A large majority of the vehicles here, especially buses, trucks and taxis, run on liquid natural gas. The lines of vehicles trying to refuel at the single LNG pump at this particular station necessitated a wait of over 30 minutes! So although we hurried along when in motion, we also waited for fuel. Stupid idiot! We made it back okay in spite of his best efforts to kill us in the process.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I'm back in Thailand and traveling with Nut

Dateline: Koh Tao: Wednesday & Thursday, October 13, 14:

It's a rainy day today so we canceled a scheduled snorkeling trip. We're just hanging out on our veranda at the Sai Ree Hut Resort and goofing around. It's a good time to prepare some photos and write something about our travels so far. The rainy season is just about to end but I guess we've managed to catch the tail end of it. I really don't mind as the temperatures are moderate and I'm quite comfortable for a change. As you can see, Nut, ever vigilant about getting too much sun, is still in her Levis as we took our first beach walk. Later on the sun came out briefly and we went swimming. It was tons of fun because she was hanging onto me for dear life and laughing with delight as the waves washed over us. She hasn't been to the beach in years but contrary to what she told me earlier, she can swim a bit. I reckon you had to be there .....

Below is a shot of Nut on our veranda. She's chatting with one of the hired hands, a very friendly and helpful guy who goes by the name of Tiger. He's shared lots of info with us and here we are enjoying a Chang beer and some conversation (in Thai, of course. I am merely a bystander.)




I arrived in Bangkok last Wednesday and met Nut after a 6 month separation. Even though we spoke frequently on Skype over the summer I often wondered just how I'd feel about her once we got back together. We had spent only a brief time together last spring and while it was fun and I came away totally infatuated with her, I had doubts about whether we would be able to pick up where we left off. Those of you who know me know what a worrier I am. I have my my mom to thank for giving me the "worrying gene" as my sister and I call it but most of you also know that my worrying seldom leads anywhere productive. And such was the case this time as well. I'm loving being with Nut and traveling together has been a hoot. It's very obvious to me that she is completely happy with her farang boyfriend. I simply couldn't be happier about the way things have turned out.

We kicked around Bangkok for a few days visiting a few favorite places, riding the water taxis on the Chao Phraya, eating out, drinking a beer at the Gecko Bar, and shopping at the huge MBK Superstore where I bought Nut a new bathing suit and blouse for our trip. I only mention this last bit because of the novel method of trying on clothes for fit in a place like MBK. Unlike our shopping malls which are dominated by big chains with expensive displays and changing rooms, etc., the malls here are stuffed with many tiny, one-person businesses. Although some are considerably bigger many of these shops measure something like 10 ft by 20 ft and because they're so small don't have dressing rooms. The Thais improvise here by employing a technique not unlike the one you might have used as a child at the beach. That's the one where your mom and dad hold up a large beach towel to encircle and shield you from view as you change out of your street clothes and into your bathing suit.To try on pants or shorts Nut first donned a large, elastic-waisted skirt, sort of like a mu-mu in appearance, and once inside that she slipped off her jeans and slipped into the new outfit. It's sort of crazy but it works. Very inventive.

Here's a couple of photos of a Bangkok street temple we visited on the way home from our shopping trip. There are temples scattered all around Bangkok, indeed all around Thailand. Some are big and ornate like Wat Pho and Wat Arun that we visited last spring and that I included in this blog. Others are tiny street corner things containing only a statue of Buddha, some lanterns and places to put incense sticks. This temple contained two separate and different Buddhas and in size was somewhere in between. Nut told me one was especially for people asking for a partner, a girlfriend or boyfriend — love in their life. This Buddha "likes roses". The other was where you go to ask for good luck and "likes yellow chrysanthemums."



.

Below is an image of a girl about to place her offering of roses on the altar. The smoke and fragrance of incense permeates the air and in this shot you can see one of the urns where the incense bundles are placed. All in all it's a really nice scene that I feel privileged to witness. We will no doubt visit many temples during our travels and I'm totally looking forward to that.


We left Bangkok by bus traveling south toward Chumphon where we would catch a boat to Koh Tao. Along the way we visited Hong, an old friend of Nut's from the years before she moved to the big city. Hong lives with her parents, grandmother and daughter WanSu, on a small farm near Pran Buri. (N12.41920 E99.91126) They grow rice, bananas, bamboo shoots, and in small ponds scattered here and there, fish that they market. They are almost completely self sufficient. The area surrounding their homestead is quiet and very much in the country -- the night sounds that filled the air after dinner (crickets? and frogs?) while unfamiliar to me were very relaxing. While I love Alaska, the nights, except in springtime when nesting songbirds and snipe are active, are very quiet. Night noises, and thunderstorms, are some of the things I miss the most from my years in "the lower 48".

Nut with Hong and her daughter, WanSu
WanSu's father works in Malaysia and only comes home every few weeks to see his wife and daughter. He's a huge man apparently and the size of WanSu attests to that. She's a very large two-year old (63 lb). She apparently took a liking to her large falang visitor because when we left she cried hard and desperately tried to join us in the truck. Images of Harper and how much I already miss him filled my thoughts as we adjourned to our hotel in Pran Buri. Here's a a candid shot I got of Nut while she was yakking with her daughter on her hand phone.

After spending the night at the Pasook Hotel we grabbed another bus for the short hop to Chumphon. We stayed in a fairly nice hotel there but the big treat for me was the dinner we had in a restaurant right next to our hotel. The food was cooked in what I think is referred to as Moo Kata. You get a small charcoal fired cooking unit delivered to your table. The center part serves exactly as a charcoal grill -- assorted meats and fish are cooked on the grate. Surrounding the grate is a "moat" filled with boiling water. In the water you place other foods, mushroom, broccoli, baby corn, noodles, morning glory, etc. The meat choices were many - pork, chicken, curried or not, several kinds of fish, squid, prawns, beef, liver, tripe, whatever. On the veggie side we could choose from many, many items, some already mentioned, along with seaweed, rice noodles, bok choy, you name it. On the side we had a variety of cold salads, some with prawns... I could go on but you get the idea. Oh, yes, I almost forgot. We had ice cream for dessert. Total cost for two, not including the beer, came to 200 baht, about 6 bucks. We ate until we were stuffed. Nut kept up with me, or maybe I should say I kept up with her. She will never leave the table until every scrap is consumed. How does this waif of a woman stay so thin? We joke about her having a tapeworm — "time to feed the worm, he's screaming again!" By the way, Nut remarked as we were finishing up that this meal was only okay in her opinion. The moo kata in Chiang Mai, she assured me, is much, better. (a-roi mak mak) Hah! I'll believe it when I taste it.
(Note: Nov 2012: I learned that what I was referring to as Moo Kata is in reality, moo gra~ta
(หมู กระทะ) where moo means pork and a gra~ta (กระทะ) is a small frying pan. As is so often the case, what I heard as a "k" sound was really a hard "g" sound.)

\

Our visit to Koh Tao was a bit of a disappointment. It's really touristy, loaded with farangs and is really all about diving. Consequently, prices are high and the streets crowded. If I had made it down here while Joe was doing his free-diving course last spring I likely would have tried the diving. Still, we had fun and made a few friends. Tiger for one and a young woman named Susan from Boston who is on an extended tour. She despises the political situation in the states and is seeking another place to hang her hat. I cannot say I blame her. She's been on the road for two years and won't return until she runs out of money.

Later this morning we head back up north to Bangkok. We have a dinner date with Nut's brother Moo who says he wants to drink whiskey with me. I'm not going to try to keep up with him because I had an experience with Thai whiskey last spring that I'd rather not repeat. We'll catch the fast catamaran back to the mainland and then hop a bus to Pran Buri where we'll again visit Hong and her family.


Dateline Pran Buri: I added this photo after I uploaded the original post. We boarded the catamaran and as I was about to walk by the snack bar to rejoin Nut on the top deck I thought I'd go ahead grab a coffee. It turned out to be Nescafe instant topped off with powdered Coffeemate. Yuk! As you can plainly see, I was not pleased with it, not at all.

Signing off for now. I'm wishing you well wherever you are...