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Spending a Cool Million on the Mekong

Current Location: Luang Prabang, Laos
Current  Weather: 93
°F (feels like 104°F)
Days Gone: 62
Days Remaining: 154

Chiang Mai fell away as each city often does when the time comes to move again. Sometimes it feels as if I am standing still and the locations are moving around me. This is the extent to which travel has become familiar. I’m not yet sure of the consequences of this phenomenon, or the persistence. Regardless, the world turned and I found myself on a long riverboat idling down the Mekong, bound for Pakbeng. I had crossed into Laos, finally entering the second country of this long journey after nearly two months in Thailand. Packbeng was simply an overnight stop, the halfway point on a two-day slow-boat journey to the town of Luang Prabang. The starting point of the whole venture, the border town of Huay Xai, actually turned out to be a legitimate place to spend time, primarily because I shared the Laos equivalent of a penthouse with three other travelers. Our giant rooftop terrace, though only four stories above the street, afforded us a view of the tiny city’s entirety, a flaming sunset, and the ever-moving Mekong.

A different boat was used on day two and it filled with passengers to maximum capacity, even by Asian standards, with a few dozen travelers still standing on the shore.… Read More

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Raw Mountain Vitality

Current Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Current  Weather: 95
°F (feels like 100°F)
Days Gone: 55
Days Remaining:161

I spent my last night in Mae Sot with new friends, enjoying a shared Seafood Hot Pot, cold beer, and eventually a bottle of Sangsom purchased from a (nearly) closed mini mart. For this reason, I did not take the 8:00 AM direct bus to Chiang Mai, but instead opted for a more reasonable departure time of 1:00 PM to Tak where I could catch a second bus onward to Chiang Mai. Walking to the bus station, after nearly two weeks in the same place, I felt once again the lightness that comes from carrying all my possessions on my back. Momentum works both ways; the longer one stays in a place the more difficult it can become to leave it behind. I had grown very comfortable in the tranquility that Mae Sot provided, but disturbing this pattern brought forth a new yet familiar energy. I was, once again, in motion.

Exiting Mae Sot was almost too easy; I glided through the checkpoints without a passport, and once without being questioned at all. Sometimes it is a great help to be the Farang with a beard.… Read More

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How to Survive Bugs in Your Bed, Cereal

Current Location: Mae Sot, Thailand
Current  Weather: 82
°F (feels like 88°F) – Cool and fresh tonight thanks to recent rains!
Days Gone: 46
Days Remaining: 170

My first nights here I slept miraculously well, waking up refreshed just before the roosters began crowing. Last Friday, though, I was told my hostel room had been booked by another individual, and I was being kicked out. The hostel manager offered me a room in a separate building with a private bathroom for a cheaper price. The room looked fine, but the “pay-in-advance” request (and low initial price) was suspect. I soon discovered, through conversation with another traveler, that the room in question was home to a large family of bed bugs.

I moved to the guest house next door, where I found, much to my dismay, another room with a bug problem. Luckily, after mentioning this to the hostel owners, I was immediately moved to the master suite with air-conditioning for the night. This was mega luxurious and I slept fitfully in a queen size bed. The next night, I had moved back to the newly cleaned and supposedly debugged original room. At around 11 the bugs reappeared en masse.… Read More

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Monkopalypse Now

Current Location: Mae Sot, Thailand
Current  Weather: 91
°F (feels like 100°F)
Days Gone: 38
Days Remaining:178

The “bus station” in Ayutthaya is actually just an extra wide street that buses all happen to park on. There is no ticket stand or information booth or any apparent organization at all. Because most of the writing on the buses themselves is in Thai, finding one that said “Lopburi” proved impossible. So I questioned the nearest vendor by gesturing toward the buses and asking, “Lopburi?” He answered with, “Yes, Lopburi, green, green!” Armed with this new clue, I walked back among the buses searching for a green bus. Almost immediately I caught a glimpse of a green bus pulling away in between two other buses. Jogging along next to the green bus, I called up to the windows, “Lopburi?” A Thai woman seemed to nod so I jumped on just as the bus began picking up speed. I found a seat and asked a different Thai guy if this bus went to Lopburi. He nodded and said “Lopburi.” This is how I made it to the city of monkeys.

Immediately upon arrival a pedal-bike taxi fellow agreed to take me to the guesthouse I named for 20 baht.… Read More

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The Journey North

Current Location: Ayutthaya, Thailand
Current  Weather: 88
°F (feels like 97°F)
Days Gone: 33
Days Remaining:183

I am no longer suffering from Conjunctivitus, woohoo! I had a lot of people ask me before I left, “What happens if you get sick?” This is what happens: step 1: get meds, step 2: get better. It’s just like at home, only cheaper, faster, and without air-conditioning. Now, granted, if I get something serious like Japanese B Encephalitis I’ll be in a bit of trouble – but the odds are (very, very) heavily against it and, well, in the game of travel, everything comes down to odds and risk management. So, newly healthy, I abandoned Koh Phi Phi and took a night bus back to Bangkok. And so it was that I arrived in Thailand’s capital at 5 AM for the second time in a month. This time I was slightly less clueless. Instead of finding a guest house to grab a couple more hours of sleep, I just bought a 10 baht Red Bull from 7-Eleven and wandered the streets while I waited for the public bus station to open (to head on to Nakhon Pathom). I watched as Bangkok woke up with the sun, street vendors sleepily dragging their carts into position and firing up their grills and woks.… Read More

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Fire and Water

Current Location: Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Current  Weather: 90
°F (feels like 99°F)
Days Gone: 27
Days Remaining:189

Every night on Had Rin Beach grew more and more chaotic as the moon approached its critical mass, the vital signifier of the infamous Full Moon Party. It was kind of incredible to watch the build up; my first night I had to entire beach to myself, by Full Moon there were an estimated 20,000 people dancing in the sand. Everything was on fire. Thai guys spinning balls of fire and flaming sticks, occasionally on stilts also set aflame. Should one wish to risk their own skin, one could jump in a flaming jump rope. Or through a flaming hoop. There was also flaming limbo. Fire breathers lit up the night along with black lights and glowing neon paint on everything, including (or, perhaps, mostly) people. Massive speakers thumped along the entire stretch of beach and stall owners hawked their goods, which for the most part consisted of alcohol. Not sold in a glass or a bottle, mind you, but in a bucket. Think of the kind of bucket a child might use to build a sand castle, then fill that bucket with ice, upturn an entire bottle (about a third of a liter) of Sangsom (Thai rum), then fill the rest with one of many available mixers, a choice which includes the Thai version of Red Bull (more concentrated than the Western variety) or any other energy drink.… Read More

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What About Haircuts, Laundry, Medical Needs?

Current Location: Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand
Current  Weather: Hot and humid of course
Days Gone: 17
Days Remaining: 199

They say that when you rent a motorbike, make sure to point out every single scratch to the provider so that you do not get charged a fortune for “wrecking the bike” when you return it. Back on Koh Tao, I talked two guys I met into renting motorbikes with me and touring the island’s hectic and dangerous roads for a day. There were several driving rules that I had to learn very quickly. First, drive on the left side of the road. I became aware of this upon arrival in Bangkok (when the taxi driver seemed to be driving in all the wrong places) and one embarrassing moment when I tried to board a bus from the wrong (right) side. Putting it into practice was another story, instincts die hard. Second, the biggest thing in the road always has the right-of-way. The hierarchy goes something like this: Cargo vehicles >> Buses >> Trucks >> Cars >> Motorbikes >> Pedestrians. The third rule is counter-intuitive; motorbikes can drive however and wherever they want. This last bit was perfect, as any time I found myself instinctively drifting to the right side of the road, I just appeared to be a typical, rebellious, Thai motorbike driver.… Read More

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The “Why” of Travel (and Island Life)

Current Location: Koh Tao, Thailand
Current Weather: 93° F (feels like 108°F)
Days Gone: 10
Days Remaining: 205

I chose to come to Koh Tao because it’s known the world over for its amazing scuba-diving. After picking my destination, I just had to figure out the cheapest way to get here. Turns out there was an overnight cargo ferry that left the port city of Chumphon at midnight and arrived at Koh Tao at 6 AM. Of course, traveling with cargo isn’t a very luxurious option, but you get what you pay for: the ticket was a mere 200 baht ($6) – the other (faster) options climbed as high as $20. The added bonus of taking the night boat was that I didn’t have to find (or pay for) a place to stay, so the ticket was more than transportation, it was a place to sleep, sort of…(see photo).

I boarded the boat via a very thin, very slippery metal plank. This plank walk was a bit scary considering a fall into the fiendishly dark waters below would result in the likely destruction or permanent alteration of everything I had. Not to mention possible bodily injury or death. But I survived, as I tend to do somehow.… Read More

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Transport Mania: Tuk-Tuks, Motorbikes, and Haggling

Current Location: Cha-Am, Thailand
Current  Weather: 90° F (feels like 107°F)

Days Gone: 5
Days Remaining: 210

I had just finished dinner and was enjoying the rest of my liter-sized bottle of Chang (a Thai beer) when I struck up a conversation with a Scottish fellow named Keith. He was surprised to discover I was from the United States, and I agreed that Americans seemed scarce. Despite being in a major backpacking hub for three days, I had yet to me a single other person from the US. He explained to me that this was because I was especially distinguished, and broke down my rarity with statistics (though no sources were cited, these estimations are probably accurate enough). Let’s say 15% of US Citizens have a passport. That number used to be 5%, but since Canada now requires a passport for entry the number jumped. From that 5%, subtract anyone who wanted a passport for Spring Break in Cancun or any other pleasure-centered respite on a white beach or cruise ship. Then from that number subtract anyone who has a passport for business reasons. Keith estimated that the remainder, those US citizens with passports for “real” travel, was about 1 in 400.… Read More

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How to Dine and Shop in Khao San

Current Location: Bangkok, Thailand – Khao San Road
Current  Weather: 93° F (feels like 104°F)

Days Gone: 3
Days Remaining: 212

 Bangkok is wired with energy, it’s almost dizzying. I’m planning on bailing on the city and heading somewhere quieter within a couple days or so. I’ll be back in Bangkok in seven months to catch my return flight, so I can always come back early and spend several days downtown. Wandering the Khao San district yesterday I managed to find scissors for 10 baht (30 cents) and a power adapter for 35 baht ($1). I also found a breakfast option at a corner cafe called the Phomotion Breakfast. It included an omelette, bacon, toast, jam, hot coffee, potatoes, and fresh fruit for 110 baht. The man running the cafe happily told me it was extra special and only 100 baht today ($3). I accepted and was presented with this:

As you can see, the omelette was really just scrambled eggs in the shape of an omelette, but it was delicious anyway. I spent most of the day wandering the shops, stalls, and back alleys of the district to try and get a feel for what was available and what it cost.… Read More

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