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Premature Ejaculator? No Worries in Kuala Lumpur

Lights of KL

I was barely into my first big beer before some guy sat down at my table.

“Hello,” he may have said—“may” because his accent was so thick it was almost opaque.

This situation was exactly what I didn’t want: some possibly drunk and/or stoned boner twisting my ear in English more broken than his teeth. Besides, my friend and I were momentarily burned out on each other and, to exacerbate things, Chinese New Year in Malaysia was thwarting most attempts made at travel and lodging. We just needed some street noodles and beers to unwind. But while she was in the bathroom (and I was criminally eating her noodles), this stick of a man slithered into the open seat.

His black shirt, hanging onto his body only slightly looser than his skin, was tucked into his black jeans, at the front of which was an obnoxious, silver belt-buckle.

I have no fucking idea what he and I talked about before my friend got back. I was so peeved and pissy that I barely mustered the good nature to proffer one-word answers to his awkward chatter. It was during one of my space-outs into the fluorescent-lit streets of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown that I saw my friend returning. I quickly shook my head to hint that she stay away, but she was already annoyed with me (seeing that I had eaten her noodles didn’t help—at all), so she plopped down at the table’s third seat. I braced for the terse conversation I was sure would follow.

Consequently, I also have no fucking idea when we all started to have a great time.

Lights of KL, and some broad

All of a sudden, the three of us were cracking up. David went from a unwelcome, Johnny-Cash-looking pain in the ass to the remedy for our travel malaise. We had bought ourselves a round and were laughing away as the wait staff sat and watched.

David insisted they were jealous. I’m still inclined to agree.

Petronas Towers

He was thrilled when he learned we’re English-language teachers. He told us about his English lessons; apparently, he was at the top of his class.

“That’s right! Number one!” he said.

But what he said was much less memorable than how he displayed ‘number one’.

Whenever he’d get excited and need to emphasize something’s supremacy, David employed a very specific motion: his left arm would lift, his arm perpendicular to the ground before his elbow would rise away from his body, and his loose fist would flutter before his gangly index finger rose from the shaky mess into a rigid, erect indication of what he meant.

(He made us promise to bring his gesture worldwide. Now that you know about the motion, consider yourself implicated.)

“Number one!”

Why was anything number one?

“It has P – O – W – E – RRRRRRRRRRRRRR,” according to David.

Fucking everything was number one to this guy: English; our beer; his English; his shit-awful cigarettes; our English. The man was nothing if not enthusiastic.

More to the point, my sexual prowess was tops too—at least until my friend told him I was a habitual premature ejaculator.

Cat Nap, and other puns

See, David refused to believe that we were anything less than bang buddies. It took us three minutes to talk him down from marriage:

“You married, no?”

“Nope.”

“No? Don’t lie.”

“David, we promise.”

“But she’s your wife, no?

“Nope.”

And so forth.

City of Street Art

When he heard “friends” numerous times, he finally settled on ‘special friends’. It seemed like a reasonable place to end the shenanigans. It also opened a window for a joke:

“Yea, but David, she has many special friends.”

I forgot that sarcasm doesn’t translate across languages so well—damn beers—and that my friend can give as good as she gets—damn beers. I just had to wait for the revenge.

My friend and I started to fabricate how we became special friends. It eventually came about that I was the artist for her back tattoo (a gorgeous cherry blossom, so I was flattered), and after those four hours getting tattooed in my chair, she was hooked.

“Four hours?!” David exclaimed. His excitement, barely containable, eventually exploded out of his left hand:

“Number one!”

Thus, the stage was set for my friend.

“Yea, but David, he lasts only two seconds,” she revealed, tipping her head to imply he think about this statement.

He didn’t need to think; his eyes, once proud, shot back to me with disbelief.

“Two seconds? No!”

I got too excited. I saw a hook, well baited: an opportunity to continue the laughs and general revelry, even if at my expense. I couldn’t keep it in. Without control, I quickly blurted:

“Yes, David. Two seconds.”

His jaw dropped. His shit-awful cigarette nearly ended up on his obnoxious belt buckle. Sure, I could get a pretty girl in four hours, but I was finished after two seconds.

“But David, I can have sex, like, twelve times a day.”

He seemed impressed, at least for a bit. Then, I think, he did the math:

2 seconds x 12 sex-romps = 24 seconds of sex-romps. That number’s still far south of stellar. David, much older than myself, knew he needed to proffer some wisdom.

“Two seconds no problem. You know what you do?”

I did not, and I needed to know.

He removed his shit-awful cigarette so he could stick his tongue.

“Lick,” he coyly whispered, pointing to his, apparently, most prized muscle.

Shit officially got weird.

After we three nearly pissed ourselves laughing, we got back to our basic patterns of discussion: being number one, what does and does not have POWERRRRRRRRRRRRRR, the virtues of speaking English (David was a full-on acolyte), and the reported special friendship between my friend and me.

Looking back at our trip to Malaysia, all events—the 9-hour bus ride with one pit stop at a flooded bathroom; the undulating verdure of the Cameron Highlands; the self-inflated, giant, German doucher who tried to ruin said undulation; the expensive but rejuvenating hotel at which we stayed there; jelly-pla stings and non-overreactions in Batu Ferringhi, Penang; tremendously helpful cabbies all over Penang; the silence of Georgetown on the night of Chinese New Year—pass through and/or recall the memory of David. He picked us up when we were down, and continued to hoist us when we needed a quick chuckle elsewhere.

Overcast with a chance of awkward

Until, at least, shit got too weird.

My friend and I were two or three big beers deep and David had arrived already half in some bag, so things devolved kind of quickly—as they are wont to do—after the premature ejaculation talk. We two travelers were hitting a wall as David’s pronunciation was coming up to its own. These two events would have been enough to warrant an exit, but the lack of David’s topics expedited the shit out of the process: he kept returning to cuming early and going down on a chick afterwards.

The conversation had clearly peaked. It was time for a quick cleanup and for us to collect our things so we could bounce. There would be no conversational cuddling after the fact.

Nevertheless, once back in our room, David’s shadow had already begun to cast itself:

“Hey, tonight: number one!” we said with fluttering fists and indicative index fingers.

Yup.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Happiness, Malaysia, Misadventure

 

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See You Again, Vientiane

My eyes burned from the frequently wafted urine splashed out of the filled toilet and onto the floor. My brain was spinning from the rock-concert loud pop music that blared all night and mocked me and my dead iPod. My legs and back were stiff from the bus’s just-too-short sleeper seats. My spirit was cracking from all of the people verbally complaining about the same things about which I was mentally complaining.

And so we pulled into the ­­­­­­­­­­Talat Sao Bus Station in Vientiane, Laos’s capital, around 7 a.m.

The impetus for Vientiane (pronounced ‘vee-en-tee-ehn’ by Westerners and ‘wee-ehn chan’ by Southeast Asians) was due more to inertia and hope than excitement. Luang Prabang had sucked the life out of me and the two friends I had made—one of whom saved my foot—were in transit to Vietnam. They decided to forgo the rest of their trip in Laos, since the northern city deflated them as well.

My vacation still had plenty of time left, however, and Vientiane was on my itinerary. Laos needed redemption and I was ready for a city: something that wasn’t full of the alleged quiet charm of Luang Prabang. (Another swing and a miss, Lonely Planet.) I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do in the capital, but I knew I was going to do it.

After some recovery.

By 10 a.m., I was settled in my guesthouse—the friendly, clean, affordable, convenient, and highly recommended Mixay Guesthouse on ­­­­­­­­­Norkeokumman Road—and sitting down to comfort food: noodle soup from a street vendor and two cups coffee strong enough to cross an elephant’s eyes. My dSLR was left on my bed, right next to my burdensome and conspicuous pack, neither of which was desired for many hours. Instead, I was defined by two goals: a new book and a café. Within forty-five minutes of slurping the ends of my soup’s broth, I had bought David Mitchell’s latest, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and was sauntering into Scandinavian Bakery.

Yes, Scandinavian Bakery—in Vientiane; in Laos; in Southeast Asia; more than 5,200 miles from Copenhagen, Denmark, the most proximate Scandinavian city to Vientiane.

Allow me a knee-jerk defense of myself.

The bakery has the cheapest coffee in city, both air-conditioning and outdoor seating, and padded chairs as opposed to the generic, stack-able, plastic lawn chairs at any Laotian café. Moreover, the place was a ten-minute walk from my guesthouse, an appreciated quality in any location for a person—me—who gets lost while walking to the bathroom. Also, any and all comforts were welcome as I tried to refuel for the rest of my vacation.

Now allow me to unjerk my knee and say, “Shove it up your ass if you think I need to defend myself” (which I do, somewhat, maybe?).

I simply wasn’t in the mood to make a silly attempt at authenticity. I went to Scandinavian Bakery, ordered in broken Laos, and kicked off my shoes.

Afterwards, I ended up Noy’s Fruit Heaven, admittedly a home-run suggestion by Lonely Planet and exactly the place to continue Thousand Autumns. I kicked back with a star-fruit shake and plowed deeper into my book. I consumed both voraciously and appreciatively.

Five hours later, I had walked to the end of a night market and sat down at a small, family-run food vendor for dinner—eating slowly, as to watch the sun slowly sink into the Mekong.

You hear that, peninsula of Luang Prabang? Street food: totally faceless places with one burner and a tiny menu that rely more on the kip than the dollar or euro. Bastard, I chide you for the participation the rest of the world has had with you.

It was here, at dinner, where I began to see and feel the difference between Laos’s capital and Luang Prabang. Vientiane was a home; all of the markers were present: street food; ever-present language barriers for foreigners; people running for exercise; a playground; more Laotians in jeans than Caucasians in tank tops. Of course, the tourist aspects are needed. Additionally, I have no illusions about being nothing if not a tourist. But tourist money, while subsidizing the opening of doors and global-socioeconomic improvement, subsequently limits and strips the very situations of the places and people it otherwise elevates. In Vientiane, life felt like it happened around and along with tourist money, not because of it.

from China, with communism

Nevertheless, the influx of foreign money—even if not necessarily tourist money—was obvious and unavoidably recognized. I could not walk for more than thirty minutes without stubbing my toe on a waist-high monument recognizing the donation of a foreign nation, from China to France.

It quickly became apparent that Laos, or at least Vientiane, relies heavily on foreign money. According to the CIA World Factbook, my go-to resource for almost everything, foreign sources donated $586 million to the Laotian government in FY09/10.

And why not? The country is stunningly poor. Again, just take a look at the World Factbook: the country’s GDP (or the admittedly problematic PPP (purchasing power parity)-based GDP) ranks 135 globally at $15.69 billion, based on 2010 estimates. Compare that GDP to second-ranked America ($14.66 trillion), fifth-ranked India ($4.06 trillion), and eighty-third-ranked Kenya ($66.03 billion).

Another look: Laos’s per capita income was, according to 2010 estimates, $2,500, placing it at 181st. Qatar, the world’s reportedly richest nation per capita, sits at the top with an estimated $179,000. USA’s per capita income, eleventh, is figured around $47,200. Eighty-third-ranked Botswana is about $14,000. (For consistency, India came in at 162 at $3,500 and Kenya at 197 at $1,600. Such are frightening disparities in wealth.)

In a Reuters article about a budding China-Laos/ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) railway, the first sentence describes Laos as a “poor and landlocked Southeast Asian nation.”

According to a number of sources, though, things are on up, economically.

Returning to the nascent railway system, there are legitimate hopes that it will help to better connect Laos to other ASEAN communities and, most significantly, China. Laos’s deputy prime minister, Somsavat Lengsavad, told Reuters that he has high hopes for the railway, which is expected to open by 2014 or ’15. He sees it as part of a larger system of ventures:

“To free our country from the least developed status … our government has invested much in communication infrastructure development in order to complement both intra-ASEAN and ASEAN-China integration.”

Indeed, Laos has seen drastic economic improvement in recent years. According to Reuters, “Bilateral trade between China and Laos grew by more than half in 2009 to $751.8 million.” Remarkably, the World Factbook reports, “Economic growth [in Laos] has reduced official poverty rates from 46% in 1992 to 26% in 2010,” in part due to “high foreign investment.”

Unlike the parts of Luang Prabang that I saw, which were characterized mainly by travel agencies and restaurants—and therefore arguably geared more to accommodating foreigners than more varied purposes—the markers of Vientiane’s development were often regularly self-absorbed: parks; office complexes; less-Indochina-styled buildings; well-regulated traffic.

None of the above is to obscure that Vientiane, let alone Laos, is anything but poor. The deputy prime minister himself admitted “least developed status.” Indeed, the aforementioned monuments are constant reminders of the proliferation and influence of foreign investment and, significantly, gifts. The world outside of the major cities, of which I saw slivers from the windows of my unholy buses, did not to anything to bespeak urban existence: paved roads were often interrupted by wide dirt paths (and I traveled only between major cities—never off the very beaten path, where unexploded ordinances are still a deadly problem); collections of huts on stilts that have one site of electricity, if at all; people using buckets to bathe outdoors with a towel around their waists for privacy as traffic zips by on the road. As of 2010, an estimated three-fourths of the Laotian labor force was involved in agriculture, while those participating in industry and services was “not available,” according to the World Factbook. In the capital itself, I saw tiny shanty houses erected—or, maybe more appropriately, propped—against large corporate structures.

I decided to have one more full day in this city split between gentrified and developing-world poor, and I deemed it best to spend the bulk of it on a chauffeured tour of holy structures and other landmarks.

Much like I did in Ayutthaya, I hired a tuk-tuk to take me to a predetermined set of monuments without offering a proper, guided, descriptive tour. I loved my trip to Ayutthaya—the scenery was unreal, I started to settle into my dSLR, and I felt like I carpe diem’ed the whole place pretty well because of my chartered tuk-tuk—so making the same choice in Vientiane for 130,000 kip (about $16.30, or 502 THB) was easy.

The tour’s first stop was Pha That Luang, a massive golden stupa (the cone-looking things) within a larger religious and sovereign complex. It was erected in 1566 and, according to the 15th edition of Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, legend says sits very near the site where, as early as the the 3rd century B.C., Indian Buddhists built a different stupa to house a piece of the Buddha’s breastbone. All I know is the stupa, slightly tilted, blasts out of the otherwise flat ground and makes everything else within view seem slightly more or slightly less golden; I couldn’t decide.

Next was Patuxai, a simulacrum of the unmistakable Arc de Tripomphe in Paris, France and, amusingly, a gift from China. Laos’s version had its own charm, experienced mainly in the numerous, steep flights of stairs that led to a final, staircase that spiraled to the top of the monument and was the gateway to panoramic views of Laos’s capital, but which barely accommodated my Western body. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I left some layers of skin from my forehead on the back of one of the steps as I was descending and stood up a little too tall.

Hophrakeo was third and was pretty damn boring. The monument was next to the final stop, Wat Sisaket, so I have a feeling Hophrakeo offered some padding to a tour that would feel a little trim with only three sights. Cameras were not allowed inside, which was just as well since inside was a weird, tiny museum/repository of Buddhas tossed into a room.

As I said, the final destination was Wat Sisaket, It’s construction was completed in the beginning of the 19th century and is the city’s oldest surviving temple. This wat had a charm and warmth to which I hadn’t been accustomed with prior holy sites I’d visited: the proliferation of earth tones and burnt-red clay structures supported a reverent air without imposing immediately palpable awe. As I walked around the perimeter wall, snapping pictures of the varying, mid-sized Buddhas and tiny ones stacked in alcoves in the same walls, I gently slipped into Sisaket.

Instead of returning me to Mixay Guesthouse, I asked my tuk-tuk driver to drop me at Talat Sao, an overwhelmingly boring and bland market near a bus station named for the market. The near-mile walk back to my guesthouse, however, allowed for a leisurely exploration of the city, including a couple wrong left-turns and a glimpse of a house right off of a cover of a William Faulkner novel.

Southern Gothic? Indochinese relic?

For dinner, I ate at Taj Mahal, a wonderful Indian restaurant a couple streets away from Mixay, with a pair of guys I met at the guesthouse. The first, an affable, if not slightly forward, 39-year-old was in Laos to volunteer with children undergoing physical rehabilitation before he returned to Israel to apply for a medical license. The other, a 50-some-year-old Canadian looking for work, struck me as slightly off-kilter. He was in Southeast Asia to look for work as a carpenter, building furniture. He had already investigated jobs in Thailand and was beginning to worry a bit about job prospects.

He explained, “I’ve been in the region for about six months and just can’t find work.”

“What do you want to do?”

“Build furniture. I have a couple of spots scouted here, but I don’t know how they’ll pan out.”

I said, “Best of luck,” but thought—and tried my best not to say—“What the fucking what?”

Maybe he preferred the permanent warmth of the region to Canada’s snowy chill. Maybe he really likes the selection of woods in Southeast Asia. Maybe he’s finally tackling his list of dreams, which is topped by “itinerant carpenter.” Maybe he wants to live somewhere where Americans won’t regularly laugh at his distinctly Canadian ‘aboot’. I don’t know his past. What I do know is that I expected to meet a man who came to the region to be a carpenter as much as I expected to have a sea sprite sit on my face.

The following day was filled with filling time before my overnight bus back to Bangkok.

Originally, I wanted a train. Not only had I heard good things about the train between Vientiane and Bangkok, but buses had proved to eat, deeply, vulgar amounts of ass on this trip. However, the train was about 40% more expensive than the bus, and I wasn’t clear on my funds. Thus, I took a chance and opted for the bus.

Jackpot.

No loud music—or any music, for that matter. Comfortable seats. No puddles of piss. No smell of piss. Hell, no misplaced piss! Free dinner, vegetable fried rice, at a restaurant. Guidance with customs regulations and procedures at the border.

What more could a farang desire?

For one, the unexpected relief and glee once back on Thai soil.

In Laos, automobile traffic moves on the right side of the road; in Thailand, the left. Once the bus shifted lanes from the right to the left, I felt lighter and happier: I was back. You should have seen my smile when a lizard scurried out from behind a potted plant sitting at eye-level and surprised me while I was at a urinal.

Oh, and my feet—which garnered so much attention, from pitying tears to mocking laughs—had deflated to their regular, vein-y versions and were enjoying a healthy, uninfected scab.

Time to be back, bitches.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Laos

 

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Like a Laotian Jesus, I Walk on Piss

I had been on the road for only an hour, but I already needed to pee. Thankfully, I had opted for an allegedly tricked-out bus, replete with toilet. Since we had to be barefoot during the trip, I entered the bathroom sans shoes—and immediately felt small puddles. I really, really had to go, so I stifled my imagination right away. “Probably just some rogue sink-water,” I told myself.

The light in the bathroom wouldn’t turn on. I could make out the silver outline of the toilet, but not enough to ensure my own pee wouldn’t mix with the, ahem, rogue sink-water. I stepped out, grabbed my cell phone with the life-saving flashlight, and re-entered the bathroom.

Once illuminated, all chances of the rogue-sink-water explanation were pissed away: the toilet was filled to the brim with urine (hopefully only urine, since the sign on the door declared, “Please, no Excrement”) that was splashing around as the bus driver took mad, vertigo-inducing turns around unpaved switchbacks.

I had had enough. Fuck you; fuck you; fuck you, Luang Prabang.

I was finally leaving Luang Prabang, northern Laos’s most major city. I was on a bus that left at 8:30 p.m. and was headed south to Vientiane, the country’s capital. For the preceding five days, I had tried to make the most of my vacation and enjoy a city that, at best, earned my fleeting lukewarm reception. I tried my best to enjoy Luang Prabang, but the city was persistently frustrating. Using the money I had saved by staying at a cheap guesthouse, I decided to live large and buy tickets to a sleeper bus—which was equipped with near-bed-like chairs, dinner, and a bathroom (crucial since an onset of diarrhea)—for an extra 30,000 kip, or 120 baht. If nothing else, my overnight trip to Vientiane would be nice.Psych.

But let’s get to the bus first. It begins with a journey that, like most others here, involves an overnight something to somewhere.

Pai was painful to leave: good food; good relaxation; good sights. Alas, I knew I should go: I was on vacation and carpe diem, etc. At 8 p.m. on Monday, October 10, I boarded a minivan for the seven-hour trip to the border town, Chiang Khong, Thailand, and a trip across the Mekong River into Laos. The ride was fine—I listened to music, watched True Romance on my iPod, and stole interrupted bouts of sleep—but my left foot decided to swell. It now matched my right, which grew, I presume, when it was sprained after my second motorbike accident.

The minivan ticket included a three-hour nap, which I gobbled, at a guesthouse in Chiang Khong. Once across the river and visa nonsense aside, I grabbed a baguette sandwich—one of the more delightful remainders from Laos’s days as a French colony—and debated how to make the long trip to Luang Prabang: overnight bus or three days and two nights on a slowboat? Everyone with whom I became friends on the van was doing the slowboat, which, I read, is a popular option for people traveling south. But I wanted to get to Luang Prabang quickly and, for various reasons, the boat seemed much less desirable: time; money; comfort.

Looking at Laos

And so began the shittiness that quietly followed me around Laos.

Crossing the Mekong

Once in Laos and across customs, I bought a ticket for a VIP bus—which are differentiated from local buses by the presence of A/C, more comfortable seats, chance food, and a chance bathroom—and was ready to finally arrive in Luang Prabang. Once at the bus station, all passengers were informed that the VIP bus had broken down and we would be taking a local bus—information we received well after our tuk-tuk driver gathered our bus tickets and exchanged them at the window. Fine. Whatever. No biggie.

For the next thirteen hours, I sat on a cramped bus with a new mother asleep on my right arm as the bus raced around corners and challenged its dying transmission on dirt hills. The driver was an aggressive motherfucker. More pressing, however, was the status of my feet: I now had cankles and the wound on my left food was regularly oozing.

I arrived in Luang Prabang around 6 a.m. on Wednesday, October 12.

My first time in a commie-pinko country

Adjusting to the currency involved a steep learning curve. Laos uses the kip—but businesses and vendors also regularly accept baht and dollars, despite government directives—which has suffered such tremendous inflation that paying for things typically involves five digits. Budget rooms are typically 50,000 – 60,000 kip, sandwiches and coffee linger around 10,000 kip each, renting a bicycle for a day is 20,000 kip, and six doses of 400mg ibuprofen is 8,000 kip. Prices, compared to the dollar, are comparable to those in Thailand, but spending in thousands took some mental adjustment.

Luckily, I found a slightly grungy but super cheap guesthouse in a nice, central location: Paphai Guesthouse, which was in between the central road, Sisavangvong, and close to Kingkitsarat, the road that skirts the Nam Khan River—and began strolling.

The overwhelming majority of my time in Luang Prabang was spent on the peninsula, which juts into the meeting place of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. The third main road, Khem Khong, follows the Mekong. In hindsight, this limit contributed to my total lack of warmth towards Luang Prabang.

Simply stated, I didn’t like Luang Prabang because it didn’t feel like anyone lived there, but rather sold stuff to foreigners there. There was a disproportionate number of tourists to Laotians and the are of the city that I saw was disturbingly homogenous: French veneers that harkened back to Laos’s colonial days, pricey cafés, travel agencies, ritzy guesthouses, and shops full of stunning pewter wares that lost their luster when I saw the same goods outside of a convenience store. Indeed, the entire area appeared to function like a colonial veneer: pretty on the exterior, but too shallow to be scratched with any satisfaction.

Once, while in JoMa Bakery—a place that, in all fairness, thankfully makes no pretensions about being anything other than a Western-style transplant in Laos—I heard Bon Iver’s new album.

And then there was the time I helped carry two guys who weren’t breathing into a tuk-tuk.

Here’s a passage from an e-mail I wrote in the wake of the event:

“. . . I thought I carried two dead bodies two nights ago.I met up with a group of people I met at customs and there were two new guys. Around 2:30 a.m., they bought a gram of, what they believed to be, coke off of a tuk-tuk driver (all of whom deal). Around 3 a.m., they both go white and limp within 10mins of each other at a restaurant. The second guy mumbled, “–told us coke, but this isn’t like coke, man. I think was heroin?” So they both snorted half a G of heroin, possibly. If nothing else, it was the shittiest coke ever. Both turned ghost white and their lips went purple. Both were either not breathing and without a pulse or had the most minor of traces. I ended up helping carry both of them to a tuk-tuk bound for the hospital. Laos health care sucks for anything serious–you know, like an OD–so I doubted things worked out well for them.

“The next morning I was on my way to the hospital for some antibiotics for my foot and saw the group who went to the hospital coming out. It honestly took me 5 seconds before I believed it was them because I would have bet they died. The group told me both of the dudes’ hearts stopped a pair of times and they had to do CPR. They told me the hospital was shit–even showed me pics–and advised me not to go in. They said the nurses did shit and a doctor didn’t show up for 90 minutes after they arrived.”

This event, by the way, happened on my first night in Luang Prabang.

Fucking ridiculous.

How my feet looked for most of my time in Luang Prabang.

This excerpt brings me to another misfortune: my goddamn feet. Both were swollen and one was an open wound on the verge of festering. Additionally, my right shin was swollen from the second motorbike accident and repeatedly kicking the hell out of things at Rose Gym. As a result, I stayed away from the area’s beautiful waterfalls for fear of further infecting my foot, trekking for fear of exacerbating my injuries, and massages because my legs couldn’t stand a rigorous and violent Oriental-style massage.

I felt consistently thwarted in Luang Prabang. For one, the situation with my legs made even walking for long periods of time difficult. I wasn’t even able to do personal work to kill time because the 5,500-THB netbook I bought specifically for traveling broke sometime during my journey from Pai to Laos.

There wasn’t even a good selection of street food. I wandered and strolled—explored and meandered—and there was jack shit along the peninsula, just my grilled-banana lady, people with disgusting-looking fruit, a concentrated 100-yard-stretch of sandwich and coffee vendors, and fruit shakes. No fried rice, rare noodles, and little grilled meat (which isn’t on my menu, anyway). There were also plenty of tasty crèpe carts, but redundancy is not the spice of life.

But even when I attempted to maximize Luang Prabang and escape my hole of loathing and self-pity, the city laughed at me. Simple noodle places were hard to find, as the two I found were jammed in alleys between European-style restaurants. My first day there, I found a place to volunteer with little kids and teach English literacy. I picked up a brochure, but the map on it sucked so much that re-finding the place proved too difficult. Two different locals—a tuk-tuk driver and a cop—gave me two different sets of directions. For two days, I walked for forty-five minutes to attempt to find the place, but with no success either day.

I really did try to take advantage of Luang Prabang.

Not all was shit, though. I did eventually fall into a progressively comfortable routine. I read a lot at a beautiful, comfortable, and reasonably priced café near the end of the peninsula. I ate ungodly amounts of food, including delicious tofu sandwiches on warm baguettes and fruit shakes. And, every night at 7 p.m., I watched a movie in the upstairs lounge at L’Etranger Books & Tea; my line-up included Bad Teacher, Midnight in Paris, Slumdog Millionaire, and Hangover 2. I also took some awesome photos, if you’ll pardon some bragging, and was lucky enough to have my camera with me during the coincidental Bun Awk Phansa festival, which marked the end of the rainy season.

Unfortunately, I missed the part of the ceremony, after the parade, when participants cast their elaborate boats into the Mekong. The event was reportedly beautiful.

Luckily, I also met some friends along the way, including a pair of similarly-aged ladies—one from Scotland; the other from Australia—who had been bouncing around Southeast Asia for the past several months. We met each other at customs at Huay Xai, resulting in my twenty-four-hour nickname, Customs Guy. I met up with them most days, touring a wat, eating food, trying to catch the culmination of Bun Awk Phansa, drinking adult beverages, and general bull-shitting.

The couple from England-via-Slovenia, who I met in Pai, made some guest appearances in the city as well.

She saved my foot

The Scot is also, probably, single-handedly responsible for saving my foot. After making me terribly nervous our first night in Luang Prabang—“Barry, are you serious? That’s an open wound! And you have cankles! That’s not good. Do you want to keep your foot?”—she researched antibiotics with me and gave me Doxycycline to help kill the developing infection. High five, Scot.

Not luckily, they were having troubles of their own. The pair, along with a couple others, accompanied the two guys to the hospital and participated in the thirty minutes of CPR. After leaving the hospital, they were understandably shaken by the complete lack of reported health care in Laos, alleging the nurses were incompetent, the doctor didn’t show up for ninety minutes, and the building itself was dirty and minimally stocked. Moreover, the two got their laundry ruined—resulting in an argument with a stubborn laundry woman—and one sliced open her toe her last day in the city.

Beginning the climb

On the day of the laundry mishap, we were determined to turn our fortunes and explore some of the more cultural aspects of Luang Prabang. Consequently, we made a trip up Phu Si Hill and explored the hilltop wat complex, which also offered us a stunning view of the city. It was at the top of Phu Si Hill that I realized the actual size—grand, much grander than the tiny old city to which I limited myself—of Luang Prabang.

We definitely had fun, but the three of us also definitely did not love Luang Prabang. Thankfully, they’re coming to Bangkok for a week at the beginning of November, so maybe we can make up for our shittier experiences.

A view of Luang Prabang from Wat Phu Si

Oddly enough, by my last two days in Luang Prabang, I began to slightly and regularly appreciate the place. My café was a gift from heaven, the Indian food was good, and there were cool people about, like the German guy I met who had spent the last six months cycling—and busing where he needed—from Mongolia to Laos. The midnight curfew—which can be mocked with a trip to the bowling alley—was a drag, but it did make for cool interactions at the guesthouse, like the one I had with the cyclist.

He had no idea when he’d be done with his trip.

Stay away from colorful fonts, religion.

Personally, I got a lot of benefit from a solo trip to Xieng Thong, a wat at sleepy tip of the peninsula. The temple was only an extra ten- to fifteen-minute-walk from my choice café, but I didn’t make it down there until my final stretch of days. Ugly-as-hell sign aside, I’m just happy I spent the extra time and energy to get down there—and with my camera.

There was also the astounding, delectable, expansive, inexpensive, and varied half city-block of vegetarian mess-plate vendors. The city’s nightly market, the Hmong Night Market, was comprised of mostly the same shit: beautiful textiles, charming art, Beerlao t-shirts, and pewter wares. Needless to say, it became boring after the second day of perusal. However, down a small road off of the Hmong Night Market was a deep line of tables displaying mounds of freshly cooked vegetarian food. The price was 10,000 kip—about forty baht, or $1.30—per plate, and it was heaped with all six items I indicated from the vendor’s line-up. That, along with my Beerlao Dark, was an ideal final dinner in Luang Prabang.

Incomparable in Southeast Asia

Although I was getting into a rhythm, I knew I had exhausted Luang Prabang as much as I could. I had accepted the part of the city for what it was—a tourist town—and was afforded some peace of mind. However, a tourist town can be squeezed only so much before going dry.

It was Monday, October 17, and time to leave for Vientiane.

But before then, a walk through a sloshing puddle of piss and—did I mention?—Thai/Laotian pop music blasted through bus speakers, and felt reverberated in the walls, from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m.

Sleeper bus? My fucking scrotum it was.

I’d go back to Luang Prabang, but after I see everything else in the world.

At least I got to play with my camera. I also decided that Luang Prabang rarely looked better in color.

Gettin' out

I knew there was a reason I packed only my dad’s Minolta 50mm f/1.7 lens.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2011 in Laos, Misadventure

 

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Ayutthaya, Part 1: The Lone Nerd

It’s been more than two weeks since my trip to Ayutthaya and I’m still talking about it—and not just because I’m currently typing this post. I took the trip somewhat on a whim and totally by myself, but it proved to be one of my finer times here. Although the time lacked some of the spark afforded by a travel buddy, I was relaxed and free. For two days, it was just me, my camera, and unholy amounts of sweat.

(The city is full of wats. Therefore, I assumed that one needed to wear clothes appropriate for wats: pants and covered shoulders. My ass melted in the 90-something degree heat as I watched jerk-off tourists saunter around in shorts)

Ayutthaya, once called Siam, was the capital of Thailand for four centuries until the Burmese came in the middle of the eighteenth century and showed the Thais who’s who. During that time, Ayutthaya flourished, both locally and internationally. Lavish and expansive architecture is everywhere, hinted at by impressive ruins. Also, there are numerous European records of the city, many of which compare it to Venice—both because of its grandeur and its situation among a pair of rivers, including the Chao Phraya. A handful of international communities and settlements still exist; the Portuguese settlement, the Japanese settlement, and a large population of Thai Muslims are all features of Ayutthaya. As a result, tasty food abounds (because who gives a shit about superficial stuff like culture and customs?). And while the Burmese melted much of the gold adorning Buddhist statues in the city while the Thais fled to present-day Bangkok, the remaining sights are breathtaking, even if somewhat denuded.

The weekend of August 12 was a long one, as we had Friday off for the queen’s birthday/ Mother’s Day. A bunch of friends went to Koh Samet, a nearby island with reportedly beautiful beaches, and the others were broke as a joke and/or sick. I wasn’t in the mood for either sand or Bang Na, so I opted for a solo venture to Ayutthaya. The plan had been to spend two full days and one night in the city, but I didn’t leave my apartment until 1:30 p.m. because of my hellish Chiang Mai and Pai post. (Technical difficulties can lick one.) Finally done with the post—which easily took six hours, net—I was in a ballsy cab that weaved and darted me to Victory Monument, where I took a sixty-baht minibus to Ayutthaya. The vehicle was cramped, but I spaced out to Frank Ocean’s nostalgia, ULTRA and Coltrane’s Lush Life. I don’t know why, but R&B and soul are turning out to be the best soundtracks to these long drives in Thailand. The two-hour ride was a long one, especially since I was alone, so the music was crucial.

The amended sign at the Ayutthaya Guesthouse

Once in town, I roamed aimlessly. This was my first trip alone, and I wasn’t about to waste it by having direction and shit. After some general strolling, I ended up at the Ayutthaya Guesthouse on Th Naresuan, Soi 2. It was a bare-bones place meant for your ass and little else. At two hundred baht a night, the price was right, but it would have been nice to have received a free towel and soap, as well a sheet for my bed. Oh well. At least they had a Western toilet. Room secured, I ate some tremendous pad thai goong—shrimp pad thai—before intrepidly trekking off again. Well, maybe not intrepidly, but definitely adverbly.

The closest thing I saw to a wat on Saturday.

I walked around U Thong Road, which circles the old city of Ayutthaya, until 7 p.m. I expected putz about and happen upon 1,000 wats, but had no such luck. Instead, I walked along the perimeter of a city circumscribed by a pair of rivers that merge to form a loop and watched people close shop. Before arriving, I figured a UNESCO World Heritage site—which Ayutthaya is—would have wats coming out of its wats. Once there, though, it dawned on me: “Of course there’s a fucking city here, asshole. It’s not like people leave a historical landmark uninhabited just so you can take some photos.”

Refusing to despair, I switched modes: time to check out the night market. I bought some shorts and shoelaces, relying on my haggling skills to knock down the prices. It’s consistently awesome to pleasantly surprise vendors by knowing Thai numbers well enough that they’ll knock the price even lower. I may be Suddenly Farang, but I’m not totally ignorant or dick-face farang.

Below are some shots from Saturday, including a collection of Ayutthaya’s colors that I adored.

The best part of Saturday, however, was the night. After dropping my stuff off in my room, taking a cold shower, and donning my new shorts, I went to at a nearby, open-air bar for food and a tall beer. My table faced the street of the bar and, behind me, a guy whose guitar proficiency well outweighed his English proficiency played hits by the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. I rested, graded, and listened—and became, accidentally, a bit drunk. Whoopsy.

Then it was back to Ayutthaya Guesthouse and another quick, cold shower before passing out. It needed to be an early night since I planned on having an early morning. I had shit to see, you know?

The sun woke me up around 7 a.m., after which I got ready and found a place with a fantastic breakfast. I ate a crêpe with fruit while sipping on good coffee and orange juice—pleasures rarely enjoyed since coming here. (I should note too, that I’ve lived here long enough where I don’t feel the need to absorb the country by staying limited to its food. I absolutely adore Thai food and often choose it over other options, but I have been here for more than three months and have many more ahead of me; it’d be silly to eat only Thai food.)

I must have screamed tourist: translucent skin-tone aside, I had a camera bag and, worst of all, bright orange Lonely Planet guide that I was studying to plan out my day. Such beacons, though, were the best things that could have happened to me: they attracted Wanchai, my beloved tuk tuk driver, right to my table. Before him, I planned on limiting my day to a few sights before heading back to Bang Na. Thanks to him, my day blew up with things to see—and in an organized way. For 500 baht, he took me around to some of the best wats and structures the city has to offer over the course of three hours. To boot, he spoke great English and surprised me with some pineapple. Naturally, I got his number at the end of the day and will use him again when—yes, when—I return.

I took 1,024 pictures between the two days, the bulk of which occurred on Sunday. (Thank you, autobracketing.) Below is a collection of my photos, organized—as best as I can recall—by location.

Wat Yai Chaya Mongkol

Wat Panan Choeng

Wat Chaiwatthanaram

Wat Phu Khao Thong

Wat Na Phramane
Here’s where I made friends with some of the local kids. They were hanging out outside of the temple and we shared our shitty language skills with each other. Thanks to the camera, few words were necessary.

Wat Lokayasutha

Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

Whew.

My day finished around 3 p.m. and was capped off by one of the best bowls of fried rice I’ve ever had. Lovely woman who operates the khao pad cart, I will marry you—just as soon as I make my way back to Ayutthaya as a shameless tourist. I do, after all, have a whole bunch of sights left to see, hopefully on the back of a bicycle.

P.S.: You may have wondered why this is Ayutthaya, Part 1. Well, Part 2 will feature the birth of my nascent acting career and a free cruise. Goddamn, I love this city.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Happiness, Thailand

 

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Not the “Bachelorette,” but Chiang Mai and Pai

It has been a frustratingly busy several weeks. Among midterms, quizzes, and daily assignments, grading has been successfully punching me in the stomach. But, some of the work came from freelance copyediting for my uncle, which led to a pretty nice payday. Shwing.

Several weeks ago, on Thursday, 28 July, I got back from a fiveish-day trip to northern Thailand, namely Chiang Mai and Pai. If you watched the most recent season of The Bachelorette, they shot in Chiang Mai—or so I’m told. It’s where they, reportedly, filmed the human meat—er, contestants—riding elephants.

Chiang Mai

Leading up to my trip to Chiang Mai, I was super excited. I remember sitting on the beach in Koh Chang and buzzing about the upcoming trip north—even bragging to my friend about it. In fact, I think I bounced a little from anticipation at one point. Everything I heard about the city made me thing it was exactly what I was wanted out of a location: good, eclectic food; tons of music options; English-capable but not English-centric; and a slow, easygoing feel. Moreover, the city is situated near beautiful mountains and has a mix of old and new, as it was a central thoroughfare and trading post centuries ago. Inside the larger, new city is the remnants of the old city, complete with defensive walls. I even researched jobs at Chiang Mai University, which has an English program (presumably literature, my love, and not as a second language, my vehicle).

Thapet Gate

By the time I was on the van to Pai, I was pretty disappointed by Chiang Mai. I think it was more our fault than the city’s—my group and I tried to jam ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag while there—coupled with a collection of frustrating misfortunes. Nevertheless, I figure a warning is in order in case my ensuing tone isn’t ultra excited.

Pai, on the other hand, is in my top five favorite places on earth. But we need to get there first, don’t we?.

Chiang Mai is, at the least, a nine-and-a-half hour bus ride from Bangkok. Consequently, an overnight bus is the best option.

Get on. Read. iPod. Sleep. Get off.

The group—four people, including me—took an overnight bus on Saturday, 23 July, that left around 11:30 p.m. from Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus terminal and cost 615 baht. I read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin—a fucking excellent book that I recommend to everyone, ever—and vamped a forthcoming playlist, Because of Thailand, to perfection. Around 9 a.m., I woke up in Chiang Mai. Score one for my sleeping abilities.

Around 9:10 a.m., the frustrations began. I didn’t have enough money to cover breakfast, so I walked to an ATM associated with my bank. It was having “troubles communicating with bank. Try again later.” I walked to two more ATMS, one of which was another belonging to my bank. Both were having “troubles communicating with bank. Try again later.”

Bullshit.

There must have been some problem all-around, since my friends and other people on whom I spied were having the same issue. The ATMs weren’t back online until sometime around noon. Thankfully.

But, also, bullshit.

We found a recommended guesthouse, Malak House, which was a ten-minute walk from of Thapet Gate at the eastern end of the old city. Split with a friend, we paid 200 baht a night for perfectly bare-bones accommodations: cold shower, squatter toilet, and a near mattress-less bed. Honestly, I’m not complaining. As far as simplicity goes, the Malak House was a great place to stay. The owners spoke fairly good English and were incredibly helpful without being obnoxious. More importantly, its location was great: cafes, restaurants, food carts, sites, and everything else were within a short walk of Malak House.

Settled-in and understandably exhausted, the lot of us still wanted to absorb Chiang Mai. We knew we wouldn’t be in the city for long, so we had little choice but to drain it dry if we didn’t want to return disappointed (wakka wakka wakka, indeed). We did an aimless walking tour of a few wats and their contents.

At one—I believe it was Wat Bupparam—was a woman selling birds-to-be-released for forty baht. As a hangover from my (missed) vegetarian days, I hated seeing these birds in cages. Also, could you say no to her smile? Of course I bought a cage and released the three birds therein. Later, a friend told me that these birds are trained to return to a trainer so that they may be caged and sold again. Paint me duped.

Flight.

And we walked some more.

Flowers.

Monked.

By this day, 24 July, 2011, I had been in Thailand for more than two months without a Thai massage. Aside from the eight-week long class I took in undergrad and any friendly gestures from friends, I had also been without a massage for my 24 years on this planet.

Things needed to change.

Near Malak House was the Muan Parlor, a massage parlor with really cheap rates and a really talented masseuse. I’m pretty sure they gave me the biggest girl in the place to contort and kick my ass, all of which were entirely necessary and welcomed. I opted for the one-hour massage for 170 baht, knowing I’m hard-pressed to focus on anything for more than thirty minutes. After dim lights, a pair of over-sized pajamas, and a big-boned woman trying to rip my legs out, I left the Muan Parlor feeling like a brand new, if not slightly bent, human being. While I don’t think they’re not the mythic gift from the gods some people tout them to be, Thai massages are a great break from the tourist-stroll.

Next on the agenda was the Sunday market. Lonely Planet makes a big deal of the weekend night markets in Chiang Mai. Taking their often not-totally-misleading advice, we grabbed some roadies at the 7-11 and walked to the Sunday night market, conveniently located just inside Thapet Gate.

In short, swing-and-a-miss, Lonely Planet. The market was chock-full of the same, ultra touristy, tchotchke nonsense and totally bereft of redemptive street food. I had no intentions of actually buying anything; I merely wanted to walk amid a sea of human beings who were bartering, buying, selling, and capitalisming. The Sunday night market ended up being a bunch of farangs paying whatever was pitched to them. The place had no character, despite the roadies’ best efforts.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not even sure Thailand has an expression to cover ‘open container laws’, so drinks are drank.

We came back to the Malak House sometime around 11 p.m. and, as for myself, somewhat deflated. After a final nightcap on the guesthouse’s rooftop bar, we went to bed. After all, we were getting picked up for an all-day trek at 8 a.m.

The all-day trek that would firmly plant its foot on our throats, press, and twist—somewhat to my pleasure.

Monday was our friend’s birthday. The day prior, we scheduled a hike through some of Chiang Mai’s jungle-y mountains. The birthday girl is admittedly not-outdoorsy and had never been on a hike. By 9 a.m., we were off on our trek, led by our 19-year-old, nimble, and somewhat crazed tour guide, Tom.

Tom, the guide

It’d be ridiculous to describe the whole hike to you in minute detail. Basically, we were mobile from 9 a.m. until 4:30 or 5 p.m., two hours of which were spent hanging out in and around a tiny waterfall. In fact, it’s probably more appropriate to call the site an elevated waterroll.  The walk itself was grueling: a full day spent negotiating often-narrow footpaths wide enough to fit one and half humans across it—sometimes less—hoping you didn’t slip and eat shit down the side of a rocky mountain overlaid with jungle.

Actually, aforementioned shit eating almost happened about an hour into the hike. We were making our ways up and down a slippery fucking mud pit of slippery mud while holding onto a janky bamboo-handrail—a certifiable miracle in the middle of this jungle—when my friend lost her footing and almost fell down the side of the mountain, breaking every bone in her body and probably dying a couple times as well. If it weren’t for my ninja reflexes and paternal awareness of others’ safety, I’d have one fewer friend and one more memorial group on Facebook.

Unfortunately, my camera stayed necessarily buried during the entire walk because one hand on a camera was one fewer hand available to balance and save friends’ lives.

After three hours, we stopped at the waterroll: a chilly and welcomed respite from the trek. While we swam and shot the breeze, Tom foraged and cooked. We ended up eating instant noodles and cabbage out of bamboo cups with bamboo chopsticks: wild style. I think I ate two or three helpings simply because I could.

Tom's bridge to lunch.

Refreshing waterroll, up which I climbed.

Chef Tom

Tom’s foraging abilities didn’t end with noodles. Four times on the trip, he surprised us with fruit, both picked and found/maybe stolen. The fruit sucked most of the time—Tom had a difficult time distinguishing between ‘sweet’ and ‘bitter as a jockstrap’—but it was fun to have him pop out of nowhere with something to eat.

Tummies full, it was back to walking and not dying. After more jungle walking, we ended up navigating a wide expanse of rice fields. Here are the few remaining pictures I have from the trek. [pics of rice fields/ whole trek]

By the end of the hike, we were all exhausted. Most of us thought it was fun, however, despite the more treacherous aspects: Tom’s nimble and experienced self hauling ass like it was some kind of race; intermittent rain, especially at the end of the journey, making the already slippery fucking mud pits of slippery mud even worse. While I enjoyed the trek and appreciated the strain, our not-outdoorsy birthday girl didn’t mince words, “Fuck this fucking shit. I’m never going on a hike again.”

Remember when I said I didn’t think I could handle a two-hour massage? Times have changed, my friend; times have changed. After getting back to Chiang Mai proper and getting a little bit of food, I allowed Miss Big Bones at Muan Parlor to harass the shit out of me for two hours—and loved every second of it. Afterwards, the masseuses invited me outside to eat some fruit with them—not even kind of a euphemism—while my two friends finished their respective massages.

Motherfucking goddamn victory.

After some truly delicious Mexican food at Miguel’s, it was time for bed. Monday sucked the life out of me (also not a euphemism), but it was rewarding.

Tuesday began well enough. I found Nice Kitchen, a tremendous cafe place with delicious coffee and huge, reasonably priced breakfasts. Over a caffe americano, eggs, and a fruit place, I graded midterms and anticipated our 2 p.m. van to Pai. It was marvelous.

And then I lost my motherfucking ATM card.

While the others strolled around the old city, I frantically retraced my steps, looking for the debit card—with no success. I had just enough money to get back to my dorm, so I called my friends and told them I was heading back. To be honest, I wasn’t too bummed about the prospect of returning to Bang Na; Chiang Mai proved to be a letdown and truncating the trip was somewhat tempting. My good friend, however, told me she’d fund the rest of the vacation—an idea I hated for so many reasons, but one for which I owe her significantly more than baht. (The final tally was 2,923 baht, by the way.)

Pai, like I said, rocketed to my top-five list of favorite places. It’s tiny—the entire town can be walked in 20 – 30 minutes—but loaded with things I want. It was sleepy, full of food, and scenic. There were, lamentably, a few too many culturally irresponsible hippies—aren’t they all?—but Pai wouldn’t have been the same without this dirty presence. Actually, if I could somehow have the city extricated of its Haight-Ashbury tumor, I may return and never leave.

I had been warned by several people about the van to Pai: it’s impossibly winding; I’ll get sick; the drivers are nuts—so I was a little curious about what the journey had in store. Luckily, I didn’t vomit, but there were puke bags hooked on to the seat in front of me just in case.

Pai bus station

Three hours later, we were at the bus station in Pai, where we waited for our escort. While in Chiang Mai, I booked an excursion at Thom’s Pai Elephant Camp. Elephants are thing to do in the North, but they tend to run about 2500 baht in Chiang Mai, which is way too rich for my blood. My good friend, however, loves elephants; she even has an elephant-shaped birthmark on her hip that she insists is a tattoo. (Liar.) So, not riding elephants wasn’t an option. After we sussed out the situation and discovered that elephant tours in Pai cost less than half of those in Chiang Mai, she and I agreed that Thom’s would be the best choice—and we were effing right (if one can audaciously announce a ‘best’ without experiencing any others).

Thom—a welcoming, friendly, and helpful woman—picked us up and drove us twenty minutes south to the camp, a beautiful collection of guesthouses and rooms tucked away in a tiny, residential area.

That night—about which I will describe more below—we hung out with the mahouts, or elephant trainers, who invited us to chill out at their table. These dudes were bat-shit crazy, but in the good way. One was obsessed with hair and white, blonde women. As soon as we walked over, he put on a country music TV station and drooled over Taylor Swift. Then he started to joke about his name with the others. One was hahm yai while another was hahm lek: hahm big and hahm small. The mahouts were dudes, so it didn’t much insight to glean that they were talking about their dicks.

Vocabulary word scored.

The antics were fun, but the serene intensity of that night will stick with me for a long time. Forgive the upcoming cliché, but that night was the clearest sky I have ever seen. The stars actually provided illumination. I wish I had pictures, but without a tripod such shots would have been a mere cock tease. So I left my cock unteased and kept my camera away from my face, enjoying what was above.

Wednesday morning, we were going to walk with the mahouts at 6 a.m. as they went to gather the elephants and bring them back to camp to be fed and bathed before we jumped on them for the paid portion of the tour. I stupidly set my alarm way too early—5:15 a.m.—and violently swung at my phone when it went off. It was a little too violently, however, as I rotated myself off of the bed and my face onto the edge of the metal shelf ten inches away. I had a welt on my face for two days—and chagrin in my soul for three.

This was my first time on an elephant and I was rather surprised by their texture. The top part of the elephants—especially mine, 52-year-old Phanom—is covered in coarse, thick hair, which, coupled with their abrasive hides, took a couple layers of skin off of my inner thighs. Riding them is pretty difficult too, especially if you have a pair of dangly man-bits, which I have been rocking since I was born.

The crazy, Taylor Swift-loving mahout saw my discomfort and asked me, “OK?”

“My balls. Ow!”

The mahout gave me a quizzical look.

“MY BALLS HURT.”

“Back?” he  said while pointing to his lumbar.

“Hahm! Hahm yai!” I said while pointing to my dangly man-bits.

The mahouts loved the shit out of that and nearly fell off of their elephants. Dick jokes: transcend language.

The pain was well worth it, though.  Our ride was bisected by a romp in the water with the elephants, which had been trained to spray their riders and buck them off by shaking their massive heads. Trying to hang on was futile, so it became a game of who could hang on the longest. I beat out my mahout, who ended up in the river while I hung on to the animal, screaming, “Farang!” with my fist in the air.

On the way back, when everyone was on an elephant high on an elephant, I looked back and saw my elephant-loving friend loving her elephant, Pom Paem: she was tucked up on its head and behind its ears, bent over and hugging the creature. It was pretty great to see her so gleeful, and that image is probably my favorite of the excursion.

The group checked out of Thom’s and went into town for well deserved falafel, which was as good as I’ve ever head. The four then split in half; two wanted to return back to the dorms while me and the elephant-hugger wanted to stay.

After renting a room at Charlie’s Guesthouse, a centrally located and cheap place to stay in the middle of Pai, I took a long nap while friend read. We then took to the road for food—thanks to which I had my favorite meal in Thailand.

She and I sat on the sidewalk and ate roasted, salt-cured fish and khao niao. It started to fucking pour, so we sat and ate a little longer. It was tremendous.

Next? Beers and bed, of course.

As if Pai hadn’t been supplying enough superlatives, the best part of the entire trip was Thursday. We slept in—something I never do—and got breakfast before renting motorbikes. The first place from which we tried to rent denied us because we told them I had never driven one before: truth. The second place from which we tried to rent permitted us because we told them I had driven one before: lie.

I normally try to avoid lying, especially such gratuitous and silly ones, but how the hell am I ever supposed to ride a motorbike if each place requires me to have previously ridden one? I just needed to circumvent the law this one time.

Of course, I was a little reluctant hopping onto a two-wheeled motorized vehicle for the first time. And, of course, I almost crashed within my first ten minutes of being on the bike. But reluctance quickly turned to (somewhat responsible) comfort as my friend and I travelled farther away from town.

Again, I need to fall back on the trope of inexpressibility. I know motorbikes are hardly comparable to motorcycles, so spare me any patronization or condescension. Simply, it was amazing to get on something open to the world and with wheels, able to pull over at any moment to snap a photo or look at the horizon.

For two hours, we cruised around and explored some of the outer expanses of Pai, opening up a big-ass world of photo opportunities and memories. Thankfully, my friend enjoys interrupting the flow for photos more than I do.

I even found my dream bike, which was for sale, mockingly.

Wet dream, and currently my desktop image.

By 2:30 p.m., she and I were on our way back to Chiang Mai, giddier than children on Christmasbirthdayhalloweeneve.

I’m going back to Pai; you can bet your ass on that. Yesterday, I e-mailed a couple gyms there about training muay thai for a couple weeks in October when I have a break between semesters. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my time. Maybe I’ll even get some shots of the night sky.

Next: an overnight trip to Thailand’s former capital, Ayutthaya, and photos of things much, much, much older than myself.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2011 in Happiness, Thailand

 

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