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May 2006 Archives

May 1, 2006

3 days at a sultan's palace (sort of)

so this is the story of how i ended up in "the empire hotel and country club", which (according to what i remember from my guideook) was originally built as a palace for the royal family of brunei's friends to stay in.

when i flew into brunei, my rough plan was to stay in an $18 (BND) a night hostel room in downtown bandar seri begawan, see the local sights (there aren't a lot in brunei, due to its relatively small size), and head out to bali a few days later.

instead, after a mixup with reservations, a chance encounter at the hertz rental booth at the brunei airport, here i am in the heart of the empire hotel and country club, where i most likely don't deserve to be, at a price that is absurdly low compared to their rack rate.

to fit in with the general opulence of the place (and hide my current identity as budget backpacker, which definitely doesn't fit in the rest of the people here), i've been tempted to assume the personality of some rich young playboy (i couldn't decide between stock market tycoon, or heir to the mccormick/schilling spice fortune, or succesful internet entereprenur), i decided to simply be me as usual and just dress a little nicer for a change. as for the social apects here, i think joan didion wrote in "the white album" about a smilar social milleu in a hawaii beach hotel.

the empire hotel and country club is fanastic -- a 5-story atrium in the main building, endless swimming bools and beaches, full dive/acquatic activiies center, 6-lane bowling alley, championship golf course, multi-screen luxury movie theater with plush leather seats, delicious asian cusine at the hotel's several restaurants, etc etc. while ive been dipping into the activities here, i've spent most of my time relaxing by the pool, listening to the hushed british accents of british families while i sip some tropical drink and listen to my ipod.

it's been great being here, but both budget-wise and just "need to get out and experience a country beyond the confines of a resort"-wise, it's time to move on. so i'm flying to bali for about a week to explore the surroundings over there.

if you're looking to read even more detail on this place, one of my favorite nomadic travel writers, elliott hesther, has written a great essay on the empire hotel.

it definitely wasn't caddyshack

what are you to do when you're staying at a hotel / country club / resort that has one of the best golf courses in asia, a championship golf course sitting directly on the south china sea, custom-designed by jack nicklaus and you don't play golf? (aside from a little urban golfing or sand golf in coober pedy)

you learn.

so in my last two days (out of three) at the empire. i signed up for golf courses from the resident golf pro. first of all, the guy was a great teacher. i am one of the worst people when it comes to hand-eye coordination, let alone having any sort of attention span, yet this guy brought me up to speed enough in a few hours on the driving range to have a passable shot at playing on the course.

the second day there, i showed up at 8am in my golf shirt (freshly purchased from the pro shop minutes before), and we headed off on the golf cart for adventure and fun.

although i've barely been on any golf courses before now, i suspect that not all of them include monkeys hiding in the trees off the course (the rules for play on the course include this abbreviated one: "8. If a monkey steals your ball..."), or a komodo dragon living next to one of the holes.

sure, with only a few hours of practice i may have may not have been perfect, but i have to say that was one of the most unique and best experiences of my trip to date.

when you're in brunei next, drop by the empire for a few rounds of golf. if you don't know how to play already, learn! as for me, i'll have to give it a shot again when i make it to that golf course in malyasia's cameron highlands.

flying to bali

a surreal moment occurred this afternoon as my royal brunei airlines flight taxied towards the runway: large amounts of steam began to pour from all the overhead vents, evidently from the humidity in air. but the rather disturbing visual effect was that of smoke filling the cabin or the final moments of the victims of a james bond villan's mystery gas. not long after it appeared, the steam began to disappear, finally dissipating not long after takeoff.

i'm preparing for arrival on bali by listening to the mountain goats on my ipod, and reading my bali guidebook's language section. i love the implied narrative that often appears in the order of phrasebook phrases, such as the set that i'm currently reading:

where is the ...? - dimana ...?
i'd like to go to the ... - saya mau pergi ke...
how far? - berapa kilometre?
how long? - berapa jam?
how much is the fare to ...? - berapa harga karcis ke...?
where is this bemo/bus going? - kemana bemo pergi?
when will the bemo/bus leave? - bila bemo/bis berangkut?
where is this? - dimana ini?
stop! - estop!

(from the rough guide to bali, 4th edition)

as much fun as the above transaction sounds it would be with the bus driver, i'm going to spring for the extra $4 and get a taxi to my hostel.

May 2, 2006

little offerings

i've been in bali for about 24 hours now. i woke up today to the crowing of a rooster at 630am. the days are humid but not too hot, and nights are cooled by a fan set in the thatched roof of my room.

bali is from different from anywhere i've been before. it's a land of little touches everywhere -- the electric stone lamps perched on the top edge of a wall between two hotels, tiny offerings of rice and flowers are left in palm-leaf baskets all over the place, the fabrics draped on religious statues topped off with a shade umbrella, temples appear in unexpected locations, and there is a higher density of surf shops here than almost any other place in the world. (part of their ability to profilerate is that almost all of them appear to be selling either copies of the acutal clothing, or locally licensed versions that are cheaper to produce). Note: Volcom appears to now be one of the top 5 brands of grey-market clothes sold out here... i didn't realize that they'd jumped the surf fashion shark. and there's also the "italian lira" school of math to be used here -- with the exchange rate of roughly 10,000 indonesian rupees to 1 US dollar, some extra attention is needed when paying for those souvenirs.

of course, it also feels good to have the superficial benefits of southeast asia: USD $0.80 beers (and since brunei's laws do not allow the sale of alcoholic beverages [you have to bring your own alcohol into the country with you and drink before going out], it's nice just to be back in the land of beer at all), cheap guesthouses with private rooms, and tons of grey-market clothing and media. the video bars are back too, so dinner last night was accompanied by episodes of family guy and scary movie 3.

there is a cultural incongruity in seeing giant ads from US-based surf brands (billabong, stussy, quiksilver, rip curl, etc) covering the walls in the incoming immigration/visa portion of the Bali airport. even the mcdonald's by the beach has ronald riding on a surfboard. and any visit to the beach is not complete without getting hassled by the hordes of surf touts that hang out on the beach ("want to rent a surfboard? free lesson included!")

tourist numbers appear to be way down from kuta's former status as an australian surf haven. most of the travellers i've seen here are visiting from asia or scandinavia, and many of the hawker's stalls are empty of any customers.

after doing some last-minute research on lonely planet's excellent thorn tree message boards to update my 4-years-old guidebook, i found a place named the AP Inn on Poppies 2 (sort of the bali equivalent of khao san road). i know that many people out there may hate me for saying this about KSR, but i actually find places like it really handy for getting organized before heading on to more remote destinations.

i'm moving on pretty quickly from here -- i'll head out to ubud tomorrow morning, and come back on thursday to head out to the gilli islands. for some days spent scuba diving and just to get away from urban life. any island whose sole form of transport is horse-drawn carts or rented bicycles sounds like the right pace for me right now.

May 5, 2006

island time redux

the last few days i've been living in a fan-cooled bungalow at a dive center on the beach of an island called gilli trawangan, near the island of lombok, which in turn is close to bali.

the days are simple: i wake up early in the mornings, eat a simple breakfast and drink some bali coffee, and i get in a boat for the morning's dive. then we come back in the afternoon, there's a few hours break for lunch, and then it's diving again until 3. today, besides all of the great coral and tropical fish, we also saw giant sea turtles and a shark! (don't worry, the sharks that live here haven't attacked divers) after that, i lie out on the beach or on the porch of my bungalow, read, write, and relax.

in the evenings, there is a sand road strip of thatched huts that contain bungalows, restaurants, and bars, so it's fresh-barbequed fish caught off the island or indonesian curries for dinner. the party for the night (all 30 people of it) is usually at one of the bars nearby within a minute's walk from home, where travellers drink together until late in the night.

the soundtrack to all of this is roosters crowing and indonesian voices and horse bells jingling and waves crashing and cafe stereo systems playing american pop music and movies. as i write this down, lenny kravitz playing somewhere, urging me to know that "yesterday is gone".

i am happy, and life is good.

May 7, 2006

"lost" day

today was the first "lost day" of the trip. by lost day, i'm referring to those days when you're done staying in one place, you have your transport planned out to get to your next place, and... something goes wrong. you miss your train, or you get on the wrong train, or the ferry doesn't show up, or whathaveyou, and it's going to take 24 hours to make thing right again and head off to your destination.

in this case, the plane tickets for today were sold out to get back to the island of bali, and i was too late for my back-up plan, the $18 USD, 11-hour adventure of shuttle boat -> bus -> ferry -> bus -> hostel. so, i ended up spending another day at gili trawangan, hanging out on the beach, doing a little writing, and enjoying the monsoon-like rain that suddenly began to pour down on us this evening.

i've been through much worse lost days -- the nights spent in train stations in romania and croatia come to mind first off. of course, no day is truly "lost" on a trip like this, but it always throws an unexpected crimp in the usual vacation plans... the thing that makes any lost day a little annoying is that i've psyched myself up to leave and move on, and then i'm here another day, usually at the expense of whatever i had planned for the next day. ah well, part of trips like this learning to go with the change instead of fighting it too much.

so tomorrow morning it's back to kuta (instead of seeing the monkey forest at ubud, as previously planned) via that 11-hour route i described above, followed by an early night, and then i'm off to kuala lumpur, malyasia the next day.

back to drinking beers under shelter at the dive shack!

May 9, 2006

so long bali, see you soon...

departing bali was hard today -- after returning from the gili islands via a somewhat painful 12-hour journey from 8am to 8pm, kuta felt like an old friend. i returned to my US$10 per night fan-cooled room (the cost includes a modest breakfast, as is standard for most budget accomodation on Bali & Lombok) at the AP Inn, had dinner and watched a movie with tow-headed surfers at Swell on Poppies I, and easily reminded the cashier at the minimart who tried to palm a 5000 rupiah note from a water bottle purchase that i needed the rest of my change as well.

this morning, i bought souvenirs from street vendors and gray-market surf clothing (thankfully replacing my not-even-slightly-breathable shows-sweat-like-a-beacon button-down shirt with a more comfortable "Designed in Australia, Made in China, Licensed to Quiksilver Indonesia Pt." buttondown shirt, and getting this sweet Alf t-shirt to send home) at JungleSurf, one of the many surf stores on legian st. in kuta.

growing up, i spent a fair amount of time at the beach, and i've alwas felt at home in neighborhoods by the sea -- there is a mellow pace of life that you can quickly pick up on. that easier pace here, combined with the beautiful artistic touches that enter into everyday life thanks to Balinese Hinduism (statues unexpectedly draped in new cloth, floral offerings left in unusual places, large poles of woven leaves raised to the sky) makes for a really appealing vibe.

sure, there are the very insistent hawkers for stores, taxis, massages, and everything in between, but given the economic condition of indonesia, it's understandable (albeit pretty frustrating at times). indonesia is the first place on this trip where i feel like i've barely scratched the surface -- i plan to return here one day and spend some time really seeing what bali (and the rest of indonesia) have to offer... and to finally get surfing lessons in kuta.

malayasia, i suspect, will also have some of the same issues. visiting kuala lumpur (aka. "KL") and the cameron highlands for 6 days will just give me that first taste that will whet my appetitie for more, not to mention the east malayasian states of sarawak and sabah, where dayak tribes still live in the Borneo rainforest. i've been reading the book "Shooting the Boh" by tracy johnston, which i picked up coincidentally in the book exchange at a new zealand hostel, covers the author's adventure rafting Borneo's Boh river.

this feeling like i've cut things a little short is all part of the fun of how i've structured this RTW trip -- a few month-long immersions in countries, with the rest being either quick glimpses of new lands (and recon for longer future trips back to them), or visits back to countries that i've been to before and loved.

i will remember bali by its coffee, which i drank every morning here... locally grown beans ground up and dumped straight into my cup, with boiling water poured directly on top. once the ground settle, it's delicious (especially with some of the sugar that always gets offered with the coffee). different, stimulating, good. i'll miss it.

(looking for more bali? why not check out my Indonesia photo set, or 60 seconds of time driving through a Bali port town.)

flying into kuala lumpur

after a late departure, i'm relaxing on my Malaysian Airlines flight with a can of Tiger beer (a favorite), and getting the lay of the expat land by reading a copy of the New Straits Times. Consulting The Rough Guide to Malaysia has given me some good hostel ideas, as well as a sketch of a sightseeing plan for my day tomorrow in KL. (and mentally preparing myself for the relatively higher cost of living in malaysia.)

inflight service has been great -- simple drinks to smooth over the delay/wait to take off, tasty food, an attentive in-flight crew, and (my own addition) Juno and the Dismemberment Plan and the Garden State soundtrack on my iPod.

not bad for a 2.5-hour hop within Southeast Asia. Royal Brunei Airlines could learn a few things from these folks!

hostel culture shock

After arriving at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, gathering my backpack off the conveyor belt, and hopping on the express train to KL Sentral, i was struck by how everyone around me was very business. sandals had been replaced by wing-tipped shoes, and conservative business suits were the norm. needless to say, my casual outfit and backpack raised a few eyebrows among the business set.

the train itself was an exercise in modernity -- flatscreen LCD monitors in the train showed information about upcoming stops and the train's current position, in addition to cycling still image and video ads while the train was underway. i haven't run into trains this high-tech since tokyo, but the tokyo train windows didn't have acres and acres of dense jungle-like forest on the other side of them.

when i arrived in KL Sentral, i hopped a taxi to chinatown. the system at the train station is to buy a prepaid ticket (my ticket to chinatown was RM 7, or about $2.20 USD) at a specal taxi counter, and then givbe the ticket to a taxi driver waiting out front for a prepaid ride to your destination. a nice system, since that means you don't need to worry about the driver pegging you as a tourist and either taking a circuitous route with the meter on, or refusing to turn the meter on and trying to ask for ridiculous fares to get you to your destination.

after getting my rather terse taxi driver to take me to the budget guesthouse that was "Recommended" by The Rough Guide, i went into the building only to have my heart sink. there are certain signs that you've arrived at A Place You Don't Want To Stay At, and this had all of them. no other backpackers visible (although there were a few transient-looking folks staying there), screaming kids running through the echoing hallways, and the rooms themselves had a strong resemblance to something that could be a Chinatown Detention Facility. after the spacious rooms and friendly backpacker's hostels in bali, i was in hostel culture shock.

luckily i'd chosen to stay in chinatown, which is dense with inexpensive backpacker accomodations. after trekking over to another hostel a few blocks away, i found a reasonably good room in a place that had ample customers, although still nothing like the hostels that i'd just been staying in. most rooms are lacking in external windows, and so have glass-slat windows facing into the hallways to provide ventilation. fans are tiny, strangely placed (and covered with metal louvers that swivel open when you turn the fan on), but somehow effective (the heat and humidity of KL definitely calls for at least fan-cooled rooms to able to sleep).

off to explore the night markets of chinatown to find some dinner!

May 10, 2006

towers and the night market

while roaming through Kuala Lumpur today, i ended up going to the famous Petronas Towers for my free ride up to the skybridge. after realizing that i had to wait 2 hours to actually get up to the skybridge (an inconvent time for that neighborhood, since there isn't anything else within walking distance, and the train would take long enough to not allow proper sightseeing of another area in the meantime), i whiled away some time in Suria KLCC, the mall beneath the shopping towers, where i looked for any needed supplies at isetan, and could not avoid having my first "american" meal in 2.5 months and had lunch at the california pizza kitchen which was inexplicably present in the mall.

the actual visit to the walkway was fairly uneventful (besides an ear-popping elevator ride), but i did take a bunch of photos of the towers themselves. that night i rounded things off with a delicious dinner at the night market, prepared in the most elaborate night market kitchen i've seen to date.

i'm headed out via bus to the cameron highlands in the morning for a few days of sightseeing and hiking on their famous trails before heading down to singapore next week.

May 14, 2006

the cameron highlands

when i first left KL's chinatown for my early-morning 830am bus to the highlands, i ducked into my local dim sum joint to get a steamed bbq pork bun (one of the tastiest things to eat in the world) for the road. here's a tip that i've learned about steamed buns with savory fillings -- if they're larger than your fist, they're probably not very good. in this case, the massive but doughy and generally dicey pork bun had to be quickly abandoned, and i went through the 3-hour bus ride to tanah rata breakfasting on leftover ting ting jahe candy from indonesia.

after arrival in the cameron highlands (where every morning was sunny, and every afternoon it rained at 2-3pm, evidently part of the ecological tradeoff for having such a wonderfully cool climate after KL), i read it was vesak day, and gathered some friends from the hostel to set off to the local sam poh buddhist temple up the road in brinchang.

we were warmly welcomed almost literally with open arms, and sat down to a delicious vegetarian lunch at the temple as part of the vesak day festivities. the restaurants specializing in buddhist-style vegetarian chinese cuisine are few and far between at home, such as the now-defunct veggie delight in san gabriel, and garden fresh in mountain view, so i was grateful to have a chance to have a chance to taste this excellent food from the source.

later, after some misadventures trying to find a usable jungle walk, we ended up drinking tea overlooking a massive tea planation and enjoying some surprisingly warm afternoon sun, and spent the evening swapping travel advice on future locations in between games of shithead at the hostel.

but all good things must come to an end, and this particular adventure ended after 3 days with a manic speeding bus ride down the hills back towards KL, constantly honking as the driver swerves past huge dropoffs on the sides, my ears popping with our rapid descent as the TV overhead blared out the driver's particular choice of entertainment: 2 hours of WWE wrestling. media-wise, i strongly suspect (and hope) that tonight's 9-hour train ride to singapore will be somewhat more sedate.

May 16, 2006

singapore sling sadness

for all of you considering one of the classic singapore experiences, namely having a singapore sling cocktail at the raffles hotel long bar, i wanted to share with you my own experience.

the hotel itself was beautiful, a classic restored colonial edifice. despite the tacky "drink specials" board outside written up in day-glo markers, i headed up to the long bar for my drink. inside, the bar itself was beautiful. elaborate palm fans made attempts at sending cooling breezes from the ceiling, the interior was dark and atmospheric, and it was generally a beautiful classic bar.

when i ordered my singapore sling, the immaculately attired bartender headed down to the other end of the bar to make my drink. that was when i saw the batch of other glasses ready, and then i saw this: the bartender poured a large pitcher of pre-prepared red mixture into a blender filled with ice, ran the blender briefly, then poured the resulting mixture into the glasses. i was then presented with one of the drinks, followed with a bill for about S$20 (around $12 USD). they didn't even bother to prepare the drinks individually!

if i'm paying those kind of prices (esp. in perspective of the usual cost of alcohol in singapore), i would normally expect the drink to be prepared from scratch when it's ordered. there seemed to be a slight medicinal tinge to the drink, and i wasn't too impressed by it overal. if you're looking for an alternative (and one that doesn't involve thousands of miles of travel from your home), i recommend the singapore sling at trader vic's much more highly than the singapore sling at the raffles' long bar.

the long bar is a world-class bar with a world-class reputation, so i'm hoping i just caught them on an off night. but after this, i'm definitely looknig forward to spending some time at the bangkok trader vic's in a few weeks!

May 17, 2006

welcome to singapore

i arrived in singapore on 4 hours of sleep after fighting my way through the holiday weekend travellers to get tickets on the overnight train from kuala lumpur down to singapore, and going through a customs/immigration exercise of sleep deprivation while trying to 'sleep' on the overnight train, clearly not something that was at the forethought of the people directing us to get up 3 times during the night for customs, immigration, and the many waits between the two.

when i mentioned to other travellers i met that i was planning to spend a few days in singapore, i heard a lot of comments along the lines of "it can all be seen in a day". never being any good at taking advice, i remained on my original 2-day plan for singapore, and had an excellent time.

i wish that i could say that i saw the new national library, the museums, and the major highlights on singapore. i did almost none of that, aside from a whirlwind evening tour of the city during my last night in town. instead, i convinced my roommate at the hostel that what he really wanted to do was come with me on to the tiger beer brewery, my favorite asian beer (and which happens to have originated singapore). 1.25 hours of public transit later, we were running to catch up with the tour group to hear every moment of tour amplified via a handheld megaphone.

luckily the tour ended not just with a photo opportunity with the Tiger Beer tiger, but also all the tiger beer we could drink for S$5 (around $2 USD) during 2 hours of loitering at the bar. ah, the classic brewery tour benefit! much more satisfactory than the heinkeken bewery tour in amsterdam, which is ironic given that they're both owned by the same company.

and then wham, a night of shopping (and a quick singapore sling cocktail at the raffles hotel), and off to sleep to get up early for the flight to bangkok.

the country of singapore and the people are both clearly prosperous, and it shows in the high quality of public services. while i heard a lot of noise about how there aren't as many "deals" in singapore as there are in the rest of SE asia, i found the prices overall to be quite low, and the quality of the goods being sold significantly higher than other places in SE asia. as a place to stock up on supplies (and take a well-deserved break) either before or after a trip to asia, i strongly recommend singapore.

ps. to maximize my geek-out time when doing the occasional bit of websurfing, i've finally done what most of my readers are going and signed up for bloglines to aggregate RSS feeds from the sites i like. great stuff!

May 18, 2006

"one of the leading hotels in the world"

i got up ridiculously early today to check out of my USD$10 per night singapore hostel and head off to the airport, where i met C. in outside my boarding gate in the high-tech hallways of singapore airport.

i flew out to thailand on garuda air (while the ticket may have been cheap, the food was terrible. if you're flying from singapore to bangkok, i recommend either flying on malaysia air, or on the new tiger airways that people are talking about).

after arrival in bangkok, we checked into the sukhothai hotel, where i went through hotel culture shock at changing from a cheap hostel to arriving at the immaculate lobby of "one of the leading hotels in the world" within the space of 8 hours, for one of the occasional splurges of my trip. one of the signs you've arrived in a fancy-schmancy hotel -- the evening room turndown, which always catches me offguard (but ensures a wealth of clean, dry towels, along with those handy slippers by the bed). a quick patch of my ipod into the room's bose sound system, and we were enjoying the sound of nat king cole singing to us "straighten up and fly right" before heading out for birthday celebrations that evening.

it was also time for one of my periodic resupplies, and like the hatch residents on lost, it was time to get the little luxuries i'd been waiting for: a new pair of board shorts to fit my leaner, post-cubicle-life frame, a game boy micro, the video cable for my ipod, emergen-c, and other odds and ends.

happy. sleepy. very glad to be with my girlfriend again. 'night.

May 22, 2006

i'm a little rascal on my little rascal

we've been out on ko tao for a few days now, living a relaxed diver's life at our jungle bungalow at sensi paradise.

when not being lulled to sleep by the odd calls of a bird that sounds like a wild goat-bird (or "broat", as we've been calling it), or the screeches of another bird whose mating call is evidently a series of hysterical bird screams, we've been diving during our afternoons here.

while finishing my PADI advanced open water certification, we decided to do an "adventure dive" with diver propulsion vehicles, or DPVs. this means that we were issued small underwater scooters which a.) resemble something used by the bad guys in any james bond underwater scene and b.) also make me think of the infamous Little Rascal scooter whenever anyone uses the word "scooter".

so we dove into the water with our divemaster with our scooters. the closest thing i can use to describe these little gadgets are the snowmobiles of the sea -- while they get you around fast, they do make a racket, but are fun. so i dodged my way through an underwater slalom race, buzzed over beautiful coral reefs (fin tips up!), and had a great time fooling around in the way of people on mechanical contraptions. while i wouldn't want to dive with one all the time, they are a lot of fun to dive with now and then.

the rest of the time? we're watching the latest Lost episode thanks to iTunes, sipping mai tais and snacking on thai appetizers served by a waitress with fresh flowers in her hair, and watching the sun set.

good times, good times.

May 24, 2006


I grab the bones and I let 'em fly.
so come 2 come 3 come 4 come 5 come 6 come 7 come 9
it doesn't matter to me now
'cause I've got all kinds of time.

The Mountain Goats, "Hello There Howard", from their album "Hot Garden Stomp"

lately i've been feeling like i'm back in college, with organized fun being the order of the day interspersed with occasional bouts of studying. i've been learning how to identify fish i see while scuba diving, working on new hobbies, and discovering/rating long-lost songs on my iPod (which has been a wonderful process of rediscovery, like bringing a library's worth of books packed into a space the size of my hand. lauryn hill is the latest artist i've only now just taken the time to really listen to -- and yes, i know that i'm years behind the pop culture zeitgeist on this.)

as i write this now, i'm sitting next to a window on the ferry from ko tao to ko samui, watching the sea spread off into the horizon without a break.

one thing i've been thinking about is the world cultures class i took in college, whose media component included a long video series from the early 80s about cultures from around the world, filmed on location in various places around the world, complete with a world-travelling narrator. i never forgot watching these videos in a dusty dallas classroom, half-dozing in the afternoon sun, never guessing that i'd actually end up going to visit most of these places several years later.

i don't know what the future is going to bring after this, but right now i'm glad to have the time to do a lot of the things that i've always been meaning to do. including just enjoying the world around me.

May 28, 2006

my trader vic's agenda

besides spending a year travelling around the world, my trip has always had another agenda nested within the "go around the world" plan: visit every trader vic's in the world. currently there are 22 trader vic's restaurants in the world (not counting the 4 senior picos and 1 inaka-ya restaurants). these bar/ restaurants are located in the united states, england, germany, spain, japan, taiwan, thailand, the UAE, lebanon, bahrain, oman, and qatar.

coming from california, i was already quite familiar with the trader vics in san francisco, palo alto, emeryville, and beverly hills. and while planning my trip last year at the expansive bar of the san francsico trader vic's while drinking a planter's punch (i originally started drinking these after reading p. g. wodehouse's glowing description of them in one of his jeeves stories, and haven't looked back since), i glanced down at the locations list they have on a cocktail napkin, and thought... why not visit every trader vic's in the world?

and so after a few emails with the fine management team at trader vic's to let them know my plan, i put together a plan where i would cross paths with every trader vic's in the world as part of my trip. since my first place on my trip where i would cross paths with a trader vic's was bangkok, i haven't mentioned this plan in my blog before now during the first 3 months of my trip.

when we'd returned to bangkok from ko samui, the time had come to visit my first trader vic's "on the road": trader vic's bangkok.

since i'm usually at trader vic's with friends eating on their bar snacks and drinking rum drinks, i decided to continue that theme through all the trader vic's i visit. at bangkok their crab rangoon was perfect (right down to the butterfly-shaped hot mustard and sweet dipping sauce plates), the beef cho-cho was great (although it seems the bangkok recipe calls for less sauce than the US version, and adds an extra topping on top to boot!), and the crispy duck pancakes had a delightful abundance of crispy duck and hoisin sauce. the rum drinks were perfect, as befits a trader vic's (note the differences of the TV bangkok drink menu from the US drink list -- for example, i don't recall seeing the "starboard light" or "portlight" in san francsico!) did i mention the decor was classic trader vic's as well?

i had a great chat with the bangkok TV's general manager, pongporn, who took a few minutes to sit down with us and chat about trader vic's, was generally a great host, even arranging for the waitresses to dance the trader vic's dance (which was ogled by a number of single farangs)! there was also a piano player with two female accompaniments, who were great singers, especially when singing my request of "straighten up and fly right".

if i have a free evening before heading out to my next destination from bangkok, i may even try to visit the senior pico in bangkok. ah, if only it was cinco de mayo... but how could i resist a description like "fare is Cal-Mex-less rich (lian) than Tex-Mex cuisine" -- i can only hope that they'll have brought over the chips and queso concept from tex-mex cuisine!

thanks to everyone at the bangkok trader vic's for a great night of hospitality. looking forward to the next trader vic's in tokyo or taipei!

May 30, 2006

happy happy life

after leaving ko tao, C. and i headed directly for chaweng beach on ko samui. we settled into a almost-beachfront bungalow at seascape beach resort, and spent our time relaxing on the beach and enjoying excellent thai food and mai tais. (and of course, hooking up my iPod to the tv so we could watch the Lost season finale together!)

then it was off to the bangkok banyan tree (simulatenously breaking almost all of their no-backpacker rules during check-in), where we spent a few afternoons sunning ourselves at the pool on the 17th floor when we weren't exploring bangkok. if you're slacking off on a weekday, there is nothing like doing it from a pool with a great view of office buildings... that memory will probably sting me next year when i'm back in the working world once more. we tried not to get stuck inside the hotel too much, such as our adventure navigating the wilds of chatuchak market (avoiding the pickpockets!), negotated with various street vendors, looking at thai tailoring, and generally taking full advantage of C.'s thai language skills.

but all good things must come to at end, especially such luxuries being driven around bangkok by C.'s friend's driver and her jaguar, and my gilrfriend is heading back home on an early-morning flight, and i'm checking out of here a few hours after that. (i'm realizing that it's actually quite difficult to remain in paradise forever) we have one more romantic dinner together in bangkok, and then i'm back to the budget solo backpackers life (for now)!

May 31, 2006

loud booming sounds

i was in my hostel room on KSR when i heard the sounds of what sounded like explosions in the street. after they kept going, i looked out my balcony window and realized they were fireworks in honor of the king of thailand's 60th anniversary of his succession to the throne. so i headed on up to the roof deck and took this video of the fireworks. happy anniversary, King Rama IX!

About May 2006

This page contains all entries posted to gone living in May 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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