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June 2006 Archives

June 1, 2006

lifestyle adaptation syndrome

i left the banyan tree in a taxi (with the meter on, a luxury only available when being picked up at hotels or other major taxi pickup points, otherwise you end up negoitating a fare that ends up being higher than the meter no matter what) and appreciated it when the driver didn't actually sneer as i asked him to drop me off at khao san road (KSR) -- although i did get the recommendation that i'd be "better off going to the airport". this marked the end of the lifestyle splurge that i was doing with caroline, and the return to my budget backpacker ways.

i arrived on KSR in a blaze of midday heat, humidity, and noise. i immediately headed for the chart guesthouse, which i'd stayed at the last time i was in bangkok on KSR, three years ago. i realized it had gone into some decline after i checked in, but by then i'd already paid for a night in my US $5/night fan-"cooled" room. one handy tip that the hostel you've arrived at is not where you want to stay: you don't see any other backpackers once you arrive (an especially bad sign in a backpacker-rich area like KSR). i spent a sweat, sleepless night in my small, cell-like room, complete with shared shower and bucket-flush toilets (but remarkably, no power outlets at all), and woke up the next day resolved to find a better hostel.

since my lonely planet thailand book shuns listing most guesthouses on KSR, and i wanted to stay in this location for convience's sake, i used wikitravel's page on KSR to find the D&D Inn, which is next door to the chart guesthouse, and similarly priced, but worlds away in terms of experience.

full of backpackers, the D&D Inn had excellent facilities, with a restaurant showing movies, a rooftop pool and bar (!), same-day laundry service, and pleasant air-con rooms with shower/bathroom and satellite tvs in every room. best of all, this meant that the tv was plugged into the room's sole power outlet, which i promptly jammed my 40 baht 3-outlet adapter into, so i could charge up my DVD player and cellphone with while catching up on whatever hollywood feature that star movies was showing that day. my room even came with a little balcony! in short, the perfect place to acclimate to backpacker life again at only US $12/night.

i'm now taking advantage of one of the many travel agencies on KSR to arrange my onward visas for burma (aka. myanmar) and vietnam (laos is able to grant visas upon arrival, which helps to streamline things quite a bit), in addition to taking care of any last-minute "big city" errands, and doing research on my next stop, burma.

the 25% mark

now that i've been travelling on my around-the-world trip for over three months, i'm past the 25% mark and now officially on the longest trip i've taken in my life.

while musing on this milestone, i decided to do a mental check and see whether or not i feel i'm ready to return to california and start a project to solve some interesting problem on the 'net. while reading through the latest blogs on bloglines, i found a link to this blog entry from the founder of riya. it sounds like well-managed startup fun (and they've got a pretty amazing product), but i have to say that at this point in my life, returning to that type of envrionment is the last thing on my mind. looks like i'm not ready to return to silicon valley quite yet.

so let the trip continue!

June 2, 2006

luxury movie theaters

i've developed a certain fascination with the concept of "luxury movie theaters". i think it started with the promise (never truly delivered upon) of san francisco's metreon movie theatres. when i first read elliot hesther's book Adventures of a Continental Drifter about his experiences at the empire hotel in brunei's movie theater, my apetite was only whetted further. my experience at the theater in brunei was that is was nice, but it could definitely be better. the black leather-covered couch seats were great, but couldn't they go really over-the-top with movie watching decadence?

then i heard about bangkok's several "VIP/Gold" movie theaters, complete with massive overstuffed power seats, pillows, blankets (for that always overpowered AC), and service to-your-seat by a waiter from to satisfy any thirst (or popcorn) cravings that you might have during the movie. now THAT sounded interesting.

i first went to the siam center's EGV Gold "VIP" theater to see X-Men: The Last Stand. (wired magazine also has an short article on the same theater.)the luridly red massage seats with electrically extending foot rests were a nice touch. the whole fancy entrance, fully stocked bar with uniformed waiters ("would you like some popcorn with your gin and tonic?"), were all great. and all this for the same price as a regular movie ticket in san francisco!

the only drawbacks were the subtitles and thai movie censorship where they edit out "inappropriate" parts of the movies. (however, the gray-market DVDs of the same movies sold at patpong night market have no censorship at all applied to them. the irony of this situation has not gone unnoticed by the press.)

the sound in the room was amazing, as was the video quality aside from displaying the code "E13" scratched into the celluloid every 30 minutes or so, which i can only assume is part of some anti-piracy measure in case people were filming the screen in the theater. (in my case, i was at the last showing of the evening, and the theater was almost empty aside from myself and a farang with his thai "girlfriend".)

all in all, i had a great time. one of the better $10 entertainment values in bangkok!

June 3, 2006

my first day in myanmar

myanmar (the country formerly known as burma) had been sitting on my list of places that nobody i knew had been to, but sounded interesting and a potentially good place to visit. after arriving in thailand, i spent some time researching some of the pro-tourism and pro-tourism-boycott opinions on visiting myanmar, and decided that the net impact of my visit would hopefully be a slight positive or at least near-zero impact on the lives of the people of myanmar, and made my plans to visit.

the day after receiving my visa where i was declared an F.I.T. (Foreign Independent Traveller), i was flying into myanmar's capital city of yangon (aka. rangoon), piercing the cloud cover on descent and seeing a green-and-brown patchwork of farms with a large muddy-brown river meandering between them. dense forests are surprisingly close to the city, interspersed with buildings. arriving at an international airport with a single baggage claim that was backed up with at least 3 prior flights' worth of baggage. but this turned out to be a great conversation starter with the (few) other independent tourists who were also waiting for their luggage at the airport.

in myanmar, unofficial currency exchanges with random people (the very pale shade of gray market) are the only way to exchange money at a reasonable rate, since the country's one "official" exchange booth at the airport gives rates 30% of what is standard. this means i ended up first changing money at a t-shirt shop negotiating rates over the screen of an oversized casio calculator. ironically, most major transactions are still paid for in US Dollars, and 1 USD can replace 1000 myanmar kyats in almost any transaction (although you get closer to 1,200 kyats to the dollar by exchanging USD into kyats).

with my newfound kayts in hand, i then promptly headed to the outdoor market next to t-shirt store to purchase a tasty lunch of noodle soup and bbq pig entrails. mmm... slices of pig intestines!

a friend from the hostel and i were out at the night markets later that evening, enjoying some tasty samosas, and stumbled across one of myanmar's many "beer stations" -- the country's equivalent of the western bar/pub. they're basically small restaurants that have beer banners hanging in front of them, and people are there drinking late into the night. the USD $0.40 cost of a glass of myanmar draft was an excellent price, and we ended up having many drinks with the manager and working on chatting in a mishmash of english, myanmar, and chinese.

the highlight of the evening was our return from the hostel -- we'd unknowingly made a wrong turn, and were having trouble finding our way home. suddenly a myanmar local stopped us, started urgently pointing in the other direction, and pantomiming the name of our guest house. he then walked us back several blocks to the hostel, and refused to accept any gratuity for his help until we insisted several times.

this amazing hospitality from individuals was repeated many more times during my short stay in myanmar. in most countries, getting stopped by a stranger in the street means that they're preparing to run you through some sort of scam (and we did have a few people try that in yangon, but only a few). in myanmar, it usually means that they honestly do want to help you... amazing.

June 7, 2006

ferry trip to pakokku

i lay in bed this morning after waking up early, listening to the loud clicking of the ceiling fan in my room speed up (with power surges) or slow down and stop (with power failures). the room also had AC, but it was switched on and off according to a pattern that i never understood.

it's amazing to still see ox-carts in general service within a town like this. the river's water is a very muddy brown, clotted with trash on the edge of the boat landing. after a quick stroll down the slope, the usual game of "walk-the-plank" to get myself and my gear onto the boat without falling into the water, and i'm on.

hopefully the festival (pwe) i heard about in pakokku is still happening, because like the ferry there, no concrete written evidence of its schedule was available, and verbal reports were conflicted about whether or not it was happening today, whether the pwe lasts a month, or whether day would be a good day to go. luckily my own schedule is

it's has just struck me that this fairly rickety ferry has no safety equipment or life jackets of any sort, and we're on a fairly choppy river. this thought came into my head as a smaller boat just cut right across our bow, almost hitting us, prompting outraged honking from our captain, and indifference from the passengers. but like the cars of southeast asia, with their occasional seat belts but never the receptacle to actually plug the seat belt into, safety is a tertiary concern at best.

it's funny the mix of reactions i get here -- sometimes my arrival is ignored, sometimes it seems like the biggest event for blocks around. but for the first time in a long time i don't mind being the focus of attention, because of the friendlinerss of the people of myanmar. sometimes a wave or a smile to a staring stranger is greeted with an even bigger one in return, or occasionally i get a stone-faced stare in return. (i've gotten both reactions on this boat) best of all, quite often a "hello" from someone is simply that, or a request to chat and practice their english (honestly!), and only a few times is it the opening to a sales pitch.

there is no other country in the world where people are like this.

in pakokku

this place is definitely the real deal. i believe i'm the only tourist in the town - crowds of curious kids surrounded me when i got off the ferry (along with hordes of horsecart and trishaw drivers). i got a trishaw over to the hotel, and for the 20-minute journey i was the subject of fascinated attention from the locals, along with frequent "hello!"s from the children.

arrived at the inn where the innkeeper said he would "treat me as his son", and take me to the pwe (festival) planned for tonight, show me where the restaurants are, and generally help me understand a town that occupies only a few paragraphs (and no map) in my lonely planet myanmar book.

as i lie in my room, smelling the slightly sweet smoke from the burning mosquito coils, i think i'm going to take laos out of my itinerary so i can extend my time in myanmar and vietnam instead. moving too fast is hard, and i definitely am starting to feel like i'm pushing it a bit.

naptime now, then off to dinner and the festival.

June 9, 2006

coolest movie poster ever

as seen on the side of a mandalay movie theater in myanmar. this was a hand-painted poster, an art form which i didn't realize still existed.

June 14, 2006

character moments

i'm back in bangkok again for a few days to obtain Yet Another Visa (China) while in between countries, and enjoying the absurdity of tourist life.

sitting in an internet cafe, i'm watching a slightly ragged-looking older italian tourist, unshaven with his white shirt partially unbuttoned, shouting his way through an international phone call to someone he met on his travels that he needs to give his number to. evidently he doesn't trust the other person's ability to write down a simple phone number, so he is constantly repeating in his thickly accented english "you repeat the number, madame" over and over again.

i love the brief personal sketches that i get from the odd characters i see on this trip... most of the time i have no idea what their story really is, but i'm just enjoying observing and imagining.

and hey -- you in the corner, stop videochatting away all of my bandwidth with MSN Messenger. i need that to upload to flickr!

June 15, 2006

my new love

(author's note: due to the sheer amount of writing i did in myanmar, i'm still in the process of blogifying and reducing the size of the entries i wrote down on paper from my time there. they'll be backfilled into goneliving.com as i get them all typed in! but in the meantime, i'll also be keeping the recent entries for my blog up-to-date as well.)

i flew in today to vietnam with a cold and feeling a little burned out after 3.5 months on the road, and wasn't sure at all what to expect. after arriving at an amazing (and cheap!) guesthouse, i was feeling a little better. then i went for a walk, and i had a vietnamese coffee and felt good. after browsing the street food stalls and having a bowl of pho tai, and then stumbling across (could it be?) a delicious pieces of what tasted like breaded, fried pork schnitzel on a stick. so very very tasty, and now i'm feeling satisfied and utterly content.

thailand, i'll always love so many things about you (and your cuisine of course), so don't be jealous. but even though i've only known her for less than a day, i'm now deeply in love with vietnam as well.

June 17, 2006

a not-so-light touch

standing on a streetcorner in hanoi, talking with another backpacker from my hostel that i'm touring around the city with, i back up and feel a slight brush against my hip.

when i turn around, i see nothing behind me that i could have brushed against, and a few feet away a 12-year-old kid (whom i'd noticed hanging purposelessly around us for the last few minutes) striding purposefully into a nearby internet cafe.

it took a minute for me to realize that i'd almost been pickpocketed, and by then the kid was nowhere to be seen. i suppose finding a pocket full of tissues for my allergies instead of a nice fat wallet full of cash was enough to send him packing... either that, or he needed a little more practice.

hanoi living

i arrived in vietnam with the same lack of planning that now prefixes my arrival in most countries. i show up with a rudimentary understanding of a few key words, knowledge of where to find the first place i should change money, and how to arrive at my chosen hostel.

the rest of my planning? it's done on the fly, talking with other travellers and piecing together an itinerary based on recommendations, combined with the info in my guidebook that i've finally gotten around to reading.

as a result, i've been drifting around hanoi seeing the interesting and unusual. besides getting a great haircut for 2-3 USD from a masked barber, i started to slowly get a handle on vietnamese history as well.

on a whim after talking with some other travellers, i bought a ticket for a 3-day tour around Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island, which should ensure ample supplies of both stunning limestone cliffs and crowds of monkeys. time to get up early tomorrow morning for the bus to halong bay and dust off my kayaking skills!

June 19, 2006

a sail in ha long bay

i'm sitting on the beach writing for a bit before our bbq seafood lunch, served on a little table on the beach with elaborate tablecloths and an umbrella to shield us from the sun. there are only 2 other tourists on this beach somewhere in the islands of ha long bay. considering that this entire 3-day mini-tour is costing me US$70 for transportation, all meals, accommodation in some great places, and everything else, it's one amazing deal.

we've been out kayaking with in coves filled with the most disturbing-looking jellyfish that i've ever seen, climbed through caverns, fended off amazingly aggressive vendors of oreos and ritz crackers, watched our boat wedge its way into impossible docking spots, seen classic sailing junks, sailed through floating villages guarded by floating huskies, and generally been exploring.

and the sunsets? fantastic.

June 21, 2006


after enjoying all the food on my 3-day tour of ha long bay, it seems that i caught a touch of food poisoning from one of the meals. i'll note that this occured in a restaurant, and not in any of the wonderful street food stalls that i've been eating at in hanoi.

so i've been down for 24 hours recuperating and bothering my friends and family with the magic of internet telephony. ("oh, is THAT what time it is over there?")

i'm now mostly recuperated, so i'm making up for lost time with a budget 1-way flight to da nang tomorrow afternoon, and from there i'll be exploring hoi an and nha trang beach.

June 22, 2006

morning at a vietnamese cafe

I'm sitting at Moca Ca Phe in hanoi. humid air (somewhat dispersed by the antique fans overhead) is coming through the large open street-facing windows, along with the roaring of the morning motorbikes. sitting on the marble cafe table in front of me is a vietnamese "white coffee" which means a cup of strong coffee poured over a dollop of condensed milk which sits beneath the coffee until you stir the two together. along with this is a plate with delicious banana pancakes.

sitting in the corner is a rack of cheap english-language books of dubious provenance, an ancient coffee grinder which looks like it can also be used for basic automobile maintenance, and a message board with postings in 3 different languages. one english language post lists a land cruiser for sale: contact the embassy of denmark to arrange to see it. a french posting appears to be for a independent film about hanoi in 1906, and directs people to see it (as far as i can tell) at the famous metropole.

i scuff my feet on the tiled floor, which apears to (and probably does) date from the colonial era, as i watch a man wheel what appears to be a large talking scale through the street.

i am suffused with contentment and a quiet joy at being here in the moment -- i feel at home for a few minutes.

June 28, 2006

millionaire eel cave diver

it's been 6 days since i last updated this weblog, but already a slew of experiences happened that i need to post before they fade away.

i've taken an 11-hour overnight bus ride on a "air conditioned" bus where the driver switched off the A/C shortly after departure and never turned it on again. (note to self: never take another bus operated by "TM Brothers".) i've met up with a group of great travellers from Canada, Holland, and Israel, and have spent the last few days hanging out with them. we went on Hahn's Green Hat Boat Tour (a holdover from the old "Mama Hahn" days), and can report that it is now so family-friendly that the entire boat (besides us) were families from Southeast Asia, leaving us the odd people out. (if you want a more rowdy time, i recommend "Mama Linh", whose boat appeared to be having a great time.) but they do have some excellent karaoke (my song? "Hotel California") and a floating bar featuring the finest wine from Dalat.

i've been harassed by two vietnamese ladyboy prostitutes on a motorcycle who were simulatenously offering a motorcycle ride, trying to recruit me for "massage", and trying to pick my pockets. (yet again, no victory for the pickpockets, and they buzzed away to find some other tourist to hassle...) i've been scuba diving twice and seen giant moray eels, dived inside a cave full of fish and watched my air bubbles form quicksilver puddles on the cave ceiling, and seen a somewhat reluctant octopus along with several types of fish i hadn't seen before.

and of course, every bar that i've been at has been showing the world cup, which i am completely failing to follow along with.

in other news, today is ATM day, since i ran out of cash after paying for two dives this morning with the good people at rainbow divers. after a quick ATM withdrawal, i am now a millionaire. the contents of my wallet (until i buy my plane ticket to hong kong tomorrow) are worth 2,000,000 vietnamese dong millionaire to be exact, or about $125 USD.

tonight it's a farewell dinner and drinks with my new friends, and then tomorrow morning i'm taking an early bus to saigon (operated by Sinh Cafe this time, whose driver will hopefully leave the air conditioner on for the whole trip), and then meeting up with my good friend tim's father, who has promised that we will "put the chaw bag on" in saigon tomorrow night. good stuff.

About June 2006

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

May 2006 is the previous archive.

July 2006 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.