Sunday, December 25, 2005

Rice is Nice, But $4 Massages are Better!

Jenny is always making friends...this time with some members of the Long Neck hill tribes in Northern Thailand.

Time to make the rice patties....

I am demostrating how bad I can make their home made guitar sound...notice a member of the Long Neck community.

After saying goodbye to India, we boarded a quick 4-hour red-eye destined for Bangkok, Thailand. It was a real nice change of pace (and drastic) from what we experienced for the prior few weeks. The hotel started things off right with a flower petal heart laid in our bed and a fruitcake that read "honeymoon." We've been telling everyone that we're on our honeymoon to get some free stuff (bottles of booze, lots of drawn baths and a few cakes to date). After a quick nap, Jenny and I set out to conquer the country that has really become our favorite stop so far. The people are very friendly and the landscape is absolutely serene. I am officially addicted to the ancient art of Thai Massage...the best $4 one can spend (w/o the happy ending). Also, I have to say that I am in love with the food and can easily eat Thai food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

So, beside eating and getting massages, we've spent the past 2 weeks touring Bangkok and the Northern provinces. As one of our more pampering moments, Jenny and I decided long ago to splurge on a few hotels during our trip. One of them was at the Four Seasons in Chaing Mai that is actually up in the hills above the city. I can honestly say that it was one of hte most beautiful hotels that I've ever stayed at. The rooms were very large, private and had balconies overlooking rice fields (why rice fields? Trust me...see it and you will know).

We borrowed some bikes one day and rode around the hills looking for some waterfall. Well, we didn't ever find it, but we managed to find a shooting range. Now, Tommy, Snyder and Corwin all remember my last trip to the shooting range and they vowed never to go with me again. Not that I was a bad shot, but they were worried that I'd go postal (long story and no, I'm not crazy). Well, we had a .22 caliber rifle with a small target placed 37 meters away. I had 25 shots and then Jenny would have her turn. I was excited that I hit the target (12 cm x 12 cm) in all 25 shots with many around the tiny black center. The results were something a man could be proud of. Well, Jenny only hit 23 shots in the target, but she had an overwhelming number in the tiny fact, more than me. I was beaten by a girl, but at least it was her. After, she told me that she was on the rifle team at camp. Well, I wish that camp could have tought her how to ride a bike, because it wasn't pretty. Regardless, we got back the comforts of the hotel just before dark...a good evening riding through the hills. But, I have to admit that I'm pissed that we didn't that still haunts me.

Most people go to Chaing Mai and take day trips to other areas and/or sites, but we had enough time to hire a driver for 5 days to take us around the area. His name was Daecha (means power in Thai) and he was full of corny jokes and showed us some Thai culture. It was a bit rushed since we covered 1,000 kms (p.s. I am now a metric system convert), but we did see some natural beauty including the highest point in Thailand (2,500 meters), caves, springs and what could have been the windiest road I'd ever been on. I think there are something like 1,950 turns between Chaing Mai and Mae Hong Song, but we did much more than that on this trip. If only I had my motorcycle! Ok, that can be reserved for next time (you hear that Lampe?). Actually, I'd really like to come back to Thailand, South Africa (and India if they fix their roads) on a motorcycle since the scenery is amazing and the roads just twist off into the horizon. I may have to wait until the next time I quit my job...or retirement, i suppose. Some go to Florida, others ride through the jungle on a motorcycle.

So, back to our trip. We made a big circle from Chaing Mai heading west and stayed at a little (very) town called Mae Cham in the hills. Next, we went north to Mae Hong Song a touristy area that people fly to and from Chaing Mai. After, Mae Hong Song, we went West and back around near the Four Seasons, but we headed North toward the Burmese (now Myanmar) border town of Mai Sae. After some border shopping and a quick peek into Myanmar, we headed further west to the Golden Triangle, the point connecting Thailand, Myanmar and Laos (China is only 50 miles away) that was governed by drug lords until recently. Apparently, the opium trade moved to Afghanasthan....we can now see that the American government loves to attack those drug zones! The Golden Triangle is where we first saw the mighty Mekong river, the 10th longest in the world and a waterway that would be our new home for the next few days.

After a day or two on the border, we crossed into Laos and after some visa control left on a 2 day boat trip to Luang Prabang. It was amazing to see the boat communities on the river and visit some mountain villages that were unaccessible by road. We really enjoyed enjoyed our time on the water and settled into Luang Prabang for Christmas. While Laos isn't as touristy as its Thai neighbor, we hit it right smack in the middle of the holiday season and it was filled with Gringos. We couldn't even get a flight to Vientiene (Lao capital) so we opted for the 10 hour over night bus ride through the mountains. After missing the VIP bus (it left 45 minutes early), we got stuck on the "local bus". To put things into the imagination, they handed out barf bags when we started our can never quite get used to the smell. Not to worry, Jenny and I hung tough, but the same couldn't be said by the Lao soldier sitting behind us (he's there for our protection from gorilla tribes stirring trouble in the past), since he had a few "episodes" out the window! Of course, everywhere we go has its nuances, and after some fancy visa footwork (again) dealing with consulates and embassies, we were off to Hanoi, Vietnam. New Years is just around the corner!

PS - I miss the Thai massages...please, someone find out where Jenny can get lessons!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Maharaji and Maharani of Rajasthan

FYI - This picture is NOT from Jenny's friend's wedding that we attended in India...there is one of her (we got lots of questions on that) Well, India has been quite an interesting experience so far. We first arrived into Delhi at midnight and after battling the midnight traffic arrive at our hotel. We barely slept as the many odors, bugs and barking dogs kept us on edge. We woke up to find out that our hotel was in the middle of utter chaos. Now remember, Jenny and I live in Union Square...the center of Manhattan and for me to use the word utter chaos means that it was nuts. We get stared at everywhere since tourists are few and far between. I could get over the small crowded streets filled with millions people on bicycles, small motorcycles, scooters, mopeds, auto-rickshaws, bicycle-rickshaws and partridges in pear trees -- all trying to share the same space at the same time. If you look closely at the pictures below, you can see a police officer "directing" the choas.

Now, I've been around the world and seen all kinds of bad drivers and terrible traffic....but, I would never even begin to try to drive in India. First, you lean on the horn whenever the car is in gear and second, lanes (and traffic lights for the matter) are suggestions only. Hell, driving on either side of the street is permissable as long as you live to tell about it. For hte record, they "supposedly" drive on the left side of the road, but I only know this since the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. I can't begin to explain this phenomenon, but getting behind the wheel again may be difficult.

However, it was the cows, dogs, garbage and smells that took me a bit by surprise. Many people warned me of what India was going to be like, but there is really a major shock factor that you go through for a few days. Regardless, you have to walk gingerly down any street (if you'd like to call it that) as you dodge cow shit and avoid getting run over by maniac drivers. There's no rules...not of the road and none that says rats belong out of restaraunts. Basically, India made the poor rural parts of South Africa look like Westchester County, New York. After a few days of settling in and getting used to the pollution and garbage laying around everywhere, we finally felt like we could put down our guards. We attended a wedding in the state of Punjab for one of Jenny's friends from college. It was interesting, but it was a standard wedding filled with dancing, drinking, eating and pictures...there even were drunk friends of the groom there to offer slobbering toasts. So, it really wasn't so different...keepah vs turbon...hebrew vs hindi...same thing, different continent. Either way, I couldn't understand what was said.

After the wedding, we heading back to Delhi and hired a driver for a few days to take us around the state of Rajasthan (Agra, Jaipur, Pushkar and Udaipur). Each area has rich history filled with forts, monuments, temples (don't forget the cows, pollution and everything on the road moving with wheels). Some were amazing...the Taj Mahal is truly something that can not be described. As much hype as there is, it was worth the trip. Oddly most of the tourists that we've seen are from other parts of India. Jenny was asked on many occasion to pose for a picture with strangers. I guess they want to go home and show their friends that saw a white person...or maybe its because she's beautiful and they want to praise Ganesh.

Next, we spent a few days in some small religious town (read: no alcohol or meat) called Pushakar that is on a small lake. Ghandi's ashes were spread there. Essentially, it is now a hippie hangout for Israeli kids that are released from the army. Basically, Israeli kids need an outlet from several years in the army, so they go to India for a few months, years, etc and do lots of drugs...and eat lots of falafal. It was a nice change of pace from all the Indian food we've been eating. Also, Jenny was able to use some of the new Hebrew words she learnt in Israel.

After Pushkar, we went to Udaipur for a few days...another lake town rich in history. Everyone wants to sell us everything in each of these towns. "Only look, no buy" is what you hear as you walk through the winding bazaars. It is kind of like the cartoon have to bargain for everything in India. I even found myself bargaining for the price for a piss. Oddly, most other people just use the street (also known as the Indian Toilet). Me, I bargain for the use of a toilet which is really nothing more than a hole in the ground. Thanks for the pottie training Mom, but you never prepared me for this. The best bargains in town were on perscription medications where EVERYTHING is sold over the counter at rock bottom prices...Propecia anyone? I certainly got mine (Jenny thinks I'm thinning).

So, now we are in Bombay (aka Mumbai) and have enjoyed walking around the city on something called a sidewalk. This is the first occurance of such a thing in longer are we walking amongst the garbage, cars, bicycles, motorcycles, cows and not to mention the ever popular cow shit pies that litter the streets. It is so much different than Delhi or northern India since people are less religious. There are actually women walking around in tight jeans, but Jenny gets many stares from people as she walks around in short denim skirt (cut above the knees is still too risque). We decided to stay in a nice hotel for once...toilet paper in the bathroom is an added bonus. I won't tell you how people here use the crapper here, but let's just say that they don't use toilet paper and there's a faucet located right next to the hole called a toilet.

What the ????

On that note, it's time for me to go, Jenny wants me to watch a DVD with her. Ahh, the beauties of a normal hotel...


PS - I'm up 2 games in backgammon...