February 2008

General29 Feb 2008 07:50 pm

This is the first of a few videos that will slowly be going online.

Food: Asia and General and Travels29 Feb 2008 04:35 pm

I’m back home now, sorting through photos, trying not to nap the day away and just in general feeling out of sorts and not sure what to do with myself. So: posting shall commence!

I know I’m leaving a whole bunch out including a magical few days in the jungle and some great diving, but Bangkok was so great I feel compelled to write about it first. I shall return to the other missing weeks.

We left my mom behind in Phuket on a Thursday and headed to Bangkok for five days of…eating! Not really sightseeing, but mostly eating with some shopping thrown in. Every time I go to Bangkok I add days, but it’s never enough. The city is amazingly huge, and caters to every kind of tourist, from shoppers to gourmands to families. Everything is always reinventing itself, so there is always something new.

We flew to Bangkok on NokAir, the creepy airline my father detests because they have garish paint jobs for their planes. I booked with them because they were cheap and could guarantee no baggage upcharging for weight overages…something that made me grumpy about flying on another cheapie airline, Air Asia. $30 seats turned into $45 ones quickly.
Happy “first class” passengers. As we boarded Mike said “What? There’s a first class?” to which I said “I think we’re sitting in it.” Turns out the “NokPlus” seats we booked were also first class! An unexpected luxury, and the seats were incredibly inexpensive – $40 or something! I’d certainly fly them again.

The flight was quite pretty, going up the coast of the Andaman most of the way.

Weird thing about most Thai hotel rooms: they are willing to sell you everything in the room and a price card is usually provided. On Thai airlines, they sell you anything with a logo on it. Good thing, because I loaded up on presents. Amy, I hope you like your tuddy bear and Premee, I hope the arm sleeves fit.I fretted over what hotel to stay in for many weeks. My original plan for Thailand had included a trip midway for Mike and I to Bangkok for Valentine’s Day, and a stay in a high end hotel, but the timing was off. So I wanted to stay in a nice place, but paying $250+ for five nights wasn’t an option. Luckily, I found a great deal on a place called Dream. It’s a relatively new hotel, I think I even recommended my honeymooning friends Dan and Roz stay there when they were in Thailand last year as they had some great promo rates as they were new on the scene. The hotel turned out to be a great choice. It was central, had style, a comfortable bed and Mike’s seemingly favorite perk: a lobby that smelled of mint. $80 a night and that’s the thing that seemed to excite him most. Simple man, simple pleasures?
The hallway. Each floor had differently patterned carpets and murals on them. I’m not sure if this helped or further confused drunken guests trying to find their rooms. Apparently it’s a popular hotel with partiers. There were a series of light settings for the room, most featuring LED lights. There was a sort of nightlight for the bathroom which didn’t disturb anyone in the room, and guided you to the washroom as if you were a plane coming in for a landing. They used this setting (pictured) for turndown. It made the bed look like it was floating on a cloud, besides giving it what I like to call “Stripper Club Blue.” You know, like when they use blue lights in strip clubs to cover up the stretch marks and zits the dancers have? There was also this mirror above the desk area. It was embedded and further reflected the LEDs set into the ceiling, and the desk. The pool area was small, but trendy and quiet. It was above the second tower of the hotel, which is across the street from our tower. One day we saw a lady walking around the street dodging tuk-tuks in her bathrobe. I hope she was coming from the pool.

The bedding was obscenely comfortable. And, of course, for sale, in true Thai style. Although I can’t speak for how the hotel will look in 10 or even 5 years, the decor and design made our stay in Bangkok a little more special.

General and Travels21 Feb 2008 06:32 pm

Four days at sea can really change a woman. Still felt like the world was floating last night; things are better this morning.

The dive trip was pretty amazing; four dives a day except for our last day. Ate some great food inbetween, did our Advanced Open Water course and played a lot of Yahtzee and Connect 4. (Well, our version is called Bingo Join 4, actually)

We didn’t see anything huge as we had hoped; no mantas or whale sharks, but lots of amazing little things. We mostly did dives between 28-20 metres at depth, and it was exhausting at times, but exhilirating once in the water.

Only took my dad’s camera out for a spin on our last two dives, as I personally find underwater photo taking still a bit tiring and frustrating. We don’t have strobe flashes or flashlights, so the colors are off, it’s hard to remain buoyant over the subject with strong currents and I’m still a bit scared of that near by stone I want to use as a rest point for photo taking being a deadly poisonous stonefish. I use a lot of air when taking photos underwater, and find I miss things if I concentrate too much on looking for photos. I need more practice, first, I think. All in all, I’m not sad I took these photos, but they looked better underwater, you know what I’m sayin’?

Cases in point:

This is a Kuhl’s stingray. Yeah, I know, you probably already knew that. It’s as good as any guidebook or field photograph. Detritus?

A forlorn shoelace floating sadly at the bottom of the sea?

Nope. It’s a super rare juvenile ribbon eel.

Disembodied heads of sad fish left in the wake of a fishing boat?

Nope. They’re my favorite: garden eels.

Of course, I jest. I took over 150 photos on the last two dives and they’re not ALL bad, blurry, out of range, or completely crap to try and edit in Photoshop.

These guys are weird; mantis shrimp. They look like lobster tails and are murderers of the deep, with a preferred killing technique of smashing the shells small crabs and other crustaceans then eating the insides.

Although they hide at the mere light shadow passing above them, there were fields of garden eels at one of our last sites, and some did pose willingly for me. My photos at the aquarium are still way better, but this is a growing process.

This is a huge humphead wrasse. He was about 2 feet long and can grow as large as 7. Don’t hate him because he’s beautiful.

A better shot of one of the many Kuhl’s stingrays.

The areas was rife with box and pufferfish, personal favorites. I can’t remember what kind this is, but he was pretty neat. He also wasn’t as deep as the other fellows, so much more conducive to color editing in Photoshop.

This is Mike and I on our last safety stop of the last dive.

We’re off to Bangkok today, and will be back in Canada this time next week. I can’t wait; Tony’s Pizza, work and all our little pets await.

General and Travels16 Feb 2008 07:34 am

Our last full day in Phuket was spent running errands, but ended with a nice walk on the beach and a great seafood heavy dinner at our favorite restaurant, “BaanNaNa” (smart name, huh? It translates to “house of nana”)

My mom had told Mike and I the day before of how a baby elephant had accosted her on the beach, wrapping it’s trunk around her upper arm, seemingly after her Starbucks coffee. She had taken us on a walk to show us it was indeed not a tall tale.

Things weren’t looking good for a while, but then, a few metres away, a group of people had formed, camera flashes going off, children running down the beach towards the gathering. They were surrounding a tiny 6 month old elephant who was about 190 kilos. He was a darling and probably the smallest elephant I’ve ever seen.
He was pretty solid and surprisingly bristley. We left when his ‘handler’ started to make him play a harmonica for oranges.Our trip to the jungle was pretty amazing, save for the constant threat of monkey break-ins. No time to update tonight as we’re going on a four day diving trip, but I’ll try to get something up soon. Here’s a teaser photo. It’s hard to tell who is more curious about who.

Food and Food: Asia and General and Travels09 Feb 2008 07:52 am

Tomorrow, I head for the little helltown of shit known as Surat Thani (I actually think it’s kind of a sweet place, if not for the hookers and packs of stray dogs and touts harassing you at every corner. I mean, it’s got a branch of “America’s favorite ice cream”, Swensen’s. I know you all have faith in Swensen’s and it’s franchise choices.)

The last time I saw Mike, we parted ways as I put him in the back of a song teaw (these are covered trucks used from short distance transport in Thailand and literally translate to english as “two benches”) with one other white dude headed for the town of Chaiya. His destination: the silent retreat of Suan Mokkh. I had given him a phone number and a copy of the Lonely Planet in case of emergency and fretfully hoped he could retrace his steps back to where I am, 6 hours away across the land bridge that connects China to Malaysia.

On Monday morning I hope to see his sure to be heavily bearded face outside the small train station in the rural town of Chaiya.

I have already started to amass items to bring him as offerings and so that might seduce him back to the dark side of western culture. I’ve even made my own freezer packs and hope I can keep the items cool during the bus trip and overnight.

I’m not entirely sure what kind of mindset he’ll be in at the end of this meditation retreat to be honest. But if I’m totally wrong and he’s not feeling decadent and celebratory, atleast I’ll have some deliciously expensive imported cheeses and some less expensive and maybe not imported cured meats to put inside of a french baguette and eat myself while I cry over another boyfriend lost to religion *.

All these food items that were no where to be seen even on my last trip to Thailand in 2006 are so luxurious! That, added with the seemingly amped up aggravation the normally docile Thais are exhibiting and I’m beginning to worry for this country.

At least the beer is still cheap. I’ll probably embarass Mike infront of all his new hippie meditation buddies by cracking one open and spraying it all over us Grand Prix style when I see him, but self respect be damned. How else would a North American celebrate 10 days of quiet deprived contemplation other than by 10 days of celebration and gluttony?

Oh. And one more thing, in case you were wondering. In the photo I’m eating a delicious deep fried cricket which we got in our market dinner spread before Mike departed. There were two varieties and we went for the leggier ones, which I’m actually sad about because apparently people rip them off before eating, and I definitely did not care for the prickly legs.

I’m actually hamming it up for the camera; they weren’t so bad. Crunchy, deep fried and tasted of salt and soy. Sort of like chips, to be honest. The dog lurking about wasn’t that into them, though, so maybe they know something we don’t. The tarantulas we keep sure dig on them, though.

We’re headed to the jungle for some quiet time. Hoping to catch fireflies in bottles, go bird watching early in the morning and fend off monkeys that apparently break into people’s treehouses. That’s about as relaxed as you get in Thailand.

* no, not really.

General08 Feb 2008 07:46 am

Today, I present to you a tour of some of the common and some of the rarer wildlife of Phuket.

Here, seen in one of their natural habitats, the Japanese Tourist.

Packed into small groups and herded by a fast talkin’, photo clickin’ head tour guide, they are often spotted boarding buses or drinking in bars. Blink, and you miss them. I saw this group in party central Phuket; Bangla Road. They were there to observe another “natural” phenomenon of the area…

The Crazy Eyed Rocktit, aka, Katoey or ladyboy. These nocturnal creatures are deceiving at first sight, good from far but often far from good.

People gather to watch them dance, blow kisses and flash their goods while performing a fantastic mating dance complete with elaborate costumes. Only to fear if you’ve had one too many big beers or buckets of Thai whiskey. Mostly only searching for tips from gawking tourists.

Less flamboyant than the Japanese tourists but often seen in the same habitats is the Euro couple (long maned variation). Often matching each other’s style and grooming habits, these majestic couples exhibit the same skin coloration and often the same hair patterns. During the day can be found on the beaches, fiercely guarding their ‘nest’ of sunbeds.

And a beach sighting, mid-day. From far, we’re not completely sure exactly what species it is…

Perhaps an elaborately dressed jet ski tout? A tour operator? He’s solitary, so that seems to indicate some sort of sales pitch. Upon closer investigation (and digital zooming) …

It seems as if it’s the rarest of them all, the Bearhat Ice Cream Singer.

Only seen during the hottest parts of the day, this singing salesman walks the beach, crooning to small children and cuddling couples, convincing them to buy an ice cream bar. The hat seals the deal for many.

Sure, you’re hot and cooking in the sun, but you’re not lugging a 20 pound miniature freezer up and down the sliding sand of the beach with a faux fur hat on your head.

The fact remains, whether you buy for pity or for pure enjoyment, the ice cream is damn good and that hat is pretty damn cute and remains my personal favorite spotting during this Phuket Wildlife Safari excursion.

Food and Food: Asia and General and Travels07 Feb 2008 07:05 am

For dinner tonight, we visited the Thursday market. There weren’t many fresh produce vendors, but lots of people selling hot food and clothing. There were two rows, one side concentrated on clothes, the other on food. It wasn’t the biggest market I’ve been to, but there was a lot of room to move around, which was a welcome change.

Camo gear has always been popular. I’m not sure why.

I tried this jacket on. It was a bit too small in some areas though. Ahem.

I started to see this last year, but this year, the market has really exploded for bootleg cosmetics. Things like MAC eyeshadow, Chanel lipgloss and Shisedo moisturizer have appeared. The packaging looks identical or very similar in most cases, but the stuff inside is pretty low quality. Not that I ever buy black market things. No. Never.

In Bangkok, the biggest market is called Chatuchuk. It’s well known for it’s huge pet section full of exotic and ‘regular’ pets; everything from kittens to the most endangered reptiles. Even at this small market there were some pets being sold. Here, goldfish. In a cage was some sort of small mammal, perhaps a sugarglider. I didn’t ask the price.

Great engrish. Luckily we were mostly there to get food so I didn’t have to ponder what this shirt meant. The sun was setting, and lines were beginning to form.

These little ones were running the stand selling steamed dim sum items. They were all business, too.

I still don’t get why donuts are so popular. They even sell them on the beach. Ain’t nothing I want more than a sand-blasted donut when it’s 30 degrees celcius.

Just like the southern US, southern Thailand is known for it’s fried chicken. Instead of mashed potatoes and gravy, you get sticky rice and fried scallions and garlic. The photo shows all the different cuts of chicken there are. Behind the stand, there are huge woks of boiling oil running off of propane tanks. The results are delicious – fresh and totally safe to eat…can one say the same for KFC? I get other things when at the market, but I always get some khao nieau kai (fried chicken sticky rice).

Dessert, too. These are known as khanom buang: small hard crepe taco-like snacks, filled with fluffy coconut cream and bright orange strands of egg dipped coconut.

Lady, you like sunglass?

Bottled pops are so much better.

My spread when I got home. Okay, it looks gross and oily and greasy, but it’s soooo good. To the left and bottom, the sticky rice with it’s crunchy topping and two legs of chicken. On the top, dessert and finally deep fried fish cakes, or tod man pla. They were spicy as hell and tasted strongly of lemongrass, tumeric and chiles.

Another successful trip!

Food and Food: Asia and General and Travels06 Feb 2008 07:38 am

Life isn’t always a beach here in southern Thailand and sometimes supply runs must be made. While there are smaller mini-marts and 7-11’s on every block, plus fresh markets that sell simple household items, produce and hot food, sometimes you just need a dose of the west.

Phuket has a few different western grocery stores now; quite a change from even five years ago when the only one in town was Big C, which is where we headed today. I’m not sure about the name. My dad thinks it’s a throw back to “Big K” when K-Mart was popular, and I’m fond of that explanation myself, but the truth is, this is Asia and who the hell really knows?

Here’s my mom behind the wheel. It’s weird to have her driving now, as I’m used to my dad doing it. It’s pretty stressful driving here. Today alone we were stopped at a police checkpoint, a van almost backed up onto us and a water buffalo and her calf were in the middle of the road by the condo. She does pretty well, but sometimes she still hits the windshield washing lever instead of the turning lever in the car.

After a 25 minute drive, we arrived at Starbucks for our pre shopping coffees. I had hoped to escape my addiction to their expensive drinks while here. So far, this isn’t happening.

We drove down the road a short distance to Big C. It’s a discount/grocery store and two other levels of shopping, food and even a mosque. Almost all the shoes in this picture were about $6 a pair. I think the thrill is gone for me though. Last year, en route to Hawaii, the heel on a pair of them snapped off on me as I walked down the jetway. It cost me almost $12 to repair them, and now I’m too scared to wear them anywhere. This year I’ve mostly been looking at flats.

There were some karaoke booths on the top floor. Thai only, I think.

Many Thai snacks are often strange combinations of sweet, savoury and doughy. Think pineapple hot dog buns or fluffy pork sugary rolls. These little bunnies looked alright though.

Big C displays a lot of it’s fresh meats in the same fashion of the Thai markets, on ice and in open air, not in air chilled chests that we deal with.

Do not get sucked in by pepper steak Lays as I was. The steak on the package…it looked so juicy, so meaty, so right for putting on chips. I was dismayed upon opening the package that the aroma was similar to some dollar store brand of manly stew. I’m not even sure a dog would eat these. Very reminiscient of some “meat cookies” I bought a few years ago at T&T.

Nori seafood are a much more delicious choice, surprisingly.

Most stores have an aisle for monk’s supplies. They are ochre colored buckets and baskets full of the items any hard working monk might need. Paracetamol, tomato sauce, candles, condensed milk. There was also a special aisle set up for Chinese New Year.

Mom, working the aisles.

There was a large cosmetics section, with the counter being worked by a ladyboy. There are many skin lightening products available…and also this. To get rid of “menlanin”. I hate it when that stuff hangs around. Making me all colored and such.

We were getting kind of hungry so we went to the Food Zone for a snack. I don’t think I’ve eaten at a food court at a mall in Edmonton for years, but the food courts here are different. They usually focus (like food carts in the street) on a particular item and cook it to order, with payment coming from a prepaid card you load up before ordering. It’s kind of a strange system, but it works out well.

These ladies were selling deep fried fish and curries.

The traditional Thai condiments are readily available.

I got some rice and Korean style pork and soured cabbage, with a pineapple shake. I think it was about $2.

I didn’t get any, but the Thai desserts were really popular. There are some kidney beans here, palm hearts, rambutans and preserved bananas of some kind.

As we left, I came face to face with a common sighting at malls in Phuket, the half naked German jaybird. Unfortunately (or luckily?) I wasn’t able to capture the full extent of his, ahem, plummage, but I can only hope after looking at shoes, he headed towards the store selling pants.

General and Travels04 Feb 2008 07:41 am

Spas, massages and pampering have always been popular in Thailand, and it seems the hip new thing this year is not hour long foot massages (how can anyone’s feet need this much massaging?), “invigorating” swedish massage nor even tinsel sewn into hair (seemingly only popular with Thai airline stewardessess) but Japanese facials.

Now, I understand that this immediately brings to mind some interesting thoughts, but fear not. Thailand is not yet so grotesque that they provide Japanese facials in full view at the newest biggest Western style mall on Phuket island.

Anyhow, since it’s just my mom and I, we are now able to fully indulge in these procedures, not having to worry about Mike and my father entertaining themselves with “Towers of Chang” (a particularly strong brand of beer) ice-core-filled, self-tapped 3 litre towers of beer that all the shopping centres here seem to have. Funny that.

So this morning we drove to the nearest mall, had a civilized cup of Starbucks, laughed at the temperatures in Canada (sorry guys) and then went for our facials.

It’s an exceedingly medical procedure, conducted by women with germ masks (maybe this is what makes it Japanese). We are laid out on what seem to be dentist chairs and then our faces are massaged, oiled up, soaped up (hey hey hey, not that kind of massage, okay?) and then the weird stuff starts.

A warm mist floats over your skin like a cloud at the top of a mountain. A weird vibrating pulsing wand is applied to areas. Conveniently, your eyes are closed throughout this. Then a strangely sucking sound and sensation. I prematurely feel triumphant, thinking the facial is drawing to an end and that “Japan is great, that new sucking thing takes all the pain out of facials…”

But I am too optimistic. The devil-woman starts to prod at my temples with something metallic at pores I did not know existed. I must have flinched, for she said (not asked, mind you) “It hurt.” She labours on. I’m unsure who is cursing my large pored skin more, me or her.

Suddenly she’s on my nose, poking and picking. I imagine this is what tattoos on the face must feel like. I have images of a open-sored bleeding face, people gathering outside the windows to the spa to see what remains of my visage.

It goes on for a long time, then ends, mercifully with a cool mist and cloth. To add insult to injury, I am given a head and shoulder massage. “Free!” says my pore punisher enthusiastically, but that only makes it worse as she all but gives me a oil handed swirly on my carefully straightened hair. (No small feat for me in this humidity, let me assure you)

Even as I write this, my mother is laughing at my hair, saying: “hahahhahaha…it’s three different styles at the back….hahahahah… it’s all ratty!!” Thanks, Mom.

Anyhow, after I straighten myself out and ensure all my pores have ceased hemmoraging, I do what only a frugal woman can. “Can you believe a 45 minute facial was only $14?” I say, amazedly, to my mother as I pay for both of ours together.

Of course, this was before her recent comments on my hair (which has probably been this way all day, regardless of the sad combing my torturess gave me at the spa) Maybe a $4 pedicure will make everything better…

Food and Food: Asia and General and Travels02 Feb 2008 04:15 am

Driving down a long dark road, parking the car. Walking down a dock that lists to one side, then the other. Into a long tail with a single bare light bulb. Only heading to lights on the other side of this… what is this? A lake? The ocean? An estuary? We don’t even know.

The restaurant was a place my dad heard about, the effort to get there, totally worth it. We choose our seafood, live, not from tanks but from netted holding pens in the water. The floor of the restaurant moves as longtails drop other diners off. We order dish after dish. Lobsters…2. One king shrimp, the last one. A fish, I can’t remember what species. Vegetables. Before we start, a frothy white drink arrives. There is some discussion amongst us over what the waiter said when he dropped them off. Lobster juice? Lobster milk? Lobster something.

The taste is salty. It’s mixed with Sprite, so it’s fizzy. It’s weird and I keep taking smaller and smaller sips. I’m certain in the photo Mike is sucking it back, while I am merely pretending. The drink sits on the table as I inhale the rest of the lobster, warming in the windy warm air. It does not get any more palatable.

The rest of the meal is impeccable though. Can be hard to find, but definitely worth it: Kru Suwit Raft Seafood Restaurant.

Food and Food: Asia and General and Travels01 Feb 2008 08:26 am

Mmmm. Tasty coon cheese, complete with coon magnet. Perhaps it’d go well with the ‘nazi fried rice’ we saw at a restaurant.

General and Travels01 Feb 2008 08:19 am

I’m going to try and post as much as I can in the next little bit. It’s amazing how quickly you forget things.

Here, the moonset over Koh Doc Mai, a small island in the Phi Phi chain where we spent the day doing three dives. Mike finished up his open water course there, and I managed to see seahorses (two kinds!), turtles, blue spotted stingrays, a leopard shark and some morays. One of the most eventful dive days I’ve ever had.