Bangkok River Cruise

csc_0155

dsc_0128

After exploring the enormous and contemplative temple of the 43m Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho:

dsc_0174

dsc_0163

dsc_0160

 

An old man asked us if we wanted to take a river cruise. I had done some research on them, and most visited the floating markets and old houses of the “Venice of the East.” It wasn’t a top priority, but sounded fun, and had a reasonable price of 1,000 baht (30US$) for an hour tour. We had an entire longtail boat all to ourselves. First, we passed the famous temple of Wat Arun:

Image

dsc_0211

Then, we moved into the mysterious flooded alleys in the heart of the city.

Image

dsc_0181

All the houses were built on these seemingly shoddy stilts. Laundry is usually visible outside the clapboard walls.

Image

dsc_0202

dsc_0186

dsc_0191

Image

This was a huge surprise. Water monitors, an aquatic scavenger, have taken up residence in the populated waterways. There have been reports of them walking into residents’ houses.

dsc_0207

 

Locals on the dock, partying, was a common sight during the trip.

Image

Time for the daily hookah.

dsc_0218

We were far too late in the day for the floating markets, so this is as close as I got. A lady in a boat selling grilled chicken. Overall, it was a pleasant diversion from the penetrating heat of the sidewalks. And more overall, I wasn’t a big fan of Bangkok. The public transit (ie: subway/elevated train) drastically underserves the city. Khao San Rd. was more pleasant than I thought, but it was just a place to get a crappy kebab, cold beer and shop while being hassled by everyone to buy their stuff. The tuktuks are a constant rip-off and taxis that don’t use meters rarely know where you want to go. Even trying to go to one of the famous Ping Pong shows becomes an issue if you are concerned with prix fixe quotes before entering (1000 baht per person?). The combined price of the famous Emerald Buddha and National Palace cost 500 baht (15US$) to enter. I might pay that kind of price to see a museum with something to learn or admire, but 15 dollars to see another Buddha and gawk at the pictures of the beloved King’s dogs. No thanks. Then, when I remarked to the guard that it was expensive, he told me, “We can charge 1,000 baht and people still come. It not expensive, good price.” That rubbed me the wrong way, and I was finished with Bangkok temples. Chinatown seemed cool at night, with cooked ducks and cheap gold for sale while strange faces peek out from among the windows and doors. It was a big city with too much personality for a week. It’s actually the kind of place where it’s NOT nice to visit, but living there would probably be easier as you learned the rules and became accustomed to the insanity. The day we left, one of the many military coups of the past half century was occurring. Curfew, albeit lax, came into effect. Armed men seemed to be on every corner. The TV’s stopped showing programming on most channels and were replaced by a blue screen of military insignia’s. I’ve been to big cities that treated me better, so I feel like Bangkok is summed up by the classic, trite line of: “I’ve had better.”

Advertisements

Kratie ~ Freshwater Dolphins in the Mekong, Rapids and a Painted Temple

In between Phnom Penh and the Laos border in eastern Cambodia, sits a slowly developing city with slight charm. The city is only two parallel streets with about 7-10 connectors. There is a small market, outdoor night BBQ and fruit shakes. The sun sets over the Mekong like a glowing pumpkin into a green bath. There is a glut of cheap guesthouses for about 6-10 dollars. See here for review of the food at U-Hong Guesthouse. I stayed at Mouradourm, and he (Hap) hooked me up with a bus ticket to Laos that included all border transfers and boat travel and a dolphin tour the next day. The room wasn’t very clean, but had a good bed. The next day we went to see the freshwater dolphins. There is an estimated 80 dolphins left in the Mekong and they like to lazily congregate in a deep pool. There is no playing or interest in the boats, they just swim around belching from blowholes as you try to snap a picture of them mid-breach. It’s still cool seeing dolphins anytime, anywhere.

Image

They have Beluga Whale shaped heads.

Image

After the expected anti-climax of the dolphins, we popped back on the motorbike for a long drive past the clapboard houses and jungle of Cambodia, and reached a rather nondescript temple. Inside was a different story. I am well acquainted with the mythology of Christianity and probably could tell you the 12 Stations of the Cross and recite the Beatitudes and the 10 Commandments, but I don’t know much about true practicing Buddhists or Hindus. These pictures told fascinating stories that I didn’t know, but am happy to invent.

Image

Don’t overeat.

Image

Don’t run naked with wolves.

Image

Don’t spy on sleeping women.

Image

Don’t forget the Buddha.

Image

Drink the wine of flying people.

Image

Don’t piss off the Goddess of the Sea!

It was beautiful inside this temple. Every inch of wall and ceiling space was used in paintings such as these. A large gold Buddha sat restfully in a central position. There were card readers divining fortunes for the bowed down believers. Some carefree kids were having New Year’s water fights. It was a good surprise.

We had a small soup lunch, chugged some water, and our motorbike took us over shaky bridges, dirt roads and scattered rocks. We stopped at the Mekong rapids where a shanty town has arisen on the banks to provide a picnic area for river dwellers. Food and drinks are sold and hammocks provided for a small (2US$) fee. I gently fell asleep swaying to the hammock’s rhythm and the pulse of the river while arguing with myself about why I can’t just relax and enjoy something in the moment and stop worrying.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Temples of Angkor ~ Workers and Hustlers

The ancient Ruines d’Angkor are awesome. They give a glimpse into the past. They also give a glimpse of the Cambodian present. The ravages of a brutal Civil War and genocide, the collateral damage of the Vietnam War, the century long suppression under French colonialism, the never-ending feuds of territory with China, Thailand and Vietnam have produced a very poor country with a rich history and booming tourism. The tourist dollars are pouring into the main cities, but this mostly agrarian country still works hard for its money…or begs for it. Even the kids selling the ubiquitous postcards, “10 for a dollar mister. Look, 1,2,3,4…Come on. Help me out” sound like they’re begging even though they are offering a “service.” The middle aged ladies hawking the same scarves, the same dresses, the same bags, the same magnets, the same trinkets, the same t-shirts, the same same, not different have the same routine, “Buy for your girlfriend, your mother, your sister. Very cheap, very good, made in Cambodia silk.” It’s like they are all given a supply from the same store and sent out over the huge grounds of Angkor like some poor roving salesman with a tattered suitcase full of “amazing” cleaning supplies. I’m sure some people buy it. Some people might give money out of sympathy. Some people just shake their head in varying shades of disgust and annoyance. I started to look at them instead of the traditional, “No thanks, it’s okay.” I looked at their eyes, their clothes. I talked to them. I asked them questions. They speak better English than they are aware. As soon as I told a young boy he has special golf hat on or a girl that she was pretty, they smiled and forgot to see me as money on legs. They talked to me also. We didn’t discuss important things, we just commented on the situation. I quizzed the kids on world capitals. I asked the girls if they were all friends. I asked them if they like Angkor, and all said yes. I smiled and felt important with all their attention lavished upon me because I might have a spare dollar in my wallet meant for them. It’s a big job to squeeze all the money out of tourists while they are here at these mighty ruins. They give that big job to the smallest people.

Image

“You come back here and buy from me mister, not her, okay?”

Image

They were lined up for pictures and donations.

Image

Lying in a hammock, she popped right up to show me her daughter.

Image

They were making jokes about me in Cambodian I think.

Image

The girl on the left has such an old face. She’s ten going on forty. Look at the troubled smile compared to her friend.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

“One picture, one dollar mister!!”

Image

Image

This young guy had such a whining approach. “Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuy one, eeeeaaaaaa.” He started crying eventually. He followed me for ten minutes even when I sat down to get a rock out of my shoe.

Image

Image

I understand the salesman’s need to A.B.C. (always be closing). I can pretend to understand how hard it must be for some of these kids and parents. I don’t understand where they came from or where they’re going. Perhaps things will work out for them and it won’t be a never-ending cycle of begging/selling.

Otres Beach ~ People

About 2km down from Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s biggest port town, lies the ultra-chill Otres Beach. About a dozen guesthouses, about a dozen restaurants, about a mile of quiet sandy beach is about all this town has. But, there is still a good sense of business among the relaxation for some people. There are mangoes to be sold, bracelets to make and massages to give.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Three massage girls chatting after I got a nice backrub for 5$.

Image

This is Leda, a hilarious girl. I told her one dollar for a bracelet, and she threw her head back and scoffed, “In your dreams.” I ended up buying a necklace and 3 bracelets.

dsc_0251

dsc_0250

There are also quite a few expats living here, like these Frenchmen, enjoying a shirtless game of boules in the courtyard.

Phnom Penh ~ Walking Around

Image

The barbershop, a place for men to be themselves.

Image

This little girl almost certainly lives on the streets every night. Her mom was begging. There was a large cardboard area situated near some unidentified junk.

Image

Fried Chicken Heads. Can’t imagine much meat on those tiny little things!

Image

This man is using a jackhammer without shoes on an open street.

Image

She started to hold up the baby to me like Michael Jackson held up Blanket on that balcony to the press. They were waving and smiling as soon as they saw the camera.

Image

They’re not impressed by the camera. They were at the night market nibbling steamed corn. Right after we left these kids, we found a kitten stuck in a trash bag style glue trap for rats. A local helped us get gloves and some gasoline. We soaked the glue off the cat and washed him. The man who helped us took away the little cat after and said, “Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.”

Image

A local tuk-tuk driver named Chay.

Image

Saigon Kids

Saigon Kids

They were talking very animatedly and trying to get noticed. They posed with “V” signs instantly. I asked him if his shirt was the Led Zeppelin logo, he took off his backpack and showed me the Charmed logo. He was into the old WB vampress show I guess.

Getting Lost in Nha Trang

Image

These guys were hanging out laughing and whistling at chicks. They offered me some tea, I had a buzz for the next hour from it. Not sure what kind of tea it was, but it was strong.

Image

Getting in some chilling time before hustling the tourists.

Image

This guy was talking so loudly, and bits of food were flying from his mouth.

Image

Working hard or hardly working? To be fair, it was 9:15, so maybe coffee break time.

Image

The “easy-riders” all want to take you around and show you the “real Vietnam.” This guy was very persistent.

Image

She’s quite attractive, friendly and I like purple.

Image

He saw me with my camera and held up this rather ordinary crab. The market stunk like sour meat, seafood and sweat.

Image

She was not pleased with this picture. She immediately began yelling to her superior after I took this.

Image

The kid finally waved to me as I was walking away.

Image

They were laughing as soon as I took out my camera as if I just told a joke.

Image

Love her expression.

Image

Genuine smiles when I popped in their hardware shop.

Image

He reminds me of Gummy Joe from the Simpsons…Image

Image

Hanging with her vegetables in the shade.

Image

Selling Candles in Hoi An

 

They were happy to take a picture because they thought I would buy a candle. The little girl ran up to me after I turned around and pulled my pants to offer her cute face as a selling point. You just can’t buy every time someone shouts, “Buy something!” And for me, if it’s not edible, I don’t usually buy anything.

dsc_0010

The next group wasn’t so pleased.

dsc_0006