As we drove away from the Choeung Ex Genocidal Center, my driver asked me if I was interested in going to a shooting range. While I turned down the offer, I couldn't help but wonder if a common reaction to visiting the Killing Fields was wanting to go do something pointlessly violent. It's an entirely helpless feeling, wandering about this quiet place that was host to such horrors, and knowing that the thousands killed there - most of whose skulls you can view in the memorial chedi - represent a tiny fraction of those killed by the Khmer Rouge. I really wish I could say something meaningful, or hopeful, about the memories preserved here and at the Genocide Museum, but it's hard for me to believe that such remembrances, as much as they honour the lives destroyed, have meaning beyond this when genocide continues to happen.
Beyond this, all I have to offer is silence.
While there are some not-to-be-missed tourist highlights in Chiang Mai - the night market, Doi Suthep - for me, it was mostly just a great place to walk around. It's a city I felt I could grasp in my head, which is pretty much impossible in Bangkok. More laid-back than Bangkok, and way less seedy than Pattaya, it was a good place to stroll, take pictures, eat random street food, take a cooking class, and sit and read, and it just so happens is how I spent my time there. Highlights:
Pattaya is a beach community not far from Bangkok with a reputation for seediness that it's trying hard to live down. I'm not sure it's really succeeding. The economy seems to be based around white guys looking for cut-rate Thai girlfriends (and/or boyfriends; at least it's equal opportunity). The most visible aspect of this is that pretty much every restaurant or bar we passed had a cluster of attractive Thai women outside who would attempt to entice us inside. Their greetings didn't vary much: "Helloooo, where you froooom? What's your naaaaame?" From this they were quickly and unimaginatively christened Hello Girls.
This, of course, explains why we ended up at a shooting range, where I shot a gun (a 45mm semi-automatic, if you must know) for the first time. Poorly. Thai shooting ranges don't go in for silly Canadian ideas like safety orientations, so we were shooting about three minutes after we walked in the door. I'm happy to report I felt no great surge of testosterone or sense of manliness as a result of doing it, I don't think I'll need to do it again.
Judging from my notes from the days in Pattaya, the only other thing of note from our two days there (aside from some very tasty meals at non-Hello Girl restaurants) was reading McCormack's harrowing The Road; it's about the worst beach reading material imaginable, I suppose, but it's an amazing piece of art.
Greetings! Now that I have something to actually write about (three weeks in Thailand and Cambodia), here I am posting again. Maybe I'll even continue after I finish my write-up!
You can see all my pictures from the trip at flickr, and read on for the first installment of my notes.
Suvarnabhumi Airport, the new international airport in Bangkok, is a massive complex, but you exit out of Customs into a space that feels cramped; this is mostly due to the large mass of greeters and touts waiting at the exit. Every guide book will tell you the same thing: unless you're actually part of a tour group that is being greeted, head straight for the official taxi stand, which is on the first floor. On the way, there will certainly be friendly official-looking people with clipboards asking you where you're going; these people should be politely brushed off unless you feel like paying twice what you should for a taxi ride to your hotel. You're going to be saying no to a lot of tuktuk drivers as you make your way about the city, so take it as valuable practice.
As I had been up for about 25 hours by the time I landed, I was reasonably impressed that I managed to negotiate this and get a proper metered taxi; the awake-but-out-of-it feeling was probably the best state of mind for the 140 km/hr ride to the hotel where my friend Paul, who I'd be travelling with for the next 2 weeks, was already staying. Head finally hit pillow about midnight local time, which was about 10am according my body.
Aside from a couple typical stops (Golden Palace, Reclining Buddha), we don't hit a lot of the main tourist attractions in our two days in Bangkok, choosing instead to wander and see the city. A few highlights from doing just this: