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Trip Report IV - Phnom Penh


Killing Fields Memorial Charnel House

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.

Trip Report III - Chiang Mai

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Doi Suthep 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:

  • The night market is several city blocks of stalls selling the usual Thai market stuff: buddhas, clothing, wallets, watches, massages, etc. etc. The odd thing for me is that I really enjoyed strolling through it but I ended up buying pretty much nothing, as it wasn't that kind of trip for me. What was fantastic was the open-air food section, which was a large seating area surrounded by different restaurants. You picked whatever section looked good and the wait staff took care of you from then on. I never had a meal that wasn't delicious (and cheap, as per usual in Thailand).
  • Doi Suthep, just outside Chiang Mai, is almost ridiculously photogenic, as can be seen on the right. I visited early in the morning, and as I approached the (three @#*@#!!* hundred) steps up to the temple proper, rays of light pierced through the mist steaming through the canopy of trees, at which point I almost started looking for mist-generating machines, so postcard-perfect was the moment. The entire temple was beautiful (more pictures here), and really shouldn't be missed if you're anywhere near it.
  • I took a one-day cooking class (another thing-to-do in Chiang Mai) at a place called Baan Thai that was a lot of fun, and well worth the $25 cost. We made and ate five dishes over the course of the day; and I can definitively state that Thai cooking is easy when you don't have to do any cleaning and there are several sharp-eyed Thai women watching over your every move. Oh, and if there's one secret to Thai cooking, apparently it's fish sauce, as we used it in everything but deep-friend bananas.
  • I was pleasantly surprised to come across several excellent used bookstores in Chiang Mai - I found two books by Niall Griffiths that I haven't been able to find here, and - the real prize - a 1950s Penguin edition of Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (of whom I've written before).

Trip Report II - Pattaya

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Lacking in both accuracy and precision

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.

Trip Report I - Bangkok

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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:

Bangkok Flooding

  • Our first night, we went east over across Chao Phraya river via the Krungthon bridge, and all the streets were flooded. The steps off the bridge lead into an alleyway that looked into someone's livingroom; the room was covered with about six inches of water, and a man lay on his couch watching TV.
  • Also at the tail end of the bridge, I spotted a place named 'Joan of Arc Business Administration School'. Sadly, my picture of this ends up not turning out.
  • The tail end of the rainy season produces some truly impressive storms (and we Vancouverites know from rain); unlike Vancouver it remains very warm and is pleasant to walk in, especially with a rain poncho that removes any worries about your camera equipment getting wet.
  • There are markets everywhere, usually right on the sidewalks. There tend to be a numbing sameness to them, really (red bull tshirts, yellow we-love-the-king shirts, silk, buddhas, tasty fried snacks), but on the second day we came across a market that seemed to specialize in false teeth and large wooden phalluses.
  • Thanks to Paul deciding on a whim that he needed a haircut, we learned that Bangkok barbers still use straight razors (and rather deftly).
  • There is a riverboat stop along Chao Phraya that will sell you a bag of fish food for 20 Baht so you can feed the hundreds of catfish that live there. The feeding frenzy that results pushes some fish completely out of the water; this is strangely compelling.
  • There are few things I enjoy when visiting a strange place than just sitting in a cafe watching life go by:
Bangkok Cafe

Advanced Kayaking

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This guy is going to win Best Kayaking Story competitions forever. (via)

This just in: water wet

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While picking on dumb articles in one's local free alt-weekly is a bit pointless, I just can't resist doing so with Georgia Straight's Debunking the Paradise Myth. I think I'd sum it up as: 'I used to like Thailand before all these damn tourists showed up. Also, you should all stop going there, it'll really improve the place.'

Tourism is not a panacea, but expecting a desperately poor nation with the natural beauty of Thailand to reject tourists (and their money) in order to help the poor is not in line with reality. By all means, ethical tourism should be encouraged and sex tourism discouraged, but calling for people to stop going to countries impacted by tourism is as naive as going to Thailand and being surprised that it has bugs, snakes, pickpockets and scam artists.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Travel category.

Photos is the previous category.

TV is the next category.

This is, a weblog by Bill Stilwell. I take the occasional photo.


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