Thailand

Chennai – Good bye

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This was our only photo in Chennai (CHUH – NYE) – our last dinner on the roof our hotel.

We only had two days in the city. The last two days of our 10 month long trip, and we chose to spend it at a buffet table and a shopping mall. We were tired, and wanted a couple of days to gather our stuff and relax before our next leg of travel back to our home and native land.

Suffice it to say, we didn’t have any grand tales to share from our time in Chennai.

Instead maybe some advice:

1. Go to more breakfast buffets.

2. Take your time there: don’t blow your appetite on an overfilled, first plate of waffles and pancakes.

3. Aim for four plates. For example, start slow with salad. Move over to the omelette station next, and pay service to some sausage and bacon. Then for your third plate, you could bring in some insulation like pancakes, waffles, or french toast. This means you can finish on a light note. As your reliever, go with some fruit.

4. Get the fresh stuff: is there one piece of french toast left in the container? do another couple of laps, or distract yourself with the colours at the salad bar then double back to get the new batch.

5. Treat it as your own food museum: people spend hours touring museums, taking history in slowly, one piece at a time. There’s no reason you can’t do the same. Consider a buffet, your own edible museum or art gallery that you can enjoy, bit by bit, digesting it all slowly.

Enjoy.

We’ve now been back in Canada for a couple of months, and I can confidently say that the first impression of life here is cold. Not groundbreaking news for winter in Canada – but we’d been living under sun for the past 10 months, and hadn’t been below zero in a long time. Our East Coast is having it rough, getting hammered with one snow storm after the next, which I think, is well summed up in this ditty:

Toronto is just cold. I know, in comparison to other parts of Canada like Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northern B.C, and Quebec we’re living in a paradise. My eyelids aren’t freezing shut, my nose hairs aren’t growing icicles, and it doesn’t hurt to breathe outside. And yet, I still feel cold. Maybe the sun has made me soft.

There’s a lot of good things to being back:
– fast WiFi
– good coffee
– personal laundry
– maple syrup

And some bad:
– The Toronto Maple Leafs

It was an amazing trip overall – with a ton of different experiences along the way, which I’m sure we’ll return to again and again as our memories are randomly triggered.

” Do you remember that drunk guy singing in a microphone on that Indonesian ferry?”

” Remember those mountain goats we saw off the trail in Nepal”.

” Remember that Chinese trekker who had a teddy bear on his bag to remember his wife”.

Blah, blah, blah. We can go on forever – and think it enormously interesting, while boring the shit out of everyone around us. However, in place of our subjective impressions, here’s something we can include people on: our trip by the numbers.

Months spent travelling: 10

Countries visited: 10

Planes taken: 32

Longest single flight: 14 hrs 35 mins. (Vancouver to Auckland)

Trains taken: 5 (overnight) + 2 (day)

Longest single train ride: 14 hrs (Delhi to Varanasi)

Buses taken: 2 (overnight) + 19 (day)

Longest single bus ride: 13 hrs (Mumbai to Goa)

Tuk-tuk/rickshaws taken: 100+ (at least)

Cars/Taxis taken: 40-ish

Cars we rented and drove ourselves: 2

Mopeds we rented and drove ourselves: 5

Boats/Ferries: 7

Longest continuous day of travel: 26 hrs (Phuket to Sukothai)

Guesthouses stayed: 84

Nights sleeping in airports: 2

Bouts of food poisoning: 2 – Marc 0 – Rose

Countries where one or more nationals mistook Rose as a fellow citizen : 8

Scuba dives: 12

Highest altitude climbed: 5416 metres (16, 878 feet)

Lowest depth swum below sea level: 30 metres (98 feet)

Trail hikes: 4

Longest hike: 20 days (Annapurna Circuit)

Major news stories of our disappearance: 5 (Google search: Marc + Rose + Nepal)

Strangers who asked me to pose in a photo with them: 4

Temples visited: beaucoup

How many times we changed time zones: 10

Most times zone crossed in a single day: 10

Total distance travelled: 98, 885.4 kms (two times around the earth + 18k leftover)

I may fill in a few spots here and there, add some more travel books and odds and ends. But otherwise, that was our trip.

Merci bien. Thanks for reading.

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Buddha’s back…Alright! (dunh dunh na na na*)

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* read to the tune of Everybody (Backstreet’s back)

We travelled only 26 hours plus to see him. You’d think to garner this much attention he’d have done something. But Buddha did the opposite: he literally achieved nothing.

An accomplishment that from a particular point of view might stir the heart of lazy bastards, but, from the point of view of the early Thai empire, stirred visions of a massive statue to commemorate his amazingness for sticking a big middle finger at the material world.

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Ok, the Thai engineers decided to keep his middle finger down. But, look at those fingers. Oversized Toblerone bars don’t stand a chance.

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11 metres wide and 15 meters high, Wat si Chum (aka. Big Buddha) is the biggest statue on display here at Sukhothai Historical Park, but it’s only one of over 193 ruins scattered around the place.

After our tuk tuk, train, bus odyssey the day before, Rose and I changed things up with a new addition to the transportation roster:

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Also a UNESCO site, Sukothai Historical Park is accessible on bike, which made our tour easy, but also helped us slow down a bit from our normal hurtling caravan of activity that operates at speeds a lot higher than 5km/h.

I thought the setting was really tranquil – (For Buddhist ruins, a handy compliment) with few tourists around, and Rose and I took advantage, meandering along, and finding shade wherever we could.

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Since we no longer had the help of a big body of water to cool things, we’d returned to the sweat gushing days we’d experienced in Laos and Cambodia (as you can tell from my photo with Buddha above).

However, one highlight that was worth the sweat was this stupa – Wat Sorasak.

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Elephants figure heavily in Thai culture, once used in parades to project power and majesty during royal ceremonies and also in more practical terms, as construction equipment to clear land. From a Buddhist angle too, elephants were seen as protectors.

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A worthy ally I would think: but sadly not one for us on this day, as the big beasts were no match against the sun that by this point had crisped Rose’s skin into a deep mahogany, and mine into the skin of a Yukon gold potato.

We pushed on to a Hindu site – Wat si Sawai one of the oldest in the park.

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Interestingly, similar to the blending of Buddhism and Hindu which we saw in Angkor Wat, next door in Cambodia, this one had similar style, which was moving away from Khmer architecture to a more Thai style – reflecting Buddhist themes.

Of course, Buddha was in abundance everywhere else:

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We spent a couple of days touring the park, and met another Canadian couple, who had been visiting for five days. While 800 year old statues are their own draw, I’m not sure we would have spent another three days exploring them at length.

However, we learned, neither was this couple. After touring the ruins for a couple of days, they they’d supplemented their days by going birding. As we roamed through ruins taking photos of everything around us, they also walked through the ruins, but were only interested in them if a bird was using one as a pit stop.

After one of them declared: “There’s a bird over there on that fallen pedestal” – I scrunched my eyes but didn’t spot anything. Seeing my wrinkled face getting nowhere, the same birder offered me his binoculars, and I had a peek.

As he sat over my shoulder, holding his breath in anticipation of my seeing this bird, which had now from all the preparation taken on mythic status, I expected I’d be looking towards some ornithological marvel: a toucan, a condor, maybe a vulture?

When I said: “Um. I’m not sure I see it”.

“Yes it’s that blue coloured bird. It’s small”, he repeated

Sure enough, it was a little bird perched in a way that I had completely overlooked it.

“Oh right. Yeah I see it”, I replied, doing my best to sound excited.

“It’s got a nice colour”

“Yeah, blue”, I said, maybe a bit too atonally.

I handed him back his binoculars. While I appreciated their enthusiasm, it was clear that I have a way to go before I get the same thrill.

Rose and I toured around a bit longer, once again tipping our hat to the master of the big nothing, who just to underline his empty contribution also seems to be forming the number zero with this fingers in the image below:

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We eventually made it back for our third shower of the day, had a really good dinner at the guesthouse where we stayed, and plotted our next move. A visit to Chiang Mai and more elephants – but this time the real thing.

Thai skies

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We finished our trek in the small town of Pokhara in Nepal. But we truly came down from Nepal at our next stop: Ao Nang, Thailand.

A mid-size tourist town in Southern Thailand near the main tourist hub of Krabi, Ao Nang is where we laid down to do nothing but read and hire people to return feeling to our muscles. After 20 days of 8+average hours of walking, we sought out a daily regimen of Thai massage to bend, crack, turn and knead our bodies back into some level of compliance.

It wouldn’t happen overnight, which was exactly what we hoped: allowing us to explore the streets for another of Thailand’s main attractions: FOOD. As mostly everyone knows, Thai food is tasty and amazing. But coming from 20 days of eating lentils and potatoes, to me, it was: life affirming, ethereal, majestic, other-wordly – take your pick.

I found the taste and flavour so fucking amazing after our utilitarian, unadorned, “food as fuel” in Nepal, that it almost felt necessary to hold on to the restaurant table for support after every bite.

La petite mort.

Oh behn, c’etait beau.

As we carried on this love affair at food stalls on the street, we watched others conduct their own walking down the street in front of us. Rose and I would play a game, guessing if the Western guy walking with a Thai girl on his arm were “For marriage” or “For money”. True, there could also be a third category “For money by marriage” however, we wanted to keep it simple.

While I’m the romantic between us, cupid’s arrow rarely left its quiver and in our completely unscientific study, Commerce beat Cupid resoundingly. Beat it by a lot of Baht. (Unnecessary to emphasize it again, I know. But I just like the sound of that sentence)

An explanation: Indonesians would constantly mistake Rose as Indonesian. In fact this happened in almost every country, but it seemed the most frequent in Indonesia.

So, on those occasions in Indonesia when we’d stroll into a slightly nicer restaurant than our usual beachside food joint, filled entirely by Western tourists who might not have ventured out of the tourist quarter, whether it was in my imagination or not I thought I spotted an eyebrow raise or a longer stare than normal, suggesting something salacious ala: “Oh he’s with a prostitute” (not an uncommon sight in much of Southeast Asia).

We’d both laugh about it, of course. But in Thailand it was a non-issue as there were many couples who appeared to be in it “For the money”, and if someone were to think the same of us, we’d blend right in.

Being mistaken for a national, however, did have a lasting effect on Rose – she now had firm evidence of something she’d long suspected – she could be a spy! Of course, Indonesian spies may not be in high demand at all, but Rose is forever looking for new angles and things to pursue, and at the very least she could add it to her list of ideas.

But don’t tell her: it’s safe to say her cover is blown because of this blog.

After five days of beach and kneading, we turned things down even more and headed to an island farther south: Koh Lanta, where we stayed for 10 days staring at sunsets with a small handful of people, walking up and down the beach:

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Interestingly, we learned that Koh Lanta was a huge draw for Swedish and other Scandinavian tourists. So much so that not only did one restaurant on the beach have a buffet night with smoked salmon and meatballs, but other restaurants had Swedish products, and there was even a school devoted exclusively for Scandinavian kids.

As we navigated along the Nordic beach, passing blonde bobs all along the way, somebody else showed up in full force, to nail the point home – ABBA.

Every day, at the place we stayed the soundtrack was on a loop. Over breakfast we were asked to “Take a chance on me”, which when looking at an unfamiliar dish in a tin container at the buffet kinda seemed fitting, plus after two plates of breakfast, when I was considering taking a rest from another plate, up they came again to remind me “The Winner Takes it All” – and I stood up to resume my food assault.

All fine and well, but by afternoon hearing a steady flow of “Dancing Queen”, “Fernando”, “Money, Money, Money”, “Mamma Mia”…I’d had enough.

With our guesthouse soundtrack filled with other AM Gold ditties like the Bee-Gees and Kenny G, and cloud-filled sunsets our vista (that oh so common motif on AM GOLD record covers), I felt like I needed gold chains around my neck and a lot more chest hair. For Rose? Maybe a perm and the album cover would be set.

Minus those, however, this is the runner-up:

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Next stop Phuket to meet up with some friends who we met in Australia, and had since set up a Facebook campaign after hearing of our possible demise in Nepal. I think Rose and I were both excited to meet our first friends after the Nepal media blitz and be able to prove, incontrovertibly, that we were alive beyond email.