Memoirs (Southeast Asia)

’tis a shame that I did not make the effort of keeping a journal on my trip to Asia. I salvaged a few pieces of email which were somehow not lost, and look back in utter joy and amusement at that time of adventure and uncertainty. Here are just a few articles to share, piecemealed from letters to family and loved ones.

3/28/2002 – Bangkok
immediately leaving the states in a state of relief and exhaustion, arrived at bangkok, and went directly to Khao San road area as outline in the guidebook. little did i realize the area was utter western chaos, full of tourists and travellers alike. bars, loud music, volleyball in the streets.. it was akin to going to palm beach for spring break. thank goodness to have received an email from Aw, a friend of Bryan, whom i just barely met before leaving the states. the next day, Aw showed me around town to all the places locals would go (climbing gym, local market, river ferry, local bus routes). we went climbing the day after about two hours south of bangkok. met Thomas and Michael, very strong climbers and good people. the Thai people are so warm and generous, i can’t imagine anyone doing so much for a complete stranger. must remember to take them out to a nice dinner before leaving bangkok.

4/01/2002 – 4/05/2002 – Ankor Wat
arrived in siem reap nearly 9pm, Cambodia after a gruelling shuttle ride on the bumpiest dirt roads you’ve ever seen. of course, it would have been sooner, if we did not stop five times on the way over at an hour each stop.. but that was part of the scam for us to stay in their guesthouse about 1km outside of siem reap itself. we (Rebecca and Grant, austrialian couple from Melbourne, and myself) left the guest house after much commotion and stayed at the Ivy, a laid back place run by an english guy.

two days of ankor wat was enough, the second day was much more magical. sunrise at ankor at 6:30 in the morning. smaller but more beautiful, and definitely less touristed temples were key. it didn’t stop us from being lynched by the swam of beggers (amputees without legs, arms, hands, burn victims), and kids and adults alike, trying to make a buck. you could not be alone for more than 3 seconds, before being pounced by what seemed like vultures. did have fun with a group of kids, after they stopped trying to sell things to me, they just wanted to play and have fun. they braided my hair and placed baby powder all over my face, neck, and arms (in celebration of the new years, mid April). there were maybe about twenty kids in total, and they seem so needful of affection, they were hugging me and climbing into my lap. at one point, they place a naked baby in my lap. at first he was facing away from me, but when he turned around, one would believe that he saw a ghost. his eyes went wide open, his mouth opened as if he was about to scream.. although no noise came out. poor kid. eventually, he settled down, but did feel quite bad for him.

left siem reap after four nights, three full days. Rebecca and Grant headed back to bangkok to catch a trip into Laos. i continued onward to Phnom Penh by ferry.

4/06/2002 – 4/09/2002 – Phnom Pehn
arrived in Phnom Penh via ferry with two French travellers, Gilles and Sokora (native Cambodia getting in touch with her roots). spent one night with them and then hooked up with two hillariously wonderful people i ran into at a temple at Siem Reap, funny that we keep running into the same people, Donnie and Milfred. Donnie is an Irish born Austrialian (lots of Austrialians in Cambodia)… very smart, inquistive and open-minded, always questioning issues… who works as a miner and also carpenter. Milfred is a crazy, and i mean crazy, German guy who’s making it big in the gem smuggling business. he’s been everywhere (to India seven times, and always has a unique and hillarious story to tell. one of his stories goes as such… Milfred was travelling throughout india on business a while back, flying india airlines. well, in india people drive cars and motos only looking ahead, never behind. so if you have to make a right, you go right. everyone behind you have to go around appropriately. sounds crazy but it works. while Milfred is walking toward the plane, the pilot starts his turbines without looking behind him. Milfred is now flying through the air, and hits the wheels of the plane. some guy, hanging onto the wheel, grabs Milfred, and they are both flying horizontal, trying not to get blown away like the others. afterwards, he wakes up, is given some pain killers, an apology… sorry for the inconvience.. and a free voucher to fly anywhere in India for the month. needless to say, nothing was broken, but his entire right was black and blue, and he spent three days in the hospital back in Germany). together, it was great travelling with this dynamic dual, aside from the constant US bashing, but who else deserves to be bashed?
in Phnom Penh, saw the grand palace, the killing fields, and the tuol sleng war memorial… i don’t think any image could be more grim and terrifying. it makes the anne frank house look like a fun park.

left for sihoukville with my fellow travellers.

4/09/2002 – 4/12/2002 – Sihoukville
we arrived at the not so charming beachside resort town of Sihoukville, overall it was stereotypical cambodia. the white sandy beachs were gorgeous, but i suppose what bothered me about this place were the number of old, crustly white guys (predominately americans) who were accompanied by beautiful cambodian women. i don’t think any one of them were over the age of 20. it was disheartening to see.

still had the best time renting a moto bike and taking it off road. met up with an israeli and two british guys whom i can’t remember, but they were extremely good company. took the bike around some of the most difficult terrain and over startiling shaky bridges to a fishing town about 1 1/2 hours north of Sihoukville. everyone was really friendly, saying hi and not trying the usual selling of tourist items.

funny incidences with the beggars. we had one who we gave money to the first night, and we ran into him at various restuarants, at the beach across town several times and perhaps other places. each time we point out that we gave him money before, and his reply was ‘oh, thank you’ and leaves. it was becoming quite a joke, and i believe he thought it was funny as well..

we left Cambodia through the ferry to koh khong, where there’s a bridge into Thailand.

4/12/2002 – Koh Chang, Trat
worth noting so that i can bug him about this later… so while travelling through Cambodia, i ended up sharing a room with Donnie to save costs. thankfully there was no inkling of attraction from either of us, otherwise we wouldn’t have done it… it was interesting conversations before retiring to bed. in Trat, we had to share a common bed, which i don’t think either of us were entirely happy, but what choice do you have if there’s only one bed left. it was just one night… so we went to sleep. in the middle of the night, i feel a kick on my back. then another one. okay, okay. i turn around, and Donnie is kicking into the air as if he’s being attacked. his body is crunched up and his feet are near my shoulders. i think i scared him. but boy am i glad i felt a kick as opposed to a grope. good guy, that Donnie.

we (Milfred, Donnie and myself) went to Koh Chang the next morning. beautiful beaches (a bit pricey and over touristed). i stayed an extra day to scuba dive, but the others parted and it was a sweet but sad end of our travels together.

4/13/2002 – 4/18/2002 – Krabi, Tong Sai beach
met Aw in bangkok, and we took the overnight VIP bus down to Krabi (wonderful asian market there) for the new years (songkram) celebration. from there we met Ong, a wonderful guy. he’s the same age as Dave, and very well adjusted and quite mature for his age. i liked him immediately… together we journeyed to Tong Sai beach for some super rock climbing. it was a climber’s paradise… the rock is gorgeous and filled with definition nice large pockets, and strangely elegant stalagmite (still under formation). felt like a baby in a candy store. there’s was so much to try and to learn.

so, met with Aw’s friends… Thomas (from the second day at bangkok), Chai (42yr old ladies’ man), someone else (quiet guy), and Simon (british guy who’s been teaching in bangkok for the past five years). i felt attraction for Simon the instant i saw him, and then found him to be a hilariously funny, super nice, very generous guy… so i’ve really fallen for him. i think i’ll stop on this note.

4/21/2002 – Sipsongpanna, Pai
upon Simon’s recommendation, stayed at Sipsongpanna [12,000 rice paddies], a wonderful guest house in the country side about 2km north of Pai town center. slept in a beautiful bamboo bungalow adjacent to a small stream frequently traversed by herders sheparding their water buffalo, overlooking field after field of budding rice paddies.

on the second day at Pai, went into town and rented a bicycle, and just as i was signing the rental agreement, a group of guys rode by and i ended up riding with them outside of town. they were good company. had great time hanging out, and having dinner and playing cards. the next thing you know, it’s 2:00 in the morning. i left their guesthouse at town center shortly after 2, and this is when things started going downhill. got as far as block before getting a flat, and so was pedalling hard but not very quickly. that was when dogs began gathering in the street… the thing about dogs in asia, while they’re well behaved angels during the day, they transform to mean, vicious vixens at night,.. getting quite nervous now. about 1km along, two of them came after me. one of them pounced and hit the bike. i was going to get lynched,… don’t think i’ve ever booked so hard in my life. well, somehow i lost those two, but could not ride any further. i pushed the bike past two more growling dogs and realized that there was another group in front, as well as behind… just couldn’t bring myself to continue.

by now, it’s 2:30. i’m sitting by the side of the road, flagging for cars to stop and hopefully give me a ride. 3:00am… a truck stops, there’s two guys inside and they seem okay with giving me a ride. i’m estatic to be saved. so i ditch the bike and get into the truck, sitting right between the driver and his partner, and the next thing you know, the driver’s hand is in my lap, and we’re leaving Pai. i keep motioning go back, go back. sobbing now. the truck stops. there are barking dogs outside, rabid dogs… hmm, the better alternative. i jump out of the truck. now we’re a good 3km outside of town.

surprisingly, they’re concerned for my safety. the passenger walks outside with me and the truck follows. we get back to where the bicycle is stored by the side of the road. i thank the driver. he points to his lips and puckers up, and making smooching noises. immediately, i pull out my wallet and offer to pay him, but he rejects the money, good man? his partner gestures he’ll walk me back to the guest house. during the whole trip back, he motions to me and then to himself and implying that he’ll sleep with me in my room when we get back. 4:00 finally we make it to Sipsongpanna, and i tell him to sleep elsewhere, offered him all the money in my wallet of which he only accepted 100 baht and left. i pushed my bike in front of another bunglow, and hid in the common bathroom till nearly sunrise.

travel learnings 101,… don’t venture out after dusk. and don’t climb into a truck with strange men.

About this time, I had a little summer romance, and stopped keeping a journal, so the only records I have are in letters written to my lover whilst I was travelling alone throughout Asia. More travel stories to come.