Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bootin' around Bangkok

On October 19th, we left Sea Turtle once again on the motorcycle to return to Bangkok to pick up our Visas and for our flight to India on the 24th of October.

On our way to the Embassy in Central Bangkok to pick up our Visas, we were hit with a fierce rainstorm. The street drainage system couldn't keep up with the deluge. We quickly pulled in under cover and watched the traffic. The water became so deep that it covered the sidewalk.  It was up to the doors of the cars and a few of the un-detered scooters conked out.

They need water taxis!

With Visas in hand and a clear sky, there were a couple of sights to see that we had heard about. We visited the famous short street called Thanon Khao San. Decades ago, the backpackers hung out here for the cheap accommodation and street food. Today, it is more popular as a tourist venue with souvenier sellers, pubs, and McDonald's but the delectable street food vendors are still there.

A Bangkok favourite street

As the sun was setting, we made a quick stop at the steamy street called Cowboy Soi. This came into its own as the haunt of American soldiers on leave during the Vietnam war. Today it's another spectacle for the tourist and the girls of the night still provide their services

With a day to kill before our flight out to India, we zipped out of Bangkok for a change of pace. It was 75 kms to a popular floating market in the village of Amphora where time slowed down and reverted back to simpler ways. Shops in age old shanties that lined the canal complimented the scene of floating commerce. Indigenous chefs aboard their skiffs were eagerly cooking delightful meals and serving hungry visitors as longtail boats provided transportation to tour the canal.

Waterway commerce

Boat side chef

With an early morning flight, we were off to bed after a busy day. We hope to update the blog with India adventures - depending on available internet access - otherwise after our November 14th return...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Now where to?

Back at Sea Turtle on October 5th, after 9 days away travelling from Phuket (Thailand) to Malaysia and back, we made no waste of time cruising the internet to figure out our next adventure.

It was the discovery of cheap flights to India where we could do some intrepid motorcycle touring on remakes of the old British Royal Enfield bikes up into the Himalayas. But India is another country that requires pre-issued Visitor's Visas. So we left a few days later on October 11th for a 2-day run up to Bangkok to make our Visa submission at the India Embassy, a 7-day process.

An unusual poolside sign at our hotel that we couldn't quite figure out...what could it possibly mean??


We saw a half dozen accidents along the way which fortifies the reputation that Thai driving is the 2nd worst in the world in terms of deaths per capita (26,000 last year). Anything from multiple vehicle pile-ups to a large rig straddling the medium.

There was also a beefed up pick-up overloaded with fruit that blew a tire, but his load was so tall and top heavy that the truck tipped over onto its side leaving fruit strewn about the road. Beefed up pick-ups are common. What are they? A pick-up with a 1-ton axle and gigantic overload springs. They believe it gives them unlimited carrying capacity but more than a couple of times we have seen them in the ditch or stopped dead on the freeway missing a wheel. Empty, they are some of the fastest and craziest drivers - I guess rushing to get their next overload fix!

Buses and transport trucks are often dressed like clowns. These mobile kaleidoscopes sport elaborate and fanciful paint jobs and accessory gauds of lights, mirrors, reflectors, and their favourite trinkets. The "Michelin Man" is the best loved!

Flamboyancy run amok

It was a quick trip, there and back. Traffic was horrendous in the large City of Bangkok with over 8 million people (12.6% of Thailand's entire population). Jordan was able to navigate around without getting lost, which always amazes me.

We were rained on a lot during our journey - hence the numerous signs indicating the many waterfalls - and we were glad to be back at Sea Turtle.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Food foibles

As we travelled on our  motorcycle returning to Phuket (Thailand) from Malaysia, we stopped for lunch one day at a sidewalk eatery that once again reminded us that in this part of the world, you can have an international experience while sitting in one chair and observing your surroundings.

Our waiter, let's call him Zamir, was recently from Pakistan yet spoke good English and had a manner that in American would be considered pushy, but no doubt he considered it helpful. When we ventured towards the buffet counter, he adamantly said "No, no, sit here!" pointing us to a table with menus.

"But we just like to look at what we might want to order", Jordan said trying to ease Zamir's anxiety. But he enlightened us, "That's Malay food. You don't want it." We felt like saying, "Oh my mistake, I thought we were in Malaysia." We relented only because the menu had pictures.

As we perused the diverse selections of mostly Indian foods, Zamir peered at us with a drooped head and eyes wide as though he was looking over the top of invisible glasses. We're not familiar with this look. Was it to evoke a response? Like maybe, "I'm waiting!"

As diverse as the residents and foreigners are here, a westerner on a Thai licensed motorcycle seems to be a slight oddity. But not at this restaurant. We were just another colour on a palate of confluent cultures. The waiter was Pakistani who spoke English. The patrons we could see were a mix of at least 3 different ethnicities. Indian food, Malay food, Arabic calligraphic decorative inscriptions framed on the walls. And the name of the establishment was Danish Briyani Place. We can understand most of it, but Danish?

Lunch came and even though it wasn't even close to the pictures, it was delicious.

This reminds us of another interesting dining experience we had in Trang a while ago on the way down to Malaysia. We had a hankering for a familiar breakfast, and when we saw American Breakfast on the menu, we looked no further.

From previous experience, eggs can be served runny to raw. So Jordan wanted to make sure he got them well done. "Eggs, no runny", he said. This drew a blank stare as the waitress spoke as much English as the dead ducks hanging on display in the window.

No problem. This is when we use only the simplest, smallest English words and lots of pantomime. "Egg", he said, pointing to them on the menu, "Hard", as he rapped his knuckles on the granite countertop. More blank stares. At this point, he realized his pantomime repertoire for hard-cooked eggs was seriously limited so now he was stuck.

After a few moments of vacant eye to eye contact, the waitress finally flip-flopped her hands and Jordan immediately knew it was the best he was going to get and gave her the thumbs up and made a mental note to add her gesture to our repertoire.

Then it was on to the coffee. "Coffee with milk. Sugar on side", as he showed a package of sugar and put it beside the coffee cup. Blank stare. The coffee came with milk in it, but as they used sweetened condensed milk, the sugar on the side was a moot point.

Ah yes, food can be a peculiar challenge to make life more interesting!

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Travelling to and fro

After seeing the hornbill birds on Pangkor Island (Malaysia) on our motorcycle trip from Phuket Island (Thailand) to Malaysia, we continued on our way to Penang Island (Malaysia) where we would get new 2-month Visitor's Visas for Thailand.

Along the way, we stopped periodically for a butt rest. During one of these rest stops, I severely burned the arch of my foot on the motorcycle muffler. Ow! The 2nd degree burn blistered so my aim was to keep the blister from breaking to prevent infection - that meant a lot of tip-toeing!

Crossing the bridge, we arrived at Penang Island on a Friday later in the day, and the Visa renewal department was closed. We were able to drop off our forms on Sunday with a promise of our Visas being ready on Monday. So to kill some time, it was another island motorcycle tour. The most enjoyable part of the Island ride was along a winding road that snaked through verdant hills and past cliff hanging vista points.

An unexpected interlude while waiting for our Visas was the arrival of our friends on Jabula who we had left a couple of days before down in Pangkor. They had decided to make their final jump off for their Indian Ocean passage from Georgetown (Penang Island). So we spent a genial last chance visit.

On Monday morning with renewed Visas in hand, we headed north to the mainland of Thailand. Palm oil plantations dominate the Malaysian landscape whereas Thailand's counterpart seems to be the forests of rubber trees. At least from the smell that wafted throughout the countryside as we travelled indicated that. Jordan said its unique scent could be described as pungent, but I thought it was just plain stinky!

The dripping fluid fills up black pots attached to rows and rows of stately trees, like maple trees drip their sap back in Canada. What's surprising is that this fluid is white, not black like we think of rubber.

Drip, drip, drip...

Once collected, it has a soft, rubbery feel. We stopped to check it out when we saw a pick-up truck parked with a rear cargo of the half-sphered product. We were informed that it naturally turns black, no dye is added.

Go ahead, touch it!

We deviated from a direct route home and took the ferry to the touristy Koh Samui, another island! The fare for the 1.5 hr ferry trip for us and the motorcycle was only the equivalent of $10 US - nothing compared to expensive Canadian ferries.

Looking back at Thailand mainland pinnacles

Our first night was in a rather nice resort right on a quiet beach where our first order of business was an inviting swim in the pool after the long hot day's ride. The highlight of the evening was the amazing sunset...

The next night, we took a budget beachside bungalow on a busier side of Koh Samui. The highlight there was a massage at beachside under the open-aired roof of what we would call a pagoda gazebo.

How divine

Of course, we did yet another pleasantly diverse motorcycle island tour. An unusual and popular photo op was that of Grandma and Grandpa Rocks where erosion formed distinct replicas of separate male and female genitalia.

Our final run back to Phuket Island was punctuated with rain that the mild temperature made it easy to endure.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pangkor hornbills

Still on our motorcycle trip from Phuket (Thailand) to Malaysia to renew our Thai Visitor's Visas and meet up with our friends at Lumut of Marina Island, we decided to catch the 10-minute ferry from Marina Island to Pangkor Island.

Part of the draw for us to this Island was to see a daily feeding of wild hornbill birds on the seaside patio of a particular hotel. There are various species and these are the largest called Great Hornbills. They are not unlike the toucan (remember the mascot for Fruit Loops cereal?)

On arriving at the pier, we were immediately met by a young man who had scooters for rent, so we struck a deal and off we went. We had read the feeding time was around 17:30 to 19:00. Apparently the birds don't follow a rigid time schedule! So with time to kill, there was the whole Island to explore.

Pangkor Island's robust terrain is carpeted with lush tropical forests. We headed counterclockwise on the main narrow road that circled the Island.

Before leaving the condensed village that's squished between the shore and the steep hillsides, we came upon a shipyard. There, they were hand-building ocean-going ships of about 25 metres all out of heavy timbers and planking. You could easily picture yourself in a European shipyard of the 1600s.

Jordan was amazed at the huge planks of prized wood. Solid planks the size of a castle's dining room tabletop that could sit 30. What would these planks, rich in colour with a grain completely clear of knots, be worth back home in Canada? And where did they get such pristine timbers?

Beautiful timber

Continuing, the village scene soon drifted aft as we travelled a snaking road that climbed and clung to the sides of the vertical slopes where the forests disclosed where the prime timbers came from. Then the road eased to a pleasant drive past unspoiled beaches perfectly accented with large boulders as if placed by landscape architects.

We ended up early at the hotel where the hornbills would appear so we relaxed to soak up the setting. Soon, out of nowhere, a large hornbill swooped down as a special guest for dinner. First, she set on a tree branch to survey the safeness of the place, then finally flew down to the plate of cut-up papaya on a little table in the middle of the patio.

Free food!

We seemed to be the only persons interested and slowly crept closer to get a few snapshots...

Mrs. Hornbill was fine until she decided we were getting just a little bit too close and flew off into a high tree where she watched the 2 curious humans from her safe perch.

Soon thereafter, Mr. Hornbill came for the last of the meal. (Evidently a "he" as his bill was larger.) He delicately picked up each piece of fruit by the tip of his capacious bill and with a little backward flip, down it went, at the same time probably wondering what are these strange creatures looking at?

Feathered fruit flipper

The sky was turning an ominous charcoal and the faint rumbles were our cue to take flight back to the human jungle.