Update from Brian

October 7, 2006 — Sa Wat Dema

So much has happened in the last few days…

Once the culture shock of touchdown in Bangkok faded away, and once we overcame the apprehension we felt about coming to place we had heard so many misconceptions about, what we found was a strange and amazing place. To tell you the truth, I have so much to say that it is hard to do it justice. It is very much unlike any place I have ever been, and yet everything seems normal.

I’ll start by describing a few moments, out of context, then try to sum it up with generalizations. We’ll start with Bangkok, which is fitting, because this hectic place is the first view of Thailand most people experience.

Bangkok is a place that gets inside you and then you sweat it out your pores.
It is a visceral experience that you are intially both cared of and repulsed by. But soon enough, as the smoke and smells are pumped down your lungs when you whiz by about a million motorbikes and equally as many street vendors in the back of a Tuk Tuk, it starts to become a part of you…

…Walking along the massive reclining buddha in Wat Pho, a temple that is barely big enough to house the 150 foot long, 50 foot high golden Buddha statue it was built around, is a sobering experience. Each temple you enter seems to hold a larger golden Buddha than the next. Even though these sites are full of the usual tourists, the local people still come to pray on a regular basis. Even if you don’t undertsand the religion here, these temples are powerful places and you can’t help but sit for a few minutes and meditate in front of the ornaet, beautiful, 300-year-old statue in front of you. Afterwards, the thing to do is burn incense and annoint yourself with water ladled with the tip of a flower…

…The Khao San road is a strip only a few blocks long and it is the tourist ghetto. Everyone seems to find their way to the internet cafes, Irish-style pubs, and travel agencies constantly whiskign backpackers into busses and minivans headed for the islands. The commercialism is a bit sickening, but you can’t help but enjoy yourself here. There are guesthouses everywhere, ranging in price from the equivalent of 2 dollars a night to maybe 15, and there is a really a flophouse atmosphere. It is like a cleaned up version of some old port a hundred years ago, or what I envision the roaring 20’s were like. But walking even a few blocks away brings a whole new world. There are street vendors everywhere, which is the main staple of food here (most Thai’s don’t even have kitchens in their houses). You can have the best Pad Thai you will ever eat for about a quarter. You can go for days eating noting but street food and contrary to popular belif, it is actually much cleaner, more hygenic and tastier than anything you’ll get in a restaurant. Although we did stop at one restaurant that had a chicken green curry that was amazing. Curries are ubiqutous here, and although I don’t think I had ever had one before, they are about my new favorite food.

…Why is Khao San so entertaining? Two words: Danish girls. ‘nuff said.

…Adam and I spent a day exploring the grand palace –literally the home of Siamese royalty for 300 hundred years and the actualy setting of “The King and I’. When you actually see the tiled pitched roofs with very Asian-looking accents on the corners, the jeweled walkways, the many Buddha’s (including the emerald Buddha, a foot high Buddha carved out of Jade and one of the most sacred objects in all of Thailand), the palace seems somehow different than the version that was the set in my highschool musical. For those of you that don’t remember, I played a monk and a pirate. My only job as the latter was to move a box from one part of the stage to another. I somehow neglected to do this 2 out of 3 performances. I hope that I did better at the actual palace.

…Every able-bodied foriegner (aka backpacker) in all of Thailand has been itching to get down to the islands for the last week in preparation for the full moon party on the island of Koh Pha Nang. Like the rest of that motley crew, we found ourselves one of the last crowded 14 hour long bus rides down to the coast. And it is a motley crew – here’s a few words on the crowds. We (Americans) are definitely in the minority here. Imagine a place where you have met more South Africans than Americans. In the week I have been away, I have met a grand total of three americans –2 of which were kind of lame. We have met infinitely many more irish, english, french, german, and swedish (yeah, the girls are all super blond and amazing). I think I have finally found a place where my Chicago accent is exotic. It seems like the youth of europe have descended on this place (it is kind of like their Mexico). There are plenty of Diesel, Von Dutch hats, and pumas galour. Thought the aesthetic is a bit more rough and beach-bummy here than I would have thought. If you end of wearing a shirt, you are dressed up. And that is only one step shy on the neon body paint that the drunken don about halfway through the night.

…Kyle (Jason’s old roomate) described Koh Pha nang to me as “Disneyland for 25 year olds” and he couldn’t have been more right. It is a beach paradise where the staple drink is literally a bucket filled with a flask-sized bottle of rum or vodka, coke, and a version of Red Bull enegry drink that is aparently not legal in the US. Seriously. But these things are magical. The party is one of the main beaches here called Haat Rin. And it is literally on the beach. Bars are set up all along the water and you sit in the sand, drinking your bucket (which has about a hundred straws in it as if you were actually going to share it!), listening to about 5 different DJ’s blasting 5 different songs at full volume at once, while you drool at the nearest Swedish girl. Needless to say it is an assault on the senses. The results of this reverly are aparent as well –I have never seen more people throw up over the railing of their cabana on the beach in my life.

…Besides being super cheap (we get upset when we have to pay more than $10 Us for a room), the accomodation here is what you always dream of. There are beaches spread all over the island, all covered in this tiny, one room cabanas, that you rent for a few dollars a night. You may not have a toilet that flushes on its own (there is a bucket of water next to it for that –also a beautiful experioence when you consider that you have literally a hose in the bathroom as a beday in place of toilet paper!) –but you can’t beat waking up and stepping out of your door into the water. It is paradise. We booked one of the traditional longboats (kind of like water taxis around here) and for about $10, we had its driver take us to a remote coral reef, snorkel with us, take us to a beach that you can’t even drive to, and have a beer before taking us back. It is amazing.

Cool fact- the Thai’s are primarily Buddhist and Muslin, though they still hold onto a few animistic traditions such as building house shrines in front of any house or building. These look like little birdhouses, some ornate, others little more than a miniture cardboard representation of the building, at which tyhey leave incenses and daily offerings. Red Fanta with a straw in it (aparently to keep the local spirits well hydrated) seems to be a popular offering)…

And finally, to finish this marathon post- everyone is gearing up for the full Moon Party tonight. More on this to come, as well as talk of chasing monks on motorbikes, forest temples, and English strippers….

See you after the Full Moon!

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