March 23, 2002

summer camp

I spent the last week in summer camp. Or something rather like it. I was in
Ko Phayam, which is sometimes billed as the 'last remaining paradise', as it
and Ko Chang (between Ko Phayam and Ranong town, not near the cambodian
border) are two of the few islands which have tourist accomidation but not
enormous amounts of it. After a two hour boat ride from Ranong (now twice a
day or more if needed) you end up at a tiny villiage on a small island. Of
course since we had let it be known where we were going, motorcycle taxis
were there to help the three of us headed to the opposite side of the
island. The 'road' was paved, concrete 3 feet wide, through the cashew
groves. The tree branches were mostly trimmed above the height of a
motorcycle rider, but not always, so ducking was the order of the day. They
dropped us off at the end of the road, near but not on the beach, with
instructions to walk on another 5 minutes. Yes, the promised bungalows were
there, not some empty expanse of sand nor a man-eating monster which
protects the islands inhabitants.

The beach has 5 sets of bungalows, with 4-15 bungalows each, and that's it.
So after the first day, my schedule followed the same pattern every day:
wake up, eat some food, swim, eat some food, read a book, eat, nap, swim,
eat, and sleep again. Often sleeping in the hammock since it is much softer
than the matress (which is filled with concrete or something) and doesn't
collect sand from the air like beds do on the beach, even if you take off
all your clothes and shower before getting in.

So that was my week. Today I took a motorbike back to the villiage, on to
the boat and back to Ranong town. After lunch and a hot shower, I went off
to Myanmar. What can I say? It was a half hour via longtail, I spent an hour
wandering around the southernmost villiage, which seems to have a large
muslim population (malay?) and came back to thailand and got another 30 day
visa. Now I'll probably head a bit further south, then north, then who knows
where...

--Matthew

Posted by MBlain at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2002

Ranong

I'm now almost exactly 10 degrees north of the Equator, just off the
southern tip of Myanmar. This is the town (and province) of Ranong, raniest
in Thailand. It is hot season now, so not much rain is likely even if it did
rain in Bangkok last week.

First a word on getting here. Transport in Thailand is easy. I needed to get
out of Bangkok but hadn't done much planning (or anything else) in the last
week. So on Friday night I managed to grab a taxi to the Southern Bus
terminal and bought a ticket to here on what may be a 2nd class aircon bus,
as the VIP bus was full. This is the standard form of long distance
transport here, a huge aircon bus with about 45 seats, luggage underneath.
Airconditioning set to about 10 degrees C, free blanket which isn't really
enough, free drink (not usually drugged) and snack. I got a 9PM bus
intentionally to try to get in after dawn, but got in just around 6AM. The
motorbike misunderstood me and took me to the pier to go to some islands
I'll probably visit tomorrow, then back to the hotel which my guidebook
reccomended.

This town must have had a boom in the 60's. Many buildings are concrete
monstrosities right from about that time, including this hotel, with the
original furniture and plug-board switchboard system. Since it's in the
guidebooks, the hotel was predictibally overpriced, but at 6AM with no idea
of where else to go, who's to argue.

For breakfast I ate at the popular place. They spoke no english, but some
customers sort of did and I ordered some coffee. Food was whatever was
sitting on the table--various rice things steamed in leaves, I had one which
was slightly sweet. Also pancakes (bisquick?) and plain rice buns. All told,
very cheap, though the waitress told me the price in presumably Burmese, it
wasn't Thai and it wasn't english. The people I was sitting with were from
Mynmar, as are a large number of people in this border town. Signs are often
in Burmese too. It's a different group than I've seen elsewhere in Thailand,
I can't say who the people really are or where they're from. Probably Thai
groups, Burmese, Malay, and a large Chinese population, which is common
everywhere in SE Asia.

Today I may try to head off to the hot springs this area is famous for, then
figure out where to go tomorrow... perhaps one of the nearby islands,
supposedly like the now popular islands were like many years ago.

--Matthew

Posted by MBlain at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2002

Local Transport: Cambodia

And now, another entry in the 'local transportation' series.

From Phnom Penh, the capitol of Cambodia, to Kampong Thom, a random
provincial capitol, and from Kampong Thom to Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat,
I took the local version of high speed luxury land transport. Also known as
a Toyota Camry. Mind you, I only paid for regular class, which is something
the airlines only wish they could do--fractional seating. Full capacity for
a Camry is after all eight people when you count the driver, although if
there's a lot of luggage you might have to tie down the trunk lid. If you
can, you might also want to try to find a vehicle which is left hand drive,
though the preferance seems to be for right hand drive vehicles. Presumably
they're used from Thailand and often Japan before that, but since there are
no VIN plates in SE Asia it's hard to tell.

The cambodian roads themselves are notorious, though they too are slowly
being rebuilt. The major roads have been demined for many years, and the
minor ones are mostly clean at this point too. Many even have bridges now.
But they still are dusty. From Battambang to the Thai border, I took the
other standard form of local transport, and this time there were 3 of us to
buy the 'four' back seats of the pickup truck, thus ensuring a ride with a
bit more hip room. The normal people in the back were taking the normal form
of cambodian transportation. Yes, you heard that right, pickup, if you put
10 (or 20) people in the back of the pickup, it does a pretty good job of
keeping the dust off the cargo, though the cargo does end up getting a bit
squashed.

The last form of long distance transport is by boat. (Well, airplanes can be
useful too). From phnom penh to siem reap there's the hydrofoil. I never
took it, and wonder if its days are numbered, once the road is complete it
will be faster than the boat and probably more comfortable. From Siem Reap
to Battambang you can also go by boat, this too will be faster by road when
that is finished. In the wet season you go by decent sized speedboat. Yes,
fiberglass western style speedboats, unseen in most of SE Asia. Mind you,
the river is small, and the speedboats are destroying the banks with its
wakes, and even more irritatingly to the villiagers it swamps their floating
houses and often comes close to tipping their boats. In dry season, you take
a smaller boat for part or all of the trip. If you're lucky, you'll get a
tiny speedboat. If not, you'll get a bigger tourist boat which can take up
to 10 hours to go the whole way. Be prepared for this, and consider getting
a pickup if they try to put you on a tourist boat at the start. You'll be
dusty but there hours sooner.

--matthew

Posted by MBlain at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)