A Travellerspoint blog

Ferry Dirty

Travelling can be a messy business

sunny 24 °C

We just travelled 3 hours on a ferry with first class tickets, seated like third class steerage. Our trip to Koh Phangan taught us that even in spite of light drizzles encountered on the way, the best seats were on the top deck that was open, but covered, and as a bonus, the seats reclined! So naturally, for the ferry back from Koh Phangan, we pushed and shoved our way to the top deck, only to find that while itw as open, there was no roof for shade and the few seats there did not recline. Oh well.

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We snagged the seats anyway, wiped them as clean as we could (they were filthy--which we should realized as a sign of things to come), slapped on some sunscreen and settled in for the ride. Moments later, the ferry weighed anchor, and we quickly discovered why the seats had been left empty by locals and had been so filthy to begin with.

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Exhaust. Two giant, black, billowing pillars of it. And just our luck, the wind was blowing it right back onto the boat, soaking us in soot.

Having just shoved off, we decided it wouldn't be too bad; once we picked up some speed the smoke stacks would belch their debris backwards off the boat, right? But to our dismay, there was no speed. The ferry had already departed an hour later than scheduled, and it looked like it was going to add an additional hour onto our travel time at the rate we were chugging along, because chugging was the the best we were managing.

The engines churned away, three decks below, pounding out a beat that sounded like the low bass notes from the Full Moon Party DJs, except that there wasn't necessarily rhythm to this beat, nor was there an end to the song. There was no escape. The seats on the decks below were enclosed, but not air conditioned, and besides, by the looks of the crowds of passengers who had crammed themselves onto every available spot on our deck, it didn't look like there was going to be any room down below anyway.

For three hours we endured. For three hours we baked in the sun, save for the times the wind shifted directions and the smoke stacks blocked it out. For three hours we breathed in our own smog until our noses were blackened with it. Three hours.

When the sights closer to the opposite shore became familiar again, passengers began to rouse themselves from their spots on the deck. While I thought our chairs were dirty, these poor people had become completely covered in grime. Whatever had touched the deck was graced with a layer of black grime and soot. It was disgusting. Thank goodness for my dirty chair.

Three hours from our ferry's departure--five hours from our departure from our hotel--and we still had an hour and a half to go to our final destination of the SRT airport. It won't be until midday tomorrow that we'll arrive and check into a hotel and final get to wash this leg of our journey away.

Posted by marvandmel 22:16 Archived in Thailand Tagged transportation ferry koh_phangan Comments (0)

No Photo; money

It's the universal language

sunny 23 °C

Travel guides and fellow globetrotters will tell you that you'll get used to the beggars and pan-handlers you encounter in all of the emerging countries. They've each got their gimmick to tug on your heart strings--gimmicks that can be VERY effective. There's nothing wrong with giving money to them, it's just that if you don't harden up to it fast enough, you'll find that you're handing out more than you'll expect. But how could you resist these little girls?

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At first, we thought they might just have been cute little volunteers at the temple we had stopped to visit; the first little girl we came across was singing. Pictures were snapped of course, not just by us, but by the crowds walking by—the little girl even posed for Marvin’s camera. But by the time we were ready to make the trek back down the 306 steps from Doi Suthep we’d made the connection that the girls were doing it for money. In fact, for the unlucky photographers they caught taking pictures and not paying, they would trot on over and stand on the step below them, blocking their way down the mountain until they were paid.

Now onto their scheme, I told Marvin I still wanted a picture with one of these adorable girls and fished through my bag for a 10 baht coin. As I was fishing, another foreigner beat me to the picture and snapped a photo of the little girl I was standing beside. Dutifully, she skipped on over to him, stood in his way and reprimanded him.

“No photo; money.”

Not understanding her at first, he tried to dodge around her, but she blocked his path and repeated,

“No photo; money.”

I was ready with my coin by then and thought that it might placate her with regards to his stolen photo as well as allow me to take one of my own. I presented the coin to the girl, but she wouldn’t even look at me.

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“No photo; money.”

She was fiddling with her little change purse slung around her shoulder as she chanted the recitation so I thought perhaps she hadn’t noticed my offering. I put the coin in her line of vision, but again,

“No photo; money.”

The fellow foreigner, Marvin and I exchanged bewildered looks. Didn’t she want her money? We decided to let the guy give it a try offering it to her – it was he who caught her attention in the first place. He accepted the coin from me and he handed it to her, making sure she could see it.

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“No photo; money.”

He tried slipping it into her change purse for her. She pulled away.

“No photo; money.”

Her sulky words were both frustrating but adorable. We weren’t going to go away without giving her the money, but we couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t take it? Then Marvin had an idea: we would try giving her 20 baht.

I fished through my purse and found the appropriate bill and offered it to her.

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  • smile*

Her chant stopped and she smiled brightly for the camera, allowing the other foreigner to escape and me to snap my picture.

Marvin also paused at the bottom of the stairs to snap another (paid) picture with the first girl who had been singing and who had given him the great pose in the first place. In a developing country, even if you’re only 4-years old with only 3 words of English – Money talks.

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Posted by marvandmel 02:14 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand locals chiang_mai doi_suthep Comments (0)

One night in Bangkok

It was our first night, and it was only the beginning

30 °C

I have been trying my best to post our adventures in order, but alas, I've fallen so far behind that it's just not going to work. Sorry KL and Penang, but you'll have to wait until I can get back to you. Right now, it's time for Bangkok!

Marvin and I touched down last night at 7pm local time. After clearing customs and gathering our things, we became the true backpackers we'd prepared to be for this month. Luggage on our backs, adventure on our minds, and excitement in our hearts, we jumped on the train into the city and to our hotel. We passed through city security checks, tapped tokens, inserted others, wandered and rode until we were vomited out into the heart of Sukhumvit at Asok station.

We were greeted with high-rises, sky-scrapers, and bright building signboards. Traffic flew by at break-neck speeds on 6-lane streets where motorbikes, cars, buses, trucks and taxis deftly avoided yet moved along with each other. Seasoned veterans of the city dared to jay-walk across the sea of vehicles, somehow deciphering the traffic lights (of which there were many of in each direction) and detecting just the right sized gaps in the flow of cars in order for them to casually stroll across to the other side as though they hadn't just taken a gamble with life. We left the gambling to the residents and instead tested our patience at the crosswalk lights which turned out to be broken anyway.

Marvin leading the way, we wove our way down the sidewalks, finding ourselves avoiding not only other pedestrians, but sidewalk bars (complete with bar stools for patrons to rest upon), hawker-stalls, stray cats. Knowing we had to make a right turn sooner or later, Marvin picked sooner when we came upon an arrow shaped sign directing us to do so. The sight to greet us was almost overwhelming.

From between the stark sky-scrapers and office buildings erupted a neon cacophony of sights and sounds and smells. Blinking lights, arrows, signs and women welcomed us and invited us to join them for happy hours at places like Deja Vu, Rawhide, Lucky Star, and Insomnia. The advertisements promised live shows and girls, girls, girls, and as proof, the patios, front steps, and streets were teeming with them. Skirts were short and heels were high. The girls cooed and catcalled at Marvin as he walked a few strides ahead of me. By the time I caught up to him, the girls left him alone and instead turned their attentions on the plentiful ocean of foreign men milling about the streets, checking out what each establishment had to offer. I wasn't the only girl on vacation on the street - those of us who weren't working were easy to identify by our shorts and sundresses which seemed conservative compared to the status quo. But on that lively street, workers, watchers, and passers-by were all having a good time - the intensity of the lights, the pounding bass of the music and the assault on the senses pretty much guaranteed it.

After finding our hotel (the Tai-Pan hotel) we ditched our baggage and headed out for our favourite travel past time - food. Barreling back down the neon gauntlet of promised pleasure (which turned out to be named Soi Cowboy or Cowboy sidestreet) we made our way to a noodle stall that we'd noticed earlier. Placing our order with the owner/operator, we found ourselves a seat at one of the tables with plastic chairs that lined the sidewalk and waited for our dinner. When it arrived and we had our first taste, it was like a little bit of heaven in that bowl. Noodles, meat and broth with a little bit of greens (pictures to follow soon) and our first meal in Bangkok was simply delectable and at 60 Baht a bowl, cost us $2 CAD for the two of us.

Hand in hand, appetite sated for the meanwhile, we strolled off into the night having been warmly welcomed by Bangkok already.

Posted by marvandmel 10:39 Archived in Thailand Tagged food bangkok tourist_attraction Comments (0)

A little turbulence

speed bumps on the road through Asia

sunny 26 °C

You saw us planning our trip. We've been at it for a while, and we ironed out the details as we went and were pretty much good to go a month ago.

But then we made our biggest mistake. We didn't book our flights then and there.

What we were thinking, I don't know. Maybe we were waiting for the floods in Bangkok to subside to ensure we were good to go. Maybe we wanted to get our toes wet before diving in. Maybe we just weren't thinking.

Our plan for $60 flights quickly became $90 flights. I know what you're thinking. That's still a steal of a deal for a flight. That's true, but it's still not what we'd planned for. If we'd PLANNED for $90 flights, then that'd be all fine. But we didn't.

It wasn't a show stopper, but it was a bit of a disappointing hesitation. However, after a bit of group discussion, Grace, Marv and I regrouped and went full steam ahead. We learned a few things though. Okay, maybe only 2.

Air Asia advertises cheap prices, but as you go along the booking process fees and additional charges pile themselves up until your final price doubles the initial price that caught your eye. For the most part, Air Asia is still cheaper than other budget airlines out there, but don't commit yourself to their flights until you've see everything they can charge you for.

The other thing we found was that Thai Airlines is not only a large, well-reputed international airline, but the prices they list are the prices they are going to charge, taxes and surcharges already included. :)

Nothing ground-breaking, but something to note for when we book the next epic travel itinerary.

Posted by marvandmel 15:48 Archived in Malaysia Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Back to the topic of TP

For when you gotta go

A while ago, I made a comment about the Travellerspoint icon shortening their name to just "TP" and it referring to toilet paper instead of their site name (I was in another rather goofy mood that night). I'm posting the following as a warning. Be forewarned, it's VERY TMI.

So. For the most part, I've been living quite the sheltered bathroom life here in Malaysia. I knew since touchdown at KLIA that squat toilets existed here in the city (I glimpsed one while in the line up in the women's bathroom), but was either fortunate enough to find a seated toilet or was able to hold it until I could use the facilities at home (if it meant not having to squat, I could definitely put up with wet feet in the potty). Even in Japan I employed this same tactic and survived the entire trip without giving my quads a workout.

But then...

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Taking TP for granted
One of the first nights we were in KL, we met up with some of Marvin's friends for mamak (coffee) while I was still embarrassingly jetlagged. So much so that I forgot to pee before going out for drinks and munchies. For the first hour, it was fine. We ate, drank and chatted (well, the boys chatted, I stared blankly as I valiantly fought off the Lag) the time away. Then the Lag was put off a bit as my senses told me I had to wake to action. I had to pee.

At first, I tried to hold it. We were at a semi-decent establishment, but half of it was still open-air and that wasn't promising. Finally, I couldn't wait any longer and got up to find the bathroom. Marvin offered me change and tissues, but I optimistically waved them off. Following the signed directions, I found my way and opened the door.

Ugh.

For some reason, even without a shower in there, EVERYTHING was wet. Toilet seat, floor, hose, sink, everything. "That's okay," I thought, "I have shoes on, and I can hover over the seat." But then I noticed: no TP. Dammit.

Usually by then, I'd just give up and go back on my merry way to find the next or to wait it out, but there was no more room to wait. I found my way back to the counter and asked, "tissue?" A man disinterestedly pointed at the wall where I found a tissue dispenser there. I pulled as many tissue tickets as I could without being distracting and headed back to the task. It was after I finished and high-tailed it out of there that I grumbled to myself and wondered why there isn't any toilet paper in the restrooms to begin with? What did they expect one to do? Use their hands or something?

Then it dawned on me. That's what the hoses were for..omg... This whole time I'd ignored the hoses in the bathrooms, thinking they were in case anyone needed any emergency washing and in this case, they pretty much were. Ew.

Note to self: bring TP with you always.

Pees are not always free
Breakfast, lunch, and a trip to KL Central Market and it was finally time for a pee break. Being indoors in a fairly touristy location, I figured the toilets would be a little safer and more up to snuff for foreigners like me. However, before I could even enter to discover their condition I was blocked by a turnstile. 50 sens, please.

My experiences with paid toilets were much the same with squat toilets - I avoided them as best I could. But this time we were en masse so it would have been selfish to insist we move on so we had our bills broken into correct change, fed the turnstile, and headed on in. While this time there was TP available (though you had to ask for it on your way in) and the floors were not wet, there were no seats on the toilet bowls. Squatting ensued, but at least this time I wasn't afraid to touch anything.

Second note to self: carrying loose change may facilitate use of facilities.

You can't always get what you want
Our most touristy excursion was one out to the Batu Caves to climb the steps and see the shrines and temples. Having hydrated in anticipation for the hot day ahead, you can guess that it wasn't long before I had to go. And it wasn't. TP in one pocket, change in the other, I was ready to conquer the toilets...until I actually got inside.

Oh no.

They were ALL squats. There was no escaping this time. There were no other options and I'd already paid my 20 sens to enter. It had to be done. Saving most other details, I will just tell you that I set 2 goals for myself in those moments: don't fall over and don't pee on yourself.

Mission accomplished.

My quads burned but my dignity remained. I'd never been prouder of myself for going potty since I'd been 3-years old.

Final note to self: just suck it up, buttercup.

Since then, I feel like I've graduated to a new class of world traveller; from prissy sitter to seasoned squatter. However, I'd definitely take dry floors and clean seat ANY DAY.

Posted by marvandmel 09:46 Archived in Malaysia Tagged toilets Comments (0)

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