Archive for the ‘Southeast Asia Travel’ Category

New Website

June 7, 2011

Hello all!

Many thanks for all your support over the last year as I travel, work and write. It’s come time, however, to change things up a little. As a result, I’ve launched a new website:

www.stevensirski.com

I am still trying to figure out how to post pictures, but I hope to have that done shortly. I’ve tried to clean things up a little for easier navigation. Please let me know if I’ve been successful or if something needs to be changed.

If you have any suggestions, please contact me at stevensirski [at] gmail [dot] com. I’d be more than happy to talk/chat/email with you.

As for this site, I will keep it active for now, but will stop updating it shortly.

Many thanks for your continued support,

Steve

Advertisements

Asian Rock and Metal

September 9, 2010

I initially intended to make one simple post about the music I picked up as I made my way through Asia. However, that proved impossible with the number of great artists I stumbled upon. Some of the Cds were picked up simply by walking into a music store and selecting 3 random Cds (usually in Korea and Thailand), others I asked for help (Taiwan). I’ve grown up listening to rock and metal and, as a result, I amassed quite a few discs from that genre. This post, then, is about the rock and metal discs I picked up. I don’t aim to give a complete overview of the rock and metal scene in Asia, only what I was able to pick up.

I’d like to note that I really appreciate artists who write their lyrics in their native tongue rather than in English. Typically, those artists (from non-English countries) who sing in English are trying to capture a larger market share. Their fear (or their record company’s fear) is that no one will understand them. Let’s consider two things: 1) At live shows, I find it very difficult to understand any lyrics, regardless of the artist’s language, especially in small bars; 2) what makes these artists think anyone will care any more about their causes if they sing in English than if they sing in their native tongue? To be fair, I guess when your vox are mostly growls, it doesn’t matter what language the lyrics are in. Lastly, in my opinion if a country is open enough to allow metal bands (such as those listed below) to play live, then the country probably has some open-minded tendencies. Now if I only understand the lyrics (:P)….

The crazy hair rock magazine, Cure, from Japan that included awesome punk/metal CD.

Artist: Various

Album: Japanese punk/metal mix CD

Country: Japan

Website: http://www.cure-net.com/pc/index.html

I stumbled across a Japanese rock fashion magazine while in Taipei and was pleasantly surprised to find a CD attached. I’m not saddened by the fact that I shelled out $30 for two issues of the magazine. Though I couldn’t make out which people were men or women in the magazine (it’s a trait of the Japanese rock scene), I could sometimes make out whether or not it was a male or female singer screaming at the top of their lungs. These two Cds had drive and energy and make me want to go to Japan if only to see these bands play live. Given the pictures in the magazine and the music I was hearing, I can only imagine what their live shows would be like. The drummers are spot on with their double kick work, the singers belching out notes that I didn’t even know existed, in addition to the regular guitar soloing and bass thumping. Notables include: “ヤマイ” by Zig + Zag, “umbrella” by BALLAD., “さとこ” by 幻妖怪麗見世物一座・芒命少年. I would write more, but the entire CD is pretty solid.

Maximum the Hormone. Punk rock/metal from Japan!

Artist: Maximum the Hormone (マキシマム ザ ホルモン)

Album: Rokimpo Goroshi (ロッキンポ殺し)

Country: Japan

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/maximumthehormone

Website: http://www.55mth.com/open.html

My apologies if I have the artist and album mixed up, as I don’t know Japanese at all. Although I never made it to Japan while in Asia, a friend of mine went and brought me back a couple of Cds. This is one of them. I simply told her, bring back whatever is the craziest to you, and I’ll probably like it. And I liked this CD. The album cover alone tells me that this CD is about something inappropriate and lewd, two things that make great music. A driving punk rock band, it’s hard to tell what setting this band’s CD would be best played in. Possibly travel music, or, simply, see these guys live.

Black Infinity from Vietnam.

Artist: Black Infinity

Album: 666 Metal

Country: Vietnam

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/theblackinfinity

Website: http://666metal.net/

I was disappointed to find that their lyrics are written in English (and sung, too), but their mySpace page states they reside in LA, US and Saigon, Vietnam, so maybe that had something to do with it. Simply, they are the best metal band I’ve heard in quite a while. I’m thinking one of this band’s greatest influences was Dream Theater since they add a lot of keyboards and, most of all, their compositions are well-structured and dynamic. And a touch of Cradle of Filth. Especially take a listen to the use of the Vietnamese traditional instrument on “The Secret”. Brilliant. They even have a piano solo, track 7, “When Her Love On Fire”, which is really good and gives the CD an extra dynamic. This is followed by a piano intro to track 8, “Deathbed Illusion”, lasting for only 15 seconds or so, before launching into a full metal assault. Track 8 especially gives tribute to DT, if I’m right in making that claim at all. I found this CD to be great while travelling on the Vietnamese night buses.

Anthelion. Some hard and heavy metal from Taiwan.

Artist: Anthelion

Album: Bloodshed Rebefallen ( 沐血再臨)

Country: Taiwan

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/antheliontw

Website: wasn’t working Sept 9, 2010

I’ll admit it was the CD cover that caught my eye. I also had walked into the CD store and asked them to piont me to their metal section. They took me to one shelf lined with metal Cds. Awesome. This CD in particular was impressive. More speed metal than thrash, the band also serves up a short piano solo. There’s something about piano solos on metal albums that always attract my ear.

Alien Avenge. More metal from Taiwan.

Artist: Alien Avenge (異族亡魂)

Album: Tonatiuh (第五太陽紀)

Country: Taiwan

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/alienavengeband

Website: Not found

2010 CD. The artwork impressed me most of all, though the music itself left me kinda unsatisfied. The have some scary friends on mySpace though.

Chthonic. Death metal from Taiwan.

Artist: Chthonic (閃靈)

Album: Mirror of Retribution (十殿)

Country: Taiwan

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/chthonictw

Website: Not found.

Another impressive cardboard CD cover. I found this CD recommended in the Lonely Planet’s guide to Taiwan. No apologies full force heavy and pounding metal, but they just didn’t do it for me.

Prophecy. Good rock from Vietnam.

Artist: Prophecy

Album: Đôi Cánh Vô Hình

Country: Vietnam

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3gOhQZ5u1Y

Website: Not found

Debut album apparently. Solid rock band. Especially like track 3 “Ki Uc”. Track 6 “Muoi Ba” sounds like some sort of Josh Groban meets Linkin Park. Love the lead singer’s vocals. Maybe not for everybody, but if you want some rock music with some edge, this is it. Definitely great party music or background music for a travelling scene in a movie.

Kluay Thai. Awesome metal from Thailand, in Thai!

Artist: Kluay Thai

Album: Sib Song Sat

Country: Thailand

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/kluaythaiband

Website: http://www.kluaythai.net/

From the land of Muay Thai and Bangkok excess comes this admirable effort of Thai rock/metal. This band has apparently been around for about 10 years or so and have released numerous albums, which tells me that some amount of financial and artistic success have been achieved. The album has much of the anger of Western rock bands like Disturbed and Soil, but their creations are their own. Kudos to the band for including a set of cards that show some sort of zodiac. Good party music me thinks.

Roses Fall. Thai rock.

Artist: Roses Fall

Album: In My Time of Dying

Country: Thailand

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/rosesfallband

Website: http://rosesfallband.hi5.com

Decent. I write about them because you might like them. They have a bit more edge than majority of the pop rock available in North America, but I bet seeing these guys live would be better than hearing them on CD.

And if you want an even wider selection of metal from around the world, check out Sam Dunn’s documentary Global Metal.

lyrics

Coffee and Coffee Shops in Asia

August 27, 2010

While writing my feature film, I turn to my coffee cup and am reminded how far I’ve actually travelled. The coffee I made today comes Vietnam, some of the best damn coffee I’ve tasted on my travels. I spent a lot of time in coffee shops, usually alone. After reading through my notes of my trip, I realized that I make a lot of comments about coffee or coffee shops so I thought I’d write them up. I’ve even included pictures for my fans out there who requested them.

As a warning, I am a professional coffee taster. Fully certified by several countries since my graduate years. Every word in this article can be taken to be The Word On Coffee and backed by my caffeine-stained, yellow-toothed smile. Further, I drink my coffee “pure,” i.e. black, no milk, no sugar.

Laos:

The bag of coffee I bought here wasn’t fresh as the beans had already dried. But I think the greatest thing about having coffee in Laos is the utter tranquillity of the place. No rush here to get your move on, only freshly ground, brewed coffee and WIFI for all of us hardcore interneters. Not only that, Laos is still pretty cheap. It was in this country that I and my Polish travelling companion debated about my Ukrainian-ness and what heritage means. The beans for sale on the main streets were priced pretty high (30,000 Kip (~$3.75) for 250 g) while the markets offered larger bags for cheaper prices (maybe the robusta variety instead of arabica?). I bought my kilo for 50,000 Kip (~$6.25). Overall, either sitting on a balcony and watching the Mekong flow by or simply out on the street corner watching people (or debating Ukrainian-ness), Laos is one of the most peaceful places to sip a good cup of coffee.

My coffee beans from Laos.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Hard to find a decent cup of coffee in PP but, if you must, go to the Foreign Correspondent Club (FCC) along the Mekong river. Found in a renovated villa from the French colonial era, the place is both a boutique hotel and a cafe. Get the double since a single is something like $2 whereas a double is $2.50 and is a generous serving of caffeine. Again, atmosphere is pretty cool and the service is great. The cafe is located on the second floor, overlooking the Mekong River, and out of reach of the hawkers working the street below. Lots of foreigners inside, lots of hawkers selling weed outside.

Busan, South Korea:

Okay, not much to write about here since most coffee here is made by companies similar to Starbucks and Second Cup in Canada. That is, they’re chain stores. Notable mentions include Angel-in-Us for having the Jamaican Blue Mountain blend priced at a “holy shit” figure of 7,000 Won for a mug. It’s okay, but, given it’s hype are being one of the best coffees in the world, I didn’t write to my mother about it. There used to be a Turkish restaurant in the Kyungsung University area that served great Turkish coffee, but it has since closed down.

The gold star, however, goes to Cherami, the cafe and bakery outside of Goejeong subway station (exit #6). They gave me a free piece of cake with every espresso or coffee order. The espresso itself was very good, and served in a very generous double portion. This is the coffee shop that I practiced “copy chuseyo” the most. And every time, the girl who worked the counter giggled. Worth the admission folks. I can tell you that the most expensive coffee I tried was here during the Pusan International Film Festival, topping out at $12 for a single espresso at one of the fancy hotels near Haeundae Beach. Maybe I said something wrong to the waitress (or didn’t say), but I don’t think the espresso should’ve cost that much. Ouch.

Taipei, Taiwan:

Monument Coffee. I’ve written about it before so I’ll leave this description brief. Using the Chinese Siphon coffee making method, the coffee took a full five minutes to make and was worth the wait. Highly recommended.

Vietnam:

Despite my differences with the hawkers of this coastal country, I will hands down give Vietnam the title of having the best coffee I tried. I am saddened by the fact that I did not bring more of it home with me. I did bring home a small coffee maker, but it’s been banged up since I left Vietnam (pictured below). The brewed coffee tastes and smells a whole lot sweeter than any other coffee I’ve tried. Served either in ice or hot (they look at you funny when you order hot coffee on a hot day), the coffee is pretty much the same all over the country. Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi all offer small Mom-and-Pop coffee shops that serve the same, if not better, coffee than the chain store, Highland Coffee. If you’re on the hunt for great coffee, go to Vietnam. Just watch out for those ladies around the lake who pretend to be English students.

My coffee maker from Vietnam. Best damn coffee I had.

Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Fresh Arabica beans for you here! The coffee shop I most frequented while my travelling companion was out with the Dengue Fever was Momo’s. It was in this city that I was able to pen most of the script for my feature film, The Musician, energized by the caffeine I sucked down in Momo’s. Not only that, I managed to find a kilo of freshly roasted arabica beans to take back with me, costing only 400 Baht (~$12). If there is one place I’d like to go back to just to drink the coffee it would be Chiang Mai. As a side note, you can also order coffee from Doi Chang Coffee including the renowned “Doi Chaang Wild Civet (Kopi Luwak) Coffee” which has passed through the “digestive track of a wild civet”. Fascinating. I have never actually tried this coffee, but I will probably order a bag just to see what it tastes like. Hmmm, two civets, one cup?

And that about does it for my coffee experience in Asia. I’m thinking I may just order my coffee beans right from Thailand from now on. Why bother with Starbucks any longer?

In my earlier post I mentioned that the coffee is brewed the Chinese way, complete with a propane torch, glass bulb, and two-foot filtration system, making the coffee to have 1/3 more caffeine than if brewed the more modern filter method. That is what the lady told me and showed me in her menu. I neglected to take a picture of the machine, but managed to snag the image below from Google. In any event, the coffee was expensive but worth every dollar. I tried the Blue Mountain blend (yes, the same as the one from Busan) and here it was much better.

Coffee and Milk featured on travel website

August 3, 2010

My short film, Coffee and Milk, has been featured on the travel website Art of Backpacking. You can view it here:

http://www.artofbackpacking.com/film-feature-coffee-and-milk-teaching-in-south-korea/

Article on Teaching English in South Korea

August 3, 2010

I’ve written an article on teaching English in South Korea. My friend Mike has posted it to his travel website. You can find it here:

http://www.artofbackpacking.com/teaching-english-in-south-korea/

I have been putting together a couple of posts about Korea that I will post later.

48 cities. 16 countries.

July 20, 2010

London (England)

Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice (Italy)

Vienna (Austria)

Prague (Czech Rep)

Berlin (Germany)

Amsterdam, Utretch, Rotterdam (Holland)

Brussells (Belgium)

Toronto, Kingston, Montreal, Vancouver (Canada)

Cheong Un, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Andong, Okpo, Daejeon, Jeonju, Kyongju, Boreyong, Seoul (South Korea)

Kuala Lampur, Cameron Highlands, Georgetown, Perhentian Islands (Malaysia)

Singapore (Singapore)

Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Kanchanabury (Thailand)

Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kaam Samnoor (Cambodia)

Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi (Vietnam)

Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang (Laos)

Taipei (Taiwan)

48 cities. 16 countries.

What a journey! I’m exhausted just thinking about it! Although I was able to unpack my luggage for an extended period in Korea, it always hung over my head that, especially by month 7, I was going to be leaving. And, wow, who knew how much crap you can accumulate over a year?! Oh my! In any event, I’ve lived out of a couple cases of luggage for the last 1.5 years. I backpacked through Europe for a month before heading back to Canada to apply for my South Korean work visa, then jetted off to SoKo to teach English for a year. Deciding to stay in Asia for summer vacation, I travelled through Malaysia and Singapore before returning to SoKo, only to be quarantined at my apartment during the swine flu epidemic. Once my contract finished, I headed to Bangkok and, deciding that I no longer wanted to work there, I flew down to Phuket to do some Muay Thai training. After three weeks of intense training, I rested my shins (and possibly a broken thumb) as I bussed to Phnom Penh via Bangkok. Volunteering in Cambodia for a month left me with a choice to go to Vietnam, which I took, and spent 2.5 weeks there before taking the cheap, but long, bus ride to Vientiane in Laos. Three cities in Laos and then it was back to Chiang Mai for a few days before heading back to Bangkok to arrange my flight back to Canada. Not wanting to go back, I decided to stop over in Taipei for a week and absolutely loved it, I even started looking for jobs! But, it was time to return to Canada. Vancouver-bound, I stayed for a week with some friends and then booked my ticket back to my home town, Winnipeg.

Fascinating, that’s all I can say. I did that? I seriously travelled all those places?

Yep, says my bank account.

Yep, say the numerous self-portraits.

Yep, say the friends who politely smile when I ask what they’ve been up to lately.

Now I sit in Winnipeg putting some things together and meeting my family and friends. But I’ll leave that to another post at a later date. For now, it’s time to sit back and remember the good times.

Taipei? Fuckin’ eh!

July 15, 2010

I’m glad that I decided to stop over in Taipei for a week before heading back to Canada. I never thought I would go to this small island so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that they manufactured half of the world (70% of LCD displays, laptops, and computer chips; about 30% of servers and dsl cameras; and don’t forget that the company HTC built the Google phone), but I didn’t know that they had some great coffee :), good music, and very nice people. Not only that, I was offered three jobs within the week that I stayed.

With GN’R’s Chinese Democracy running through my head (if only because of the title) I take to the streets of Taipei. My first impression is that the city is a mix of Korean Kpop and Family Marts mixed with western novelties such as Starbucks, 7-11s and good sanitary conditions all covered by a blanket of funny characters called Mandarin (like the fruit).

I find a place to eat: spaghetti with meat sauce, bacon, fried egg and tea with honey in it. Yes, it was THAT good.

Calorically satisfied, I venture out of the restaurant saying “Thank you” in English because everyone here (except one taxi driver) is able to communicate with me in near-perfect English. I go find a proper up of coffee made by a local joint and then go sit in a park. While in the park I see in the distance a few old men sitting on benches and I couldn’t help but think that they were thinking up the next thing they could manufacture and sell to the world.

I decide it is a good idea to get my teeth cleaned. Ow. Not a good idea. Though the dentist was cute, she drilled my teeth hard, and it hurt. What would be used to tighten bolts on a race car in Canada is what they used to scrape my teeth. What I found most amazing is that they let me walk out without paying so I could get money from the ATM. I wonder if they trust everyone like this? I return and pay the $800 NTD (~$24) for the abuse and say “Shey shey” (Thank you).

Looking for a coffee fix after having my teeth “cleaned,” I stumble across Monument Coffee. Here, you have a choice of how you want your coffee prepared. If you want it prepared the Chinese way (which gives it more caffeine than a solo espresso or Americano) it will cost $1 per minute to make, topping out at $5.85. But it was phenomenal. I’m no pro coffee taster, but this coffee ranks up there with one if the best. A stronger cup of coffee, marked by dark chocolate and maybe brown sugar flavours (really? Sure.) And since it was raining cats and dogs that day, I decided to order the hazelnut milk tea. Costing somewhere around $2.60 per preparation minute ($160 NTD = $5.20) this cold beverage was just as good as the coffee.

A few days later I want to check out some museums. Taipei has many great museums. I visit four: the Taipei Astronomical Museum, Fine Arts Museum, Contemporary Art Museum, and the National Museum Of History. All were worth the money, and it’s hard to pick my favourite. If pressed, I’d say the National Museum of History simply because it had a vast collection of paintings, sculpture, ancient artifacts, and a special exhibition on the three kingdoms of China.

Visiting museums often makes me wonder what the museums of the future will keep from our time? DVDs? Books? McDonald’s toys made in Taiwan? It fascinates me to think what future generations will marvel at and consider “museum worthy.” (Serker berker merker lerker “BOOK.” Ashen bashen goin sacken lieven “Read” blacken slacken macken “with eyes.” Gerble gobble jabber babble “English.” <Crowd> Ohhhh!)

And Taipei even has a tall tower, Taipei 101. It was the tallest tower in the world until Dubai finished their Burj Dubai in January 2010. English teachers in South Korea will appreciate me stopping in front of the entrance and exclaiming, much to the confusion of those around me, “Look at the tower! What a tall tower!”

Though the entry fee was quite steep, up I went, some 89 floors, in a very sleek and quiet elevator. After taking some pictures of myself looking out into the Taipeian night, I stopped by the crystal shop on the 88th floor. Looking over the sparkly coral ornaments in the glass enclosures as if I had the money to buy one, a nice looking lady came over and asked if I’d like to see any of them. After politely asking for the price in Canadian dollars, I couldn’t stifle my laugh when she told me the price ($6,000 for a necklace?). I told her that I’m not looking to buy, just look. And then she left me alone.

But what really got me was the description of the citrus crystal. After suggesting that the crystal should be placed on one’s desk, the little card read “Citrus crystal will attract the opposite sex.” Well no shit. Who wouldn’t be attracted to someone who has a $10,000 crystal sitting on their desk? Feeling kinda out of place, I decide that I’d spent enough time to have justified the over-priced entrance ticket and it was time to go.

After a week in the Taiwan capital, I didn’t want to leave. I felt like I could live in Taiwan, especially after researching jobs. But, to Canada I go. I haven’t seen my family or many of my friends for over a year and a half and the heart string are tugging at me.

Good-bye Asia! See you again… soon?

Thailand Part 2: Chiang Mai and Kanchanabury: Coffee, zip lining and tigers oh my!

July 7, 2010

And this is part two of my travels through Thailand, particularly Chiang Mai and Kanchanabury.

Chiang Mai is a lovely little city, said to be the intellectual centre and former capital of the old kingdom. We stayed at a beautiful and cheap place called Namkhong Hotel which was just outside of the old city gates. 250 baht per night. Very helpful staff, including Noo who also arranged our day of zip-lining (thrilling! Got some good videos made here) and a tour to see the long-neck tribe – the women who wear heavy iron rings around their necks in order to extend their neck, making them “beautiful.” (Some cultures, to me, are odd.)

One of the best things about Chiang Mai is the, you guessed it, coffee! You know how some of those coffee bags we buy back in Canada say the beans came from “Asia-Pacific”? Yea, southeast Asia is in there, including northern Thailand. Fresh Arabica coffee here I go! So as my travelling companion is knocked out from the nasty dengue fever, I hang around only two places: the healthy breakfast shake place in the morning, and Momo’s coffee shop in the afternoon. I managed to get quite a bit of writing done on those two days (sorry babe!) and get the third draft of The Musician done. I also brought back a kilo of coffee from Thailand (in addition to the kilo from Laos. Can you imagine the looks of the pretty airline bag checkers who politely told me that my luggage was overweight when they saw the bags of coffee?)

Zip lining is an interesting experience. We zipped for two hours and after that, I was pretty zipped out. Every time I zipped from tree to tree I couldn’t help but think about how far it was to fall. The guides, however, were having a ball. All spoke pretty good English and acted like monkeys, seriously. These guys would zip upside down, side by side, laughing and howling all the way. Is it the Jungle Book that has the monkeys that are always laughing? I can’t remember, but these guides reminded me of cartoon monkeys.

After Chiang Mai it’s back to the bustle of Bangkok for a day before taking a bus to Kanchanabury. We leave our bags at our hotel in Bangkok (which I didn’t know you could do. You can check your bags for as long as you want and they’ll keep them under lock and key for you! In theory, you could move from, say, Korea, with a lot of junk, then check your bags in Bangkok, and travel around SE Asia for an extended period of time. 10 Baht per bag per day.) From Bangkok we go to Kanchanabury.

There isn’t much in Kanchanabury except relaxing and wondering how those non-flush toilets seem to always maintain the same level of water. Oh, and tigers! The visit to the tigers is quite expensive, $30 for a 45 minute visit including some free photos. But if you want to have that memorable tiger-on-your-lap photo, that’s another $30. 😦 So we settle for the free photos. There were tigers of all ages. The cutest were the 4 month olds. It is here, amongst the tigers, that I think about the headlines that report a child or tourist being mauled to death while on vacation and the powerless trainers watching in horror. It is because of those types of episodes that there is a code of colours to be worn: no orange, pink, or red. The trainers wear those colours and the park doesn’t want the tigers to think you’re a trainer. And neither do I. I choose to wear black, and the shirt shows the amount I sweat because there are salt rings all over. Yummy.

After Kanchanabury, it’s back to Bangkok. My friend books her ticket to Siem Reap and I put off booking my ticket back to Canada for another day.

Thailand, I can see myself returning… if only to see the ping pong show.

Thailand Part 1: Bangkok and Phuket: Excess and The Art of Eight Limbs

July 6, 2010

Thailand bracketed my entire south east Asian trip. I flew in from Korea in March and flew out to Taipei in June. I only visited 4 cities: Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Kanchanabury. The only way to capture Thailand’s awesomeness is two cut it up into two parts. Part one is about the craziness that is Bangkok and my attempts to fight in Phuket. Part two is about the much more laid back trip to Chiang Mai and Kanchanabury.

At first I wanted to move to Thailand to find work as an English teacher while I trained in the brutal martial art of Muay Thai. But it was not to be. About a week before I was to leave for Bangkok, a friend of mine suggested I go and see what it’s like before committing to anything. Well, once I saw Bangkok for myself I realized it wasn’t the place for me to live. Visit? Absolutely! But not to live. Dirty, polluted and full of noise, Bangkok is a Dionysiac playground (“See, Athenians, THAT’S how you do it! Look at them lady boys!”) The heat, lady boys, martial arts, cheap food, night life, and a dozen other things are all over the place, and these are the things that make Bangkok so remarkable.

The first night I was actually in Bangkok I stayed at a hostel where the owner was willing to organize a night out for the boys. Sparing you the mundane details, I will share with you the knowledge I acquired that evening: Gentlemen, in Thailand, you are not the hunter, you are the hunted.

Mr. Hostel Owner informed us that Thursday night was particularly good for us to go out: the working girls were looking for weekend boyfriends which could mean any number of things. It was at this point we, our group of 20-something men, learned about the four types of hunters you will find in a Bangkok night club:

  1. The high-class workers. These girls will laugh at all of your stupid jokes and make you feel like a big superstar. Anything more, and you’ll pay somewhere in the neighbourhood of $60 plus hotel expenses, etc. for their “company.”
  2. The not so good-looking but good enough women. Price negotiable, these girls are often looking for the weekend boyfriends. When you get traded up depends on how big your bank account is.
  3. The girls who will buy stuff for you. Good luck bedding these girls, they just want to be friends and probably are locals who want to watch the scene.
  4. Lady boys. Well, I never got a price for these folks.

Those are the four types you’ll probably run into in just about every club in Bangkok. As for the bars, once the legal bars shut down, don’t forget to ask to be taken to the Spicey Club. You shouldn’t have to pay for a cab ride there since they get commission for bringing you there. Once that’s done at 6 in the am, if you haven’t been sucked into a purchase already, you can join the fun in another club right across the street.

After that night of fun I spent the rest of the week unwinding and prepping myself for training in the art of the eight limbs: Muay Thai. (Eight limbs? Yes: shins, knees, elbows, and fists.)

I spent three weeks in Rawai, Phuket at a Muay Thai camp. From what I could tell by walking around and some research, Rawai is one of the better camps in Thailand, especially for foreigners. If you want harder training than they do here, you’d probably have to go to Bangkok and get your ass kicked there. The workouts were early in the morning (7:30-9) and early afternoon (3-4:30 or 4:30-6). Before each training session, you had the option to run 4kms. Training sessions consisted of stretching, 5 rounds on the punching bags, 5 rounds of pad work in the ring with a trainer, and then sparring or some lessons on technique. In between each round you were expected to do either 10 push ups or 10 sit ups. Once the session was over, 150 sit ups. Not going to lie, after 3 weeks I looked good. Even I’d pay myself for the privilege of being with me!

Once of the cool things about the Muay Thai camp were the people who were training. Some people trained to fight (including a mammoth American Muay Thai fighter who works in Antarctica for six months and then fights in Thailand for the rest of the year, and a whole bunch of Thai kids who could kick the shit out of me), but most were there for fitness (including a Canadian contingent of rugby players, a big-buxomed beauty from Down Under (who informed us that she had some enhancements made, which we all agreed looked great), and more folks from around the world. I also met a Canadian chick who gave me a picture of her dressed in some royal clothes. Hoping that she was a princess (from Canada?) and could foot the bill for all of my creative movie and music endeavours, I asked where she was from. Vancouver. The picture was Photoshopped 😦

After my three weeks were over I returned to Bangkok to catch a bus to Cambodia (see the first few posts of this blog, Day 0 to Day whatever). I only stayed for one night and paid for a bed to sleep in only to get chatting with this cute hair stylist who then took me out on the town. I seriously walked in there only for a hair cut, but Bangkok won’t ever let you do just what you want to do.

Thus my introduction to Bangkok, the city once known as the “brothel of the world”, and the martial art of Muay Thai. Part two will cover Chiang Mai and Kanachanbury.

Laos: Laid back, Great Scenery, Great Coffee and… Polish Lessons?

June 24, 2010

Laos was awesome. It just was. The scenery was gorgeous. The coffee was great (I bought a kilo to take home with me). The people extremely nice. The pace of life was sooooooo laid back. Small cities (you could walk across the capital in a couple of hours). And best of all, it’s cheap.

For me Laos wasn’t suppose to be anything to hair-raisingly exciting but a place where I could write my script and chill out. And it was. I finished writing the 3rd draft while in Laos and began the process of getting the movie made (see “The Musician”).

I only visited three cities: Vientiane, Vang Vieng, and Luang Prabang. I’ll try to keep my description real simple.

Vientiane: small, not many annoying Tuk-Tuk drivers, friendly, Nazeem’s on the riverside has great Indian food, cheap place to stay (70000 Kip for a double), and soccer (football) teams made up from the local businesses. Oh yea, and GREAT COFFEE.

Vang Vieng: lots of early 20-somethings thinking it’s HILARIOUS to get shit-faced and piss of the locals, lots of rain, only one main street, cheap and gorgeous places to stay, nice-looking caves, Nazeem’s again for Indian food. Annnd…. GREAT COFFEE.

Luang Prabang: phenomenal, except for the dengue fever. Chill atmosphere, elephants!, GREAT COFFEE, markets, and very accommodating hospital staff for my rabies vaccine. And a place called Nisha’s for Indian food. Favourite? Luang Prabang.

The worst part about Laos is the roads between cities. Imagine a perfect road, then remove some sections every kilometre or so, then add a few mountains under it, sprinkle with potholes and you get the idea of what roads are like in Laos. The trip from Hanoi, if done in any other part of the world with good roads, wouldn’t take more than 6 hours. But here, it takes 24.

And then the Polish lessons. I met this gorgeous Polish girl waiting for the bus to depart Hanoi which would eventually take us through the roadways of Vietnam and Laos to Vientiane. It was on this journey that she tried to convince me that I am Polish and not Ukrianian (which is kinda true, I guess). After holding myself back from putting my faith in the sword and the sword into the Pole, I asked her what she meant. And thus began a month long international diplomatic mission. Since then I’ve learned that I know damn near nothing about my home country (Canada), next to nothing about my heritage (Ukrainian), am mixing up Polish with Ukrainian and French and Korean, Slavic women are beautiful and seductive, Asia is the best place to be employed as an English teacher but I feel the need to go back to Canada, and, to top it all off, the symptoms of dengue fever. Yes, SHE got bit by a mosquito and contracted the big DF. That means Mr. Ukrainian-but-not-Ukrainian gets to take care of Ms. Sick Polish History Girl. (She recovered fine and is now on her way through the rest of SE Asia).

After learning all of that, it’s off to Chiang Mai, Thailand.


%d bloggers like this: