Being Indiana Jones – Hua Hin, Thailand

I know that there is only one Indiana Jones movie that takes him into Asia, and for most people, it is not the best installment in the series, but thanks to recent efforts, it is not longer considered the worst by some people. Despite this fact, I had a great morning adventure that made me feel like I was Indiana Jones, exploring the wilderness of some forgotten forest in search of a secret temple. It made me feel the magic that I have heard about the country of Thailand for the first time since I have moved here, and it is truly one of the hidden gems that the country has to offer.

I have taken a weekend trip down to Hua Hin, a beach resort town on the eastern coast about three hours south of Bangkok. And even though the town has a lot to offer, and I have had a lot of fun exploring its nightlife, it is this morning side trip that will probably stick in my mind longer than any other event, and be the thing I remember about the place. I got up early and grab a taxi to go see the wonder of Phraya Nakhon Cave, and I do not regret the decision.

Basically, the forty-five minute cab ride from town costed me 700 baht, and took me down to Sam Roi Yot National Park which is the entrance to a path that would take me to this hidden cave. For another 200 baht, I was able to buy entrance into the national park, and I had a choice to make. I could take a half an hour hike over a rocky out cropping to get to the trailhead, or rent a boat that would take me there in ten minutes.

I went with the later choice, and I am glad that I did. There is a big collection of water taxis that sit on the edge of the beach, and the take people back and forth to the beach on the other side of the mountain.

They were constantly going back and forth, and I didn’t have to wait for a second to catch a boat either way. It always fun to travel by boat as well. Smelling the fresh salt water as the boat skims over the mild wake helps to build up anticipation for the experience that is going to follow.

When the boat landed on the other beach, it took a little while of walking through the sand before I reached the trailhead. This is where the ease of the boat ride really paid off. I had gotten to the trail head at about 9:30 in the morning, and even though it is starting to cool off a bit in Thailand, it is still really hot and humid as I traversed up the rocky stone path that took me to the entrance of the cave.

It was also nice that I went early. There were a couple of people that were on the path as I went up, but they were far enough between that it made it feel like I was out there by myself. On my way back, there were a lot more people coming up, so I was glad that I had started early so I would not have to deal with these crowds as I made it to the treasure at the end.

As I went through the trek, I was amazed by the natural surroundings. I was definitely in the tropics as the foliage crowded in around me, and the humidity made me sweat. Monkeys jumped from above in the trees, and every once in a while they got close enough where I could see them. Rock formations poked out from the overhanging recesses that I found along the trek, and I really thought that I was getting some place where very few people had ever seen. From time to time, I would come across something that would remind me that this was a sacred place for the people of Thailand as I would see a statue or a sign indicating that I was still going in the right direction.

As I made it further into my decent, the landscape changed even more. I found myself in a natural cave carved out by the wind, rain and spraying ocean water. It started to cool off a bit more as I found myself surrounded by the cliff faces, and I could marvel more at the natural way that things were carved above, around and below.

Finally, I turned a corner, and for the first time I could see the treasure that I had come down here to see in the first place. It was like Indiana Jones standing at the edge of a long hallway in which the end of it stood the golden statue bathed in a shimmering light. What I had found was a lot bigger, and only pictures of it would be the things that I would be able to bring back with me. And I wouldn’t realize how stunning those pictures would be until I made that final turn.

There it was, the temple that was framed in the morning light from the opening of this cave out in the middle of the hills in Thailand. It was the perfect time of the day to come out here to see this as well because the lighting was perfect. I could see how an hour later, it would not be as dramatic, but it really stood out during the time that I was there. The strange thing was not that many people were out there to look at as well. I could move around and pick the perfect shots and not have to worry about some random tourist getting in the way of me snapping that picture. I couldn’t understand why this was true except for maybe the fact that it took about an hour and a half to get to from Hua Hin, and it would take people away from the comfort of the beach and convenient bar street. And even though it does require some physical exertion and does take away the whole morning, it was completely the trek that I made. It is a must go see if you ever find yourself in Hua Hin, but you do have to plan ahead for it because it is best experienced in the morning. I am glad that I made the voyage.

Chatachuk in the Rain – More from Bangkok

The view of the rain from the BTS

I have been told that the month of September in Thailand is part of the rainy season, and even though, I have seen more rain storms during the short time I have lived out than I would ever experience in five years in Colorado, they have been short bursts of heavy rain that moves on, and I can go back outside to enjoy the heat. Yesterday was the first time that I saw the day-long deluge that I envisioned when I heard about the term rainy season. The rain started early in the morning and continued all day long, and it wasn’t a little drizzle that I get to experience in Portland during the holidays. It was a dumping

The main road that winds its way around the market

But I am on my first three day weekend since school started almost two months ago, and I wasn’t going to waste it watching bad television in my hotel room or playing Exploding Kittens on my tablet. I wanted to get out and explore this city that I have lived in and learn more about what it has to offer. One of the things that this city is well-known for is its street markets, and the biggest one sit on the edge of town and draws in tourists from all over, Chatachuk Weekend Market. It is a crazy maze of tiny shops that sell everything from fresh food and clothes to iPhone cases and Thai art. It is a must come to place for anybody that is visiting the country, and it was my plan for the day. I wasn’t going to let a little rain from allowing me to enjoy this experience.

The view from one of the many aisles

I have been to this market once before, and there are many ways to get down there. I would recommend either taking the BTS to the Mo Chit station on the green line, but you can also take the blue line on the Metro to the Chatachuk Park station. Both of them drop you off right there. You can also take a cab down there, but cab drivers will try to play with tourists to get a little more money out of them. Make sure that they are using their meters, but they still might try to take the long way around to get you there. The best way is by train.

When you get there, know that there are different parts of the market. The fun one takes up four city blocks and has a big ring that you ca follow on the outside of the market, but if you come you want to venture into the skinny aisles that take you to the insane part of the market. It is designed to keep the like things together. They have a section for clothes, a section for gardening supplies, and even a warehouse where furniture designers can show off the new creations that they have made. But as soon as you walk down the aisles, you do not know what you can find. If you see something that you like but you don’t know if you want to get it, make sure you find out the section and the soy it is in because it is really easy to lose the little booth, and it makes it almost impossible to find again.

The strange things that sellers put in front of their shops to attract shoppers

But the real treasure of Chatachuk is not about what things you can go out to buy; it is all about the weird things that you will find that sellers will do to have their place be distinguished from the one next to them. I did not come to the market to buy anything. I am still trying to unpack all of my stuff from moving here, and I do not need to add to the collection yet. I came down here to laugh at the weirdness, and to be a part of the Thai experience. I saw t-shirts with saying that still make me laugh. I saw some incredible artwork, both 2D and 3D. And I enjoyed watching the people as they ate, got massages, shopped or got a haircut. It is a market alive with humanity, and this is the reason that it becomes a must-see place on any visit to Bangkok.

There is even shopping for hip teddy bears.

The rain did not take away from the fun. If anything, it made it more fun. The crowds that would usually come down to experience the market stayed home to avoid the mess that was being dumped from the sky, and it opened up the streets, and the aisles to make it easier to get around. The sellers were still there, and my fun could still be had by the cheap purchase of an umbrella. I would recommend coming down here on any visit to Bangkok, but more so when it rains.

Fortune Town – More from Bangkok

The view from my hotel room in downtown Bangkok.

When I first moved to Bangkok, I knew all about its nightlife and the great markets that it has. I was excited about the great food options and the variety of street stalls that sold freshly cooked delicacies all over the place. There were many things to be excited about coming here, but there was one that I was really excited about, the audiophile community.

When I used to teach in the United States, I had a turntable set up in my classroom with my collection of vinyl records in the corner that allowed me a vast variety of music to listen to. It worked great when I had my students settle down to write. I would randomly pick one of them to pick a record to listen to. They would get a little more culture while listening to something that might not listen to initially, and I would have some form of entertainment while I was given the mind-numbing task of watching students write their essay.

I missed this facet of my teaching style when I was living in South Korea, and I wanted to bring it back when I moved to Thailand. Before I did that, I needed to know that there was a vinyl culture out in Bangkok, and when I came out to visit in May, I was introduced to a record store in the neighborhood I was moving to. It wasn’t a great store, stocking mainly used records of bad 80s R&B bands, but it gave me hope that if a small record store could survive in a suburb of Bangkok then, there would have to be more record stores out there that would cater more to my style of music.

This set into motion a couple of purchases during the summer, namely a new record, and a travel case to bring out eight of my records to Thailand with me. I went on-line to find out if record player were for sale in Bangkok, and if I would be able to find better record stores. Both of these things were out here, and it made my move even more exciting.

When I finally landed, I bought a cheap turntable from Lazada, an on-line company similar to Amazon in the United States, and started to enjoy listening to two of my records. My plan was to slowly introduce more of them into my classroom so it became exciting when new music entered. What I did not expect to find was more audiophiles working on the same floor as me. Suddenly, new records appeared for me to listen to from other members of the English department, and we would bring the turntable into the break room during lunch once a week so we could listen to music. I was told about the best places to buy more vinyl, and during the first break from school, I went down to check out what it had to offer.

The place I was told about was Fortune Town, a mall outside Exit One on the Rama 9 stop on the blue line of the Metro. I was told that there are numerous record store scattered among the tech stores, and I would be able to find new records as well as used gems amongst the three floors. I was super excited about making it out there, and I finally got to go yesterday.

The two selections found at Hall of Fame Records

I was not disappointed in my find. The first record store I found was not that great because it only had mostly Thai pop music, and a couple of used soundtracks to movies that did not excite me that much. But I was told that there were various stores. I went up one more floor, and found Hall of Fame records. This was the heaven I was looking for. It was filled with a variety of music from rock to punk to pop to country to classical to jazz. There were new records mixed in with some nice used gems. I was glad that it was a week until my next pay check because I could easily have wasted the whole thing on new vinyl. Instead, I limited myself to two records. They were a little expensive, but it was nice to know that I would be able to find titles like this out here. It means that the small collection I have going out here will slowly grow, and it will be with great music that I can introduce to my students. It makes me feel like I will be a complete teacher again, not only exposing my students to great literature, but also to great music.

My only regret was I stopped to shop at this one store, and did not go further down the mall to other stores in Fortune Town. If I had I would have found a few more record stores, ones that cater more to used music that was little cheaper, but now that I know this place exists, I will make sure to make a stop down there every once in awhile to pick up a new record, and find a new record to share with my students. It is a must go place to any audiophile that makes it out to Bangkok, and I highly recommend the voyage there.

 

My Memento

Our voyage is quite the amazing flight,
Taking us over vast mountains and seas,
So you want to make sure you travel light
In order to avoid the weary fees.
It is not always about the comfort
As you make your way in these foreign lands.
It should be more of what you can report
Instead of what you brought back with your hands.
It’s another piece for your collection
That weighs on your soul as you move forward.
The clutter will become a distraction,
Keeping you from how far you could have soared.
It is things that keep you tied to the ground;
Freedom comes from not having it around.

Downtown Bangkok

Entrance to one of Chinatown’s various market streets

I have been in Bangkok for over two weeks now, and I have spent most of my time comfortably in my little suburb, Samakorn. I do really enjoy this place. There are some great restaurants, and great neighbors. I have still a lot of exploring to do in my own neighborhood, but I thought it was about time to fight the traffic of this great city and take in the sights of the downtown area for a night. I landed in Bangkok’s busy markets of Chinatown, and started to see some of what makes this one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world.

A water bus on the Chao Phraya River

The easiest way to reach Bangkok’s Chinatown is by hopping on one of the many boats that move up and down the Chao Phraya River and getting off at the five stop. The vast sprawling markets and street food is directly down the street from the station. You can also grab a cab but expect to sit in traffic a lot of the time, and be patient before you get to where you are going. I have found that this is just the way of life in Bangkok. If you fight against it, you will always be stressed out, and you still make it to your location at the same time as if you just went with the flow of traffic and quit worrying about it.

Artwork on the wall outside of the Tep Bar in Bangkok

During the day, the markets are the most interesting things to see. The small alleyways of this part of town are packed with shops filled with all of the cheap plastic, and junk that you never really wanted to have. But it is an interesting place to people watch and the shop owners are not pushy. It is also another place where you just need to go with the flow because you will find yourself within a stream of humanity as it winds its way through the various stalls, and every once in awhile somebody will stop to check something out, stopping the flow. When this happens, there is nothing you can do but wait it out until it starts flowing again. If you are looking for fresh vegetables, and fruit, there are great sections of the market where vendors are selling these as well as making various forms of street food.

Live music on a Sunday night in the Tep Bar.

At night, the shops close up and people head inside to the various restaurants and bars that can be found. A lot of these places offer entertainment, and even on a Sunday night, I was able to find a live traditional Thai band playing for the amusement of the patrons there.

The view from the roof at Wallflowers

The places are wildly decorated as well. My favorite that I saw on my short visit downtown was called Wallflowers. During the day, it is a cafe and flower shop, but at night it transforms itself into a five story eatery. The tables and chairs are a collection of whatever they could find which would make it seem like a chaotic mess, but actually gave it some charm. I had to walk up five flights of narrow stairs to get to the roof where I was able to enjoy the night’s sky and the atmosphere. The food was good, but nothing fancy. It was more just a place to avoid the bustle of the city down below. It was not one of the famous rooftop bars that I have heard so much about from Bangkok, but I think it was the perfect speed for me on my first venture out to the more exciting parts of the city.

I know I will make it to this part of the city again soon because I do not live that far away, but I am glad to finally get out and experience why Thailand is on a lot of people’s bucket lists of places to visit. I know I didn’t hit the touristy spots yet, but I will eventually get down to those place as well. Until then, this was the perfect adventure as I ease myself more into this city’s lifestyle.

Until next time.

The Arrival – The Move Final Day

The living room in my new place as I start to unpack

I know that a lot of people move everyday, and I don’t want to sound like I am complaining because it is a stressful situation no matter how big or small the move might be. My goal is to empathize with those people that are going through with the process because I understand how many trials and tribulations they need to go through until they can get to that moment where they find themselves in the new place and can start unpacking all of those boxes and bags and start living their lives in their new location.

My process started way back in early December when I finally said yes to taking a job teaching at a different international school in Thailand. I started to pack up my stuff while getting together all of the paperwork to get a visa so they wouldn’t kick me out of the country when I finally got there. The list got pretty long with all of the stuff I needed to accomplish along the way, and it seemed like it would never end, but after all the steps forward intermixed with occasional setback, I finally landed in Thailand, signed my lease on my new place, and started moving in.

The street view of the new place

Even though the square space in the house is not much more than what I had in my apartment in Korea over the last four years, it is nice to find myself on a street with my own driveway, my own small front patio, and my own mango tree. I love the fact that I now live in a neighborhood and not a complex, and all of the charms that come along with it. Just this morning as I stood out on my front patio and sipped from my cup of coffee, I was able to wave at the father and his young daughter as they walked down the street this morning. It gave me a sense of community that I never really felt when I entered my apartment complex every evening. I never got to know my neighbors there because they were packed so close together that I never really saw them more often than once a month. It might just be the optimism of living in a new place, but I do not believe that I will have that problem here.

A vegetable vendor on the street market

The neighborhood has a lot more to offer than just neighbors, too. There are tons of new restaurants I am going to be able to try out with a bunch of variety to them, and also a street market every weekend if I would prefer to get some fresh produce and make my own meals. It is these cultural experiences that I am also looking forward to in my new home. The first few weeks that I live in a place I feel like I am always wandering around exploring all the nooks and crannies until I can find out everything that the place has to offer. The weekend market alone should provide me with enough corners that I won’t get bored with it for a couple of months.

Some interesting tile work in the bathroom at my new place

And of course with any new place you move into, there are always a couple of strange surprises that you never thought you would encounter. Mine came in my new bathroom. Behind the toilet, painted into the tiles is this wonderful piece of artwork. It is not small either. It is a good three by four feet, and it is ready to greet me every morning as I get ready for work.

For the most part, it feels very nice to start to put things away and make those small adjustments so we can make the place feel more like home. Of course, it will take a little bit of time before we get to the point where I won’t have to rearrange furniture and try out new locations for all of my stuff, but it is nice to know that when I unpack something, I don’t have to put it a suitcase again because I have not reached my final destination. I have finally arrived, and I can start to quit living in the limbo between two places. I can now take in the sights and start to enjoy my new home.

What I Will Miss from America, the Beer – The Move Day 26

The new Jackass Hill Brewery in downtown Littleton, Colorado

One of the things I love about coming back to the States is the fact that every where I look there is another microbrewery, or place that serves craft beer. The selection is so great especially in states such as Colorado and Oregon where the craft beer revolution started, that sometimes I have a hard time deciding on which one I will pick to enjoy. Most of the time I just pick the most bitter IPA because that is usually my favorite, but lately I have enjoyed a few porters because I have had a hard time finding them lately, and every once in a while when a brewery get ambitious and make a triple, I jump on that opportunity. The craft beer revolution has sunk its claws into the fabric of the American culture and it will not be going away any time soon. The bigger domestic breweries are even feeling the sting of this shift in American tastes that they are not making the profits that they once did, and I am under the mindset that I would rather spend five dollars a beer on a couple of these craft beauties than spend it on three of the flavorless mass-produced lagers that give money to a large corporation that does not care about its craft.

This flavor explosion can also be found in many cities in Europe, especially further north, but the rest of the world has not yet caught up yet. Korea was getting better every year that I was out there to the point where I was able to find good beer even in the neighborhood that I lived, and the convenience store across the street even started to stock IPAs on the week that I left. They still had a way to go to reach the same level of even the states in America just starting to understand this revolution, but I could see that it was on its way. Japan had also had a few places that was making its own beer, and I have really enjoyed those small little brew-pubs that I have found out there, but I do not know if it has gotten to the point of have beer festivals, and having certain beers on tap no matter where you go. But they also have a couple of other drinks out there that compete with the typical beer, and it might make it a little harder for the craft beer revolution to make stronger in-roads there.

I am a little worried about Thailand though. The domestic beers are huge out there, and they are so cheap that people just consume them at a regular pace without ever worrying about finding something that might have a little more taste. I have been told that there are a couple of places that produce their own beer, but they are further downtown, and will require a bigger effort to make it there if I want a good beer. I have seen them for sale at the grocery store, but the selection is still relatively small. The revolution is still trying to find a foothold in this part of the world, but it is at the same place that Korea was at four years ago. I will just have to be patient, and eventually I will see more and more options made available, but it won’t be at the same level that I see in my home state or in Oregon where breweries are basically across the street from each other and trying to compete for your business.

It is the small adjustments that I will have to make as I make the move, but it is only a small concession. The bonuses will far outweigh this small disadvantage, and I am sure that I will still love all of the other things that I find out in Thailand.