A Koh Chang New Year

There’s nothing Todd’s school likes better than celebrating the new year, and last week we had a week-long holiday to commemorate the third new year of the year (this is not a typo). First, we experienced the standard Western new year (“Comes after Christmas but before Valentine’s Day!”). Then, in February, we got to taste the joys of the Chinese new year and its accompanying week-long holiday. Finally, Thailand got it together, and rang in the new year in April. What can I say – if it translates into a holiday, I’m game to celebrate as many new years as the school wants.

With a week off work and a mother in tow, we thought it apropos to explore a bit more of this beautiful country. We asked friends for suggestions, and after discarding various ideas – “too expensive,” “too crowded,” “too stoned” – we settled on Koh Chang, an island located in the Gulf of Thailand. We packed up Momalot, and began the 8 hour trip to get to the island.

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After getting off the ferry, it took us a while to find a song-taew (a shared truck taxi) to take us to our guesthouse, as the island was packed with people celebrating the new year. They especially enjoyed celebrating into our vehicle with buckets of ice water. Much to my mother’s delight, we spent the song-taew ride either racing around blind corners at breakneck speed, or slowing down and getting doused. A great start to the holiday.

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Moist.

Turns out that arriving soaked was a foreshadowing of the days to come. For the first three days, it poured rain like a mothah on Koh Chang. The last time I’ve seen rain like that, I was up to my knees in the monsoon in the streets of Kolkata, trying to avoid kicking dead rats. So that’s how the island stays so green… Good thing it doesn’t take much to amuse Momalot. She spent her time teaching Todd how to play the recorder.

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Which I stole from him in order to demonstrate proper playing posture.

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And then Momalot stole it to soothe herself to sleep

Our guesthouse was lovely and quiet, but sorta in the middle of nowhere. This wasn’t a problem, except at mealtimes. We had two options for restaurants if we wanted to eat nearby, and one of them was filled with blazing neon lights, a blaring Thai soap opera, and staff that seemed completely disinterested in serving us. So we ate at the other option, which was quieter, and had some fun dogs hanging around. The staff managed to get our order wrong almost every time we ate there, but on the plus side, my mother learned a valuable lesson: do not attempt to customize your order when your waiter speaks limited/zero English.

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“I’d like our smoothies to be a proper rainbow, please.”

Fortunately, the rain let up on our last full day, and we took advantage of it. We hiked to a picturesque waterfall in one of the parks, and went for a swim. Unfortunately, many large European men wearing speedos had the same idea, but if you squinted hard enough, the scene was idyllic. It was nice to finally swim in water that was colder than bath water.

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This must have been the moment I spied the obese, semi-naked Russian man…

We also visited one of the island’s beautiful beaches, and ate a massive grilled meal by the water. Thai beaches tend to have tons of these restaurants – take a peek at the catch of the day, and choose what you want to eat. Just like at every buffet I have ever been to, I overdid it, and we ended up with a mountain of food. Honestly, though, this is a mountain I’m happy to climb any time.

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Somehow it all disappeared…

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The next day, it was time to head back to Banginkok, so we packed up the recorders and the mother, and hunkered down for another 8 hours of transit. It’s been rough getting back into the daily grind, but I feel at peace knowing that it will probably by the Kyrgyzstani new year soon, with an accompanying holiday.

Paddling the Mae Taeng, Part 1: A Voyageur and His Wives

Today’s post will focus on da paddlers. Next post will talk details – river, camping, gear, surprises etc. for anyone who wants to do a similar trip.

Last Sunday, T-bone gathered his two wives, David and Ruth, and headed to the Mae Tang river. No, Todd does not actually endorse polygamous behaviour, but his favourite historical paddling heroes, the Voyageurs, sure did. Every time T-bone gets near a river, he starts dreaming of being a Voyageur, and this trip was no different. For the uninitiated, the Voyageurs were a hearty group of French-Canadians who routinely paddled across Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries to collect beaver pelts from First Nations communities. They played an important role in founding Canada, and are at least partially responsible for the fact that an overgrown swamp rodent is our national animal. They also had multiple wives – city wives and country wives. City wives were the official/legal wives, and they were fine for doing city/wifely things, but when you’re on the river for months on end, you need a husky broad on location who can skin beavers/lug your boats/maybe sew you a coonskin cap or something. The concept of a country wife was just too darned convenient for us to pass up, so we nominated David for the role.

Todd cannot believe his good fortune

The highly delineated roles of a Voyageur and his wives really worked well for our team. The tasks weren’t always traditional, but they got done with a certain je ne sais quoi that just wreaked of French-Canadian history.

Voyageur Todd: Fishing, Bannock-making, Navigating, Looking Visionary/Noble

Voyageur Todd did his best to fill those large francophone shoes by fishing and making bannock.

Sadly, he never caught anything. Perhaps this was because every man, woman, dog, child, and monk seemed to be out dredging the river with nets and spears at all times.

How can fish not want to be caught by such kindly folks?

Fortunately, his bannock making experiments were more successful. A nice hunk of beaver fat would undoubtedly have cranked up the flavour, but the Voyageur did pretty well with vegetable oil.He was also very good at gathering fire wood in his  birchbark canoe kayak.And navigating rivers. His navigation may not have saved me from flipping my boat, but it did provide some pontificating-full photos.

 

Country Wife David: Jumping off stuff, hauling wood/water/tents/boats/everything, being perpetually perky, and offering the best facial expressions a photographer could hope for

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Poses like this cannot be taught 

David had a knack for simultaneously making photogenic expressions while being ready to launch himself off the ground and haul stuff around the campsite. The perfect Country Wife.

The Voyageur doesn’t even realize what’s lurking behind him…

Mere words are inadequate.

David also enjoyed hauling boats and assorted schtuff on bizarre portage routes that he and the Voyageur dreamed up.

I won’t reveal the body of water that they decided to portage into, but let’s just say that it rhymed with “Irritation Locale”

City Wife Ruth: petting animals, conducting cooking experiments, growing algae colonies in my hair, sniffing out beverage/bladder stops

The little cow that tried to eat my arm. I think he liked the flavour of whitener-enhanced sunscreen.

I like to pet dogs, but even I drew the line at this one.

I conducted a variety of culinary experiments that ranged from successful to highly dubious and borderline poisonous. Fortunately, the Voyageur and Country Wife were a willing test audience.

I knew that banana flowers were edible. Unfortunately, I forgot which part.

Fortunately, some of the recipes worked out well, so I could hold onto a bit of City Wife cred.

Roasting eggplant, red pepper, and garlic in the coals. The hair/algae colony is only on day 4 at this point.

Sister wives can be friends!

The trip wasn’t quite full of enough hardship/misery/beaver fat to make Todd’s Voyageur dreams come true, but at least he nailed the wife bit, and got to bellow his favourite paddling song whenever the urge hit.

Next up: The River!

More Misadventures + a Taste of Home

I have to admit, I am having a small pity party here in Thailand. While living in the tropics has its undeniable charms, the truth is that I would love to be freezing my buns off in my native land right now. I miss snow, I miss my family and friends, and I am missing Christmas. I just really want to bury my entire head in a pile of Christmas baking. Instead, I am sitting in Ikea, drinking coffee-whitener enhanced hot chocolate and listening to bad Christmas music. While I appreciate the sentiment behind “Happy Christmas (War is Over),” every time I hear Celine Dion singing it, I want to gouge my eyes ears out. Today is no exception. Woe is me. My life is so hard.

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So is T-bone’s.

Enough whining. On to happier things. This past weekend, T-bone and I went on another strange adventure, this time accompanied by The Gurus. The Gurus have many fun qualities, including their faces: all the school secretaries seem to think that Therese and I are the same person, and Eli is one of those lucky souls who could fake basically any ethnicity. Good times.

The Doppelganger and the Serbo-Egyptian-Thai-Israeli-Spaniard.

Therese wanted to check out a park called “The Green Lung” in Bang Krachao, one of the most unique/bizarre neighbourhoods in this unique/bizarre city. The Chao Phraya river runs through Bangkok, and at one point, it loops back on itself, creating a neighbourhood that is almost an island. Bang Krachao was settled by the Mon people in the 19th century, and the area is still a unique enclave. Apparently, it also had good parks, and we were looking forward to lounging in the grass.

We took a taxi to a small pier, and jumped on the first boat that drifted by.

It dropped us off in what looked like someone’s backyard. Cement pathways snaked through the jungle, and we had no idea where the alleged “park” was. “The Lung” was extremely “Green,” but there didn’t seem to be any capillaries that would lead us inside.  A helpful dog from the Thai department of tourism acted as our guide for awhile, but ditched us when she realized we weren’t handing out food. All we managed to find was a sleepy village that reminded me of small town Alberta. A crew of roadside motorcycle taxis tried to be helpful, but they laughed so hard every time we wandered past them that they couldn’t properly form words. I just love bringing joy to peoples’ hearts.

Ahh. Idyllic village life replete with soi dogs and yellow shorts.

After awhile, we gave up and walked back towards the pier. On our way, however, we first saw these two treasures:

Buddha in his “Svelte Youth” phase…

And later, after discovering the joys of Thai food.

And then stumbled upon this gem. The Bangkok Tree House is a boutique hotel hidden in “The Lung,” and offered a partial redemption of our adventure.

The hotel’s welcome committee

“Dude,” says The Doppelganger

Each unit has a hammock bed on top of the roof, perfect for watching the sunset.

We watched the tourists watching the sunset. Not awkward at all.

We ordered a drink, and lounged under the massive trees. Other than the apple sized fruit falling on Todd’s head, it was a lovely and relaxing place.

After a concerted effort (ie: using our peepers), we found the real pier, and boarded a ferry. And that’s when I saw it. A site calculated to banish my homesickness. An oil refinery, gleaming in the twilight.

In all its glory.

Bangkok may be a little short on snow and Christmas baking, but this beauty almost made up for it. Oh Alberta. I am home for the holidays.