Current hit movie in Bangkok

Mindfulness and Murder. A story of drug trade, betrayal, and murder by a group of monks in a Buddhist temple. Page corner: “Also there’s a snake.”

Dear fellow American traveler (You so sexxy)

Dear fellow American traveler,

You: A wiry sixtysomething white dude traveling alone. Me: A non-wiry thirtysomething white lady traveling with my husband. Our paths, which crossed so briefly on the sweltering three-hour van ride from the Thai-Cambodian border to Siem Reap, have now diverged permanently, I fear. I can only write my heart here, in the privacy of the Internet.

It was so awesome the way you put our drivers at ease by asking them if it was easy to score drugs in Siem Reap during Khmer New Year. They may have laughed hollowly as you mimed injecting something into your arm, but I know that in their hearts they appreciated your humor.

Almost as good was your repeated carping about the van’s weak air conditioning. I think all twelve of your fellow passengers felt solidarity with your harshly barked commands and accompanying “turn it up” gestures. And telling the drivers that you were the guest and they were the employees undoubtedly clarified matters for everyone.

I think my favorite part, though, was when you told that group of little Cambodian girls to get a job. Thinking about the dusty and remote village where we encountered them, with its palm-and-bamboo shacks, flock of filthy geese, and a cat glaring out balefully from its perch in a pile of garbage, I’m surprised those seven-year-olds didn’t think of job-hunting sooner. You really told them what was what.

Ah, well, that’s all from me for now, fellow traveler. Just a note of appreciation from deep in my heart. I hope that whatever you were looking for in Cambodia, you found it. I hope that whichever guest house you ended up selecting ripped you off mercilessly. I love your shorts.

Page, fellow sanctimonious American at large

A Japanese(-ish) poem on Thai massage

So the massage won out over the tour of the red-light district. Victory is mine! Here is a little haiku in honor of my triumph.

Ode to Ruen Nuad

Pulverizing, cheap,
heavenly Thai massage. Quick:
Where’s Victoria?

Notes on Travel Technology

This is the first time that I’ve travelled with really any form of technology. Usually, on a trip, I want to get away from absolutely everything. But, in this case, I’m going to be gone for a rather long time, and space is at a premium, so things digital are along for the ride.

Things learned thus far:

Travel Guidebooks in PDF and on the Kindle. This has turned out to be surprisingly useful. Guidebooks are heavy and unwieldy, and when you’re going to 12+ countries, it’s not reasonable to have them all on hand. Even when you’re out for a single day, though, the book is pretty heavy. Since I, of course, need to maintain my sartorial standing, I couldn’t possibly carry a bag or pack, which means the book inevitably ends up in Page’s purse, which ultimately leads to: frown Page. Given all this, I gave PDF guidebooks a shot. Lonely Planet sells PDF versions of nearly all of its books, and a few others are following along slowly.

On my laptop, the PDF guidebook is great: you can search for content, view maps, and save bookmarks. Loaded on the Kindle, the PDF guidebook (even without reformatting) is passable. You can view maps, look up a section you forgot, and generally use it as a reference. You wouldn’t want to use it exclusively on the Kindle, as the pages are slow to load and a pain to turn. But, as an outboard reference while you’re out and about, it’s great. (A Kindle DX would be perfect for this, due to typical PDF resolution. However, I’m mixed on using the iPad for this. I’m sure iPad or Apple fans like Pat would think it is perfect, but my impression is that it would be a little more bulky, and that the backlit screen would make you a significant theft target when you are walking down a dark street. The Kindle is much more discreet.)

Protip 1: Landscape orientation is helpful for PDFs. (Press a..A button.)
Protip 2: You can easily print out webpages or text documents to PDF and save them on the Kindle as well.

Smartphone. Bring one. Use it. For $10, I got Internet service on my phone, and immediately navigating the barely-named, unnumbered streets and businesses of Bangkok became far easier. It’s worth the hassle to spend 20 minutes in a phone shop to set this up: it will save you a million times later.

Wireless tethering on Android is also super helpful. Internet goes out in your hotel (as it already has 3 times to us) and you need to book a flight? No problem.

Protip: Turn off Background Data on your Android phone. This allows you to use minute-based Internet phone plans, which are very cheap.

Scan all your documents beforehand. Perhaps obvious to this fairly techie audience, but extremely helpful. This has already saved my cookies a few times. Having copies of both of your passports, documents, ID cards, credit cards, etc. in PDF on your laptop is tres useful. Easy to do with a high-end photocopier.

You can then also upload these PDFs to your Google Docs account, which is great peace of mind, since even if you lose every physical thing you have, as long as you remember your password, you can get all your vital docs.

Travel email account. If you don’t work in technology and/or have a 2D barcode tattooed on your left cheek, you might not be aware that public computers in any setting are Dangerous. They are especially questionable in places like: the third world, internet cafes, hotel lobbies.

Basically, these computers are as shady as the dude outside saying “No temple close today, come ride tuk-tuk.” It is abundantly likely that they have a keystroke logger (which will copy your password) and a trojan horse/proxy/botnet (which will send that delicious password onto a friendly man in Russia). If you have your bank hooked up to your primary email account, that means that with a simple “password reset” link, our Russian friend is now thoughtfully rearranging your accounts into a more suitable distribution.

So, what to do? Well, the easy thing to do is to create a new email account (say with Gmail), and give it a password that you are NOT WORRIED ABOUT anyone having. In other words, not that I would imply that you might possibly re-use your password from other places, but for this password, make it something you wouldn’t mind yelling out in a crowded Bangkok train station.

Because, that’s basically what you’re doing each time you log in from a public computer. But, if it’s a separate account, with a password you don’t care about, and the only things hooked up to the account are confirmations or contacts related to your trip, like the plane ticket you just bought or the hotel room you just booked, you’re golden. The account is useless to someone else, and thus safe for you to use in a public setting.

Note that you don’t have to use this account for your inter-human correspondence: you can keep using your normal account for that. Just use this special account for anything trip related, and then only ever log in with that travel account from the cafes.

Protip 1: If you need an account name, adding the word “travel” to the end of your existing account name usually works.
Protip 2: If you do in fact have a barcode on your left cheek, a helpful thing you can do is to have the travel account keep a copy, but also forward, all mail received to your normal account. Then you never need log into the travel account unless you are on a machine of Colin Farrell-esque popularity.

Macbook Air. Best laptop I have ever used, period.

Mekhong Whiskey

Mekhong whiskey. Local drink of Thailand. Sometimes known as Songsam, a particular high-quality brand thereof.

More properly called Mekhong Thai rum, due to sugar cane origins and process.

Tasting notes: dry, peppery, faint notes of cinnamon. No peat or smoke. Ultimately light-tasting. Resembles a much less sweet Irish Whiskey.

Bangkok: The lie and how we told it

April 10th:
Afternoon: Arrive from Phuket
Evening: Chinatown food stands
Late: The Dome Skybar

April 11th:
Morning: Grand Palace & Reclining Buddha
Noon: Lunch at Chote Chitr
Afternoon: Bongo Shopping Mall (Siam Sq.)
Evening: Madcap search for, then dinner at, Krua Apsorn
Late: Arun Residence bar along river

April 12th:
Morning: Brunch at Kuppa, Sukhumvit
Noon: Jim Thompson’s house tour
Afternoon: Thai Massage at Ruen Nuad: $11
Dusk: Mandarin Oriental for sunset cocktail
Evening: Dinner at Bo.lan

Now, off to Cambodia.

See all Bangkok photos, with exciting caption commentary.

The lady Eve

You know what is an awesome birthday present, is having a baby born on your birthday. Our friends Emily and Jeevan totally rocked the day by welcoming their new daughter Eve. It isn’t really our news to share, but we’re just so excited about it that we couldn’t resist a WOOTWOOTBABYWOOT in this space. Yay Eve! Welcome to Earth!

Happy birthday to Kevin!

Hey blog nation! Join me in wishing Kevin a very happy 31st birthday. He did it! He is celebrating by cavorting around our little Bangkok motel room wearing only a money belt. Big love to the dude I publicly refer to as Earth’s Perfect Man.

This birthday is definitely going to rock: We are spending most of it on a bus to Cambodia. He insists he doesn’t mind. I am now going to feed him a celebratory breakfast of a digestive biscuit that’s been stored for a week in an airplane sock. Paaaaaar-tay!

Vacation brain

Kevin: Yeah, I guess there aren’t very many movies where Bruce Willis is supposed to be attractive. Except for that one movie.

Me: Huh, really? Which one is that?

Kevin: Oh, you know. The one with the buildings…?

Me: Mmm-hmmm.

Kevin: And the airplanes?

Me (very drily): Die Hard?

Kevin: Yes!

Me: Die Hard is “the movie with the buildings and the airplanes,” in which Bruce Willis is attractive.

Kevin: Yes!

Me: Die Hard is three movies.

Kevin: I only have to say enough to get you to understand what I’m talking about.

Bangkok Dangerous (and the danger is heatstroke)

Greetings from Bangkok, which apparently is called the Angel City!

If the consensus on Ko Phi Phi is that it’s unfairly blessed with natural beauty, the consensus on Bangkok is that one should slip its sweaty clutches as swiftly as possible. Huge, hot, congested, polluted, and bleh seem to be its most common descriptors. “Get out of Bangkok,” a San Francisco salesgirl said urgently when the subject came up, ten seconds into a nineteen-second conversation.

What place could live up to that kind of bad press? Bangkok is pretty cool actually (though understand that by “cool” I mean “yes very rad but so muggy that your clothes feel like they’re trying to soak into your bloodstream by way of your skin”).

We spent our first 24 hours on the must-do list: street food, drinks at a rooftop bar on the 65th floor of a skyscraper, visiting Thai historic sites like the Grand Palace (home of the Emerald Buddha) and Wat Pho (home of the Reclining Buddha), and riding the ferry up and down the Chao Phraya river. Pictures coming, but meanwhile here are a couple of minor travel pitfalls.

Touts. All the guidebooks warn of ostensibly helpful locals looking to make money on your tourist ignorance — overcharging, trying to get you to go on a “gem tour,” etc. — but for some reason I was still surprised when it proved true. “Grand Palace closed today,” a man on the street said mournfully (and untruthfully). “Come this way, better palace!” When I shook my head, he was pretty indignant for someone trying to rip me off, and invited me to “go to the moon!” We also had a cab driver who, upon hearing we were headed to Cambodia next, offered to drive us there for an improbably low rate. When we declined, he pretended not to know our local destination after all and pulled over for us to get out of his cab.

The Thai written language. As you’ll know from decorations in your local Thai place, it’s very beautiful, like musical notes rendered in wrought iron. But totally opaque to us, of course. Naturally times come when it would be nice to be able to decipher a little. Like, Kevin got a local SIM card for his phone, and now gets a text in Thai every few hours, helpfully telling him… something, we’ve no idea what. Google maps sometimes knows where our restaurant is but chooses that moment to show us the street names in Thai, which is very reasonable considering we’re in Thailand, but… it’s all Thai to us. And the taxis have a little lighted indicator to show whether they’re free. We squint at the red LED display as a cab zooms toward us. “Is that… squiggly thing? Or is it other squiggly thing?”

So, we’re bumbling around. Today will be a tug-of-war between things Page wants to do and things Kevin wants to do. Will it be Thai massages, or a tour of the red-light district? Stay tuned!