Star Date: March 2009
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
(Good day -Thai)
"Change. Having anyone else as the focus of our attention will prevent us from doing the work that is ours to do. It’s so easy to sit in judgment of others, silently or sometimes even audibly criticizing them for their actions, telling them how they should change. Their behavior need not challenge me. Every person alive has a specific journey. No one is in my life by chance..."
("It's Up to You")
The Kingdom of Siam. This exotic country, now Thailand, brings visions of kings and queens in court, "Anna and the King", Royal Palaces, golden Buddhas, saffron clad monks praying in elaborate Wats or temples, grand river barges, breathtaking scenery; colorful orchids, butterflies, and wild tigers. Beaches, islands, mountains, cosmopolitan cities and rustic villages full of tribes people, Thailand has it all.
A long time tourist destination with good infrastructure, this country of over 70 million is a highlight on many itineraries. Thailand isn't a place for 'first contact' experiences but is certainly an easy place to get around. Bordered by Myanmar (Burma), Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos, up until recently it was a preferred place to stop by for a free visa. Thailand is weathering the seas of change as political tension flares up over corrupt officials. They made international news in December and again this April with demonstrators of two opposing factions, the yellow shirts and the red shirts calling for “Democracy not Dictatorship”. All has settled down again now and life is back to normal. One of the first things you notice arriving from the airport in Bangkok is how nationalistic the Thais are and how much the people still love their King. Large golden framed photos of the King, surrounded by a flashy light displays line the major thoroughfares of the city. The Monarch celebrated his 80th birthday last year amid great celebrations, fireworks and an unbelievable light display for miles along Bangkok’s boulevards. Although the royal family has had their dark periods, the King and Queen have remained politically favorable with international governments, allowing rapid development compared to their neighbors, and an impressive literacy rate of close to 95%.
Almost all Thais are Buddhist. There is a Wat or temple on every corner and the bright saffron robes of monks are a common sight wherever you go. One requirement of Theravada Buddhism is that every male under the age of 20 must spend 3 months minimum giving up all the creature comforts of this prospering society. Turning in their computer games for a robe and a bowl, they are taught the basic Darma and required to beg, door to door, for donations to keep the many temples alive. It is an experience that these young men never forget and sometimes they are spurred on to spend more time in the Wats studying, learning English, chanting, meditating and working. They are always welcome to return to the monastery and some girls even choose to spend time as nuns.
Kidnapped from Hawaii, my spunky 84 year old Mother, recently joined us exploring the sights of Bangkok and later relaxing for 3 weeks along a remote beach in southern Trang Province. A good optimistic attitude keeps us young and we only hope we can still be so positive at her age. Rather than complaining she still is interested in learning and seeing new things and remembers how to have fun. Only 6 months following a full hip replacement she is still "Gami on the go" and an inspiration to all.
Bangkok is one of the world’s cities that never sleeps. A smorgasbord of excitement on any given night, a visitor is able to attend the theatre, watch traditional Thai dancing (kohn), see a latest release movie in a cinema with 25 screens or a seven story high 3-D IMAX movie, listen to a classical concert or a contemporary pop band, take in a bloody Thai kick boxing match (muay thai), or just roam the side streets watching the bustle of the backstreet alleys. As Joseph scoured the southern beaches for the right place to spend our R & R time, Gami & I ‘did Bangkok’. Strolling through the back markets of Soi Rambutri district we had fun buying tasty food, light weight blouses and even silk lotus blossoms in the outside stalls.
Staying at the Villa Cha Cha, an excellent boutique hotel with pool, we spent time relaxing by the water and eating amid the tropical courtyard and extensive display of statues and artsy relics. Both of us spend a lot of time cooking for others and we were determined to have someone present us with a flavorful plate of food, and do the dishes. We were on vacation. We got dressed up and treated each other to sunset dining at the Oriental Hotel. One of Bangkok’s oldest and finest establishments, this 5 star hotel is filled with memories of days gone by. The Author’s Lounge is where the likes of Jack London, Hemingway, Mark Twain and others have gathered through the years. Tropical gardens filled with orchids, fine dining and live classical music in the lobby are highlights of this elegant place along the river.
The Mao Phraya River is full of all kinds of water taxis and long engine boats hauling people and goods up and down, as if it were a highway. Wats or temples line the banks, reminding us of times when people used the river, before all the roads were built. Joseph remembers visiting with his Mom in the early 60’s when Bangkok was mostly ‘klongs’ or waterways and called the Venice of Asia. Elephants roamed the streets and the trees were full of monkeys and clouds of bright blue and red butterflies.
One evening we went to Silom Thai Village to see the traditional Thai dancers (kohn) in their beautiful hand made costumes. We enjoyed a 4 course tasty Thai dinner while watching the show. We stopped at a silk shop and hand made soap sculpting exhibit while in the village. There was silk of every texture and color of the rainbow.
Let's face it, we go to Thailand to eat. It is a vegan’s dream as all 5 tastes added to each dish, (salty, sweet, bitter, savory, and hot) explode in flavor, tantalizing your taste buds with every bite. Vegetables are common and many Thais are vegetarians abstaining from meat. Others become vegetarian during special Buddhist holidays. Roadside stands or garden restaurants all offer this tasty food and we looked forward to eating the best mouth watering food in Thailand, at Mr. Yim’s stand on Soi Rambutri alley. This quiet little fellow with a gentle smile uses only fresh, first rate vegetables and his vegetarian dishes are each a whopping $1 per plate.
We flew south to Trang and settled into our place at the Seaside Resort in Pak Meng Village. Located on the Andaman Sea we just relaxed, read, wrote memoirs, visited, walked and painted for almost 3 weeks. Our rooms were located between a river full of fish and tropical birds and the white sand beach. Every night after cooking dinner we would walk out to the sea and watch the sunset. There were at least a dozens islands, or limestone mogotes, along the shore. These spectacular mountains rising out of the sea are not only beautiful but protected the area from flooding during the 2004 tsunami wave that claimed thousands of lives up north.
We could tell the time of the day by the birds. Early morning was a riot of singing. Myna birds, beautiful green and yellow parrots, large red kingfishers waiting to dive for breakfast, all joined in the chorus. Next came the fishermen in their noisy boats heading out to sea for a day of fishing. When they returned with their catch it was time for the evening bird songs, with frogs, crickets and cicadas to chime in. There was always something to watch. One afternoon while sitting by the river we were visited by 4 big otters frolicking in the water. Pak Meng had a colorful market with all kinds of fruits and vegetables. We bought fresh watermelons, papaya, bananas, pineapples and oranges for breakfast every day and mountains of fresh vegetables from the farmers to whip up a flavorful meal on the family's one burner propane stove, washing the dishes off by hose.
One of the ancient great Thai kings said: “As long as we have fish in the water and rice in the fields we will thrive”. Life is good and thriving in rural southern Thailand. Spending time here allowed us to experience the slow pace of life in this varied country far from the tourist circuit and to feel the warm hospitality of these friendly folk.
I learned a new word when back in Hawaii, visiting my dear family and friends: 'chillaxing.' A combination of chilling and relaxing, I tried to put it into practice during our 3 week annual reunion and beyond. By nature full of energy, a goal of mine has always been to slow down. Daily meditation helps and the slow pace of the lovely, balmy islands of Hawaii did the trick. With my Mom flying in from the snow banks of Wisconsin and son Kevin already escaping the winter in Colorado, we converged on daughter Mariah and son-in-law Shane's tropical spacious home tucked back in Aina Hina Valley. The 'kids' were busy as usual and in charge of the schedule so Mom & Grandma just hung out, cooked appetizing vegan meals, and baked Gami bread and cookies. We also met Kev after surfing in Waikiki or fishing at Chinaman's Hat Park, hiked up to Makapu'u Lighthouse and Mariner's Ridge for spectacular views, or spent the day checking out the waves up at the North Shore. Our annual tradition of drinks under the banyan tree while watching hula dancers at sunset, in the magical courtyard of the Sheraton Moana in Waikiki, was fun as usual as friends joined us to celebrate our get together. We spent time with several friends from Oahu, the Big Island and even the mainland as frosting on the cake added to this already wonderful get together. Joseph stayed in Thailand and Malaysia sending his "Aloha" and letting me recharge my family and friend battery. Thanks for such a good time..
Back in Bangkok, it was a trip down memory lane for Joseph. We stayed with Richard and his gracious wife, Wiman in their stylish 27th floor apartment, overlooking the bright lights of the city. Richard is an expert on sapphires and both he and Wiman are fellow gemologists. It was a 3 day dialogue full of past and present reminiscences of the international gem business, while exchanging ideas on book collecting and world affairs. Richard's 'muddle along theory' was fun. No matter how bad the state of the world is, mankind seems to overcome the obstacles and muddle along. So true. From the love of gems, to book collecting, to memories of business, they had so much in common. Richard and Wiman are in the process of updating their impressive book on rubies and sapphires, and Joseph, himself a world renowned gemologist, retired now for over 20 years, has just finished updating his book, "Gills Historical Index on Gems and Jewelry Online". During his career in Boston, Beverly Hills with Sotheby's, and finally his own business in San Francisco, Joseph was an expert on gems and antique jewelry and dealt with kings and royal families, movie stars, and the rich and famous people worldwide. With pieces valued in the millions there wasn't much room for mistakes. He remembers buying the 68 carat diamond from Liz Taylor and later seeing it hanging on Imelda Marco's bedroom wall. He saw Princess Diana's blue Kashmir sapphire wedding ring before she did and spent a week with the Shah of Iran and his family on Paradise Island in the Bahamas appraising the family jewels. The Rockefellers, the Duponts, the Rothschilds. John Wayne, Barbara Streisand, Cher, Dustin Hoffman, Woody Allen, George Lucas, Jack Lord, Salvador Dali, to name a few, were all his clients. Gone are the days of staying in 5 star hotels and dining with the elite but his observation of how these few wealthy people control the planet simply by their vast monetary empires has influenced his world views to this day. For an entertaining overview of the gem industry from one of the best: click here. You can also read or download a free copy of Joseph's 500 page updated book, "Gill's Historical Index To Gems And Jewelry Online", hot off the press. (or click on the link listed under our photo on our homepage).
We always enjoy a few extra days in Kuala Lumpur while making a connection on Air Asia. Staying in Chinatown we explored the streets and shops of KL, ate at our favorite "Buddha Food" buffet and downed 'masala dosas' in Little India, fondly remembering our recent year in India.
The best laid plans of mice and men................... God was definitely laughing at this one. After almost 6 years of traveling we were ready. We were so prepared that we amazed ourselves. Maybe we were too organized and it was time for our spontaneity button to be reset. Cheap tickets on Air Asia prepared 2 months in advance. Connecting flight from Trichy to Columbo all set. A few days enjoying Kuala Lumpur, a night at Air Asia's new airport hotel, money exchanged, health items and organic food stocked up, heavy items stashed in our carry-ons; nothing stopping us from exploring Sri Lanka for one month. Next stop Columbo.
When checking in at 5:45 am we stood with jaws dropped as we were refused boarding because "Air Asia is a point to point airlines and does not have a room to hold passengers in transit." We thought the international airport in Tamil Nadu would be responsible for a transit lounge but not the case. We needed to apply for a transit visa at the Indian Embassy, $60 and taking 7-10 days. The flight leaves in one hour. That could be a problem. We walked in circles for a minute or so then Joseph looked for the manager. After expressing his condolences to us, Joseph asked him to help us figure a solution. Using Sri Lanka as a springboard towards Africa we had luckily checked on prices and knew that we could also get a discount ticket directly to Madagascar from Bangkok. Using his position to make an exception, the manager traded our Indian tickets in for a flight back to Bangkok. Two hours later there we were, heads still spinning, caught in an anomaly that spit us out in Bangkok. Let's see - this is Sunday - this must be Sri Lanka - no, this is Bangkok. Deciding to make use of our new free 30 day visa in Thailand we headed for our 'alley away from home', Soi Rambutri. More Thai food, no hardship on our part. After a tasty lunch of coconut curry vegetables, pad thai noodles, Tom Kha soup and spring rolls we started the process of finding the cheapest flight to Madagascar. Paying for a flight and getting our 3 month 'Mad' visa left us open to enjoy more time in Thailand. Visas, with their ever changing requirements are a thorn in the side of modern day travelers, and money in the pocket of each respective country. It's just an inconvenience and a fact of life on the road. Getting a travel agency with 'pull' will help you secure the visa for the length of time you desire (long stays need extra payola), often for only a $5 fee. Sure beats trudging to the embassy yourself, waiting in lines, returning a week later, etc. Be good to yourself.
Stopping by our local, friendly efficient neighborhood travel agency (which had been there for over a year) to pick up our e- tickets, we were instead greeted by a large padlock on the door. The crooks had skipped town and scammed over 100 tourists both here and in Phukhet. We couldn't believe our ears as Kenya Airlines proclaimed, your ticket hasn't been paid for. The police just said "Sorry. You are number 27 today". Stunned we wandered around, stomped, cussed, and even planned to pack it in, but eventually accepted our $1000 was gone. If only we had paid by credit card we would have recovered the money. Usually we do use plastic for tickets and large items even if there is an extra 5% charge, but next time for sure. Adding insult to injury our reservation was cancelled and no other seats available. We scoped out our options and finally after checking daily, I found 2 seats on the internet. The next day we walked to the Kenyan Air office to pay by Credit Card!!, in person. A hard lesson for getting careless. Here we go again, the plan is set, arrangements finalized, but knowing that the 'Travel Gods' and their primary laws of traveling: living in the moment, spontaneity, and flexibility will win out in the end. They did.
Remember the movie "Groundhogs
Day", where he wakes up at 6am on the same day over and over, until
he gets it right? Well there we were in room #512 of our
guesthouse on Soi Rambutri staring at the ceiling at 1am, laughing
and asking ourselves, "What are we doing back here? Deja Vu
all over again." We had left here once, saying our goodbyes to
fly to Sri Lanka, and ended back here The second time we left,
saying goodbye again, to go out to Ko Samet for 5 days then flying
to Madagascar. Arriving at the Kenya Air counter we were
greeted with the news that the plane "wasn't coming tonight". We
will leave in 12 hours, but your connection on to Madagascar isn't
for 2 days. You could stay in Nairobi, Kenya for 2 days but
the visa costs $100. Compensated for travel costs, we picked
up the phone and called our guesthouse and even though they are
closed and cranky after 9pm they held a room. O.K., we can
take a joke but enough is enough. We are living in the moment
and 'patiently' staying open to change, but we wonder when/if we
will get to Madagascar? As I write this we haven't a clue how
things will turn out. But do we ever in life? No more
goodbyes from here, we are sneaking out the side door! Check
out next month's page to find out 'the rest of the story'.
We also met a gifted musician, Bill, who has been living in Thailand for 10 years and went out to his hideaway on an island in the Mao Phraya River, enjoying a look at village life and enjoying his music and drumming. Bangkok with all the excitement, noise and confusion suddenly closed in on us and we were getting 'nudgy'. Delays beyond our control because of stolen tickets and closed offices for the holidays, had kept us there. We had one nerve left and everyone was getting on it. Time to go. With only 6 days remaining we decided to escape to the closest island, the National Park of Ko Samet to regain our center. The 'near' proximity to hot Bangkok makes certain beaches on this T shaped island very busy, as Thais fleeing the heat and humidity come down for a look. Joseph had read about a secluded crescent of sand, with a small eco friendly family and their guesthouse. After an arduous trek from the pier we arrived to have our little piece of heaven awaiting us - a rustic cabin nestled in the shady trees right on the white sand beach, turquoise waves lapping at our veranda. Specializing in vegetarian food we decided to pay the holiday price and just relaxed into the gift that fate had unfolded for us. Once you are there, there is no where else you need to go.
And so it
goes.........................................Next month we start unraveling
the deep, dark mysteries of the unknown in Africa. Madagascar, is our first
stop (we think), a wild island off the east coast of this vast
continent, where the ever changing, exotic flora and fauna exist
nowhere else on earth. Change. Let these quotes on
change cause us to pause a moment and see how our actions speak.
Trying to change others is futile. So much needs doing on this
troubled planet of ours yet true change comes from within, radiating
to those around us. Change is possible. Know this
and be part of the solution. Keep Open! Keep Changing!
Love, Light &
$1.00US = 36 Thai Baht.
While at www.archive.org do a search on "Gill, gems. jewelry" and also see the many interesting books on gems and jewelry that Joseph has uploaded - including his comprehensive updated 500 page book: "Gills Historical Index on Gems and Jewelry Online". Click here to have a look or download the book ( the link is under our photo on our homepage).
Always take a metered taxi - not a rip off tuk tuk or a set price (often double). To the airport costs 400 baht, and 130 pp via minivan. Don Mueng 225baht meter.
Roof Garden (Sun) Guesthouse, 62 Soi Rambutri,
Turn left at the end of Soi Rambutri, cross the street, great spring rolls on a cart that the lady makes at home. Down the street, right side is T's Department store with fresh veggies and fruit, like a big 7-11. About a 10 minute walk along, over the 2nd bridge is a big vegetable market to stock up on fresh produce.
Ethos Vegetarian & Organic
Restaurant. Left at Burger King on the end of Khao San Rd, right
down first alley, left into lane. Tasty food, juices and deserts.
Free wi-fi and friendly owner. Don't miss the vegan chocolate
cake or apple crisp served with hot coconut custard. Ohhhh!
Tamarind Vegetarian Restaurant:
http://www.happycow.net/asia to find a list of all the yummy vegetarian places in any city in Asia. Also Google a list of all the hotspots for free computer wi fi . True wi fi is a good bet to try - often in your hotel lobby. Just sign in - works some times. Found this out from a Russian computer wiz.
The Wat (temple) surrounded by Soi Rambutri is worth strolling around. Quiet and shady. You can cut through this compound to reach the main road or head back down the alley past a great seamstress (on the right) and through the kick boxing arena to the back door of a large Israeli restaurant. Catering to the mobs of young Israeli backpackers it is open 24 hours and you can use free internet, store your luggage, eat good falafels, or just hang out. The front door is on the main road. Just a couple doors down on the left is another Israeli place - 2nd floor is a better free internet with AC. Can't use USB but the price is right.
Don't miss going to see the 'circus' at night along Khao San Rd. and the lights along Chao Fa Blvd, along the Palace or Tanao Rd. are spectacular, especially around the time of the King or Queen's birthdays. The Grand Palace, pier # 9 (you need long pants and covered shoulders to visit the big Wats)) and a ride up the river are must dos. The list of sights in Bangkok is endless. Don't miss spending a day on Mao Phraya River, just down the alley from Soi Rambutri. Take a river ferry up north to the end of the line (13baht), get off & walk 5 minutes to a big colorful fruit, veg and fish market. Only locals and a great experience. Get back on the boat and stop off heading back south at the Ha Hen Market, pier #8 , maybe Chinatown pier #10?, and the end of the line is near Silom Road, with a sky train connecting to many other spots around the city.
Better and handier Post Office
than GPO, (near Soi
Pantip Plaza: Computer heaven
Oriental Hotel, on Charoenkrung Rd. Take the river ferry down to the Oriental pier and walk down the soi to their entrance. Remember to wear long pants for guys and women should dress up a bit, as they have a dress code especially after 6, and discourage backpackers from looking around. The fact is that they won't let you in unless you can become a chameleon and look like you belong there. Just say you are going to have lunch/ dinner. If you arrive about 5pm you can look around, then enjoy the sunset along the river, with a couple of vegetable entrees on the Terrace Restaurant menu for under 300 baht. After dark meander through the halls, enjoy classical music in the impressive lobby, visit the Author's Lounge, and take a meter taxi back for 100baht. A break from the rigors of travel.
Ko Samet or Samed Island:
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:
www.tunehotel.com "5 star comfort for 1 star price." Book through Air Asia -$22 reg -watch for sales. Our room was $6, right at the LCC airport. The room was a miniature, classy, spotless a/c room with bathroom. I would certainly check out their availability throughout Asia. One is opening downtown KL also. firstname.lastname@example.org.
www.stayOrange.com Hotel Petaling Street, right in the heart of Chinatown, phone # 603 2070 2208, Book on the internet for cheaper rates (we paid about $12 which is unheard of in downtown KL). You can stay in a basic but quiet, clean room, with spotless white sheets, comforter and A/C. Check out the backpacker places for the same price and you will be sold. None of the budget places have windows around here but at the Orange Hotel you don't have to put up with other people's smoke and noise at night. We did miss our friend Adam at the backpacker place though. Hi Adam, thanks for keeping in touch.
Remember to check out the deals on www.airasia.com throughout Asia, and now China, Australia, London, India. They give away free tickets 3 times a year - get on their mailing list. Good dependable airlines, usable secure website, but recently NO refunds - only changes.
Each island has it's own sights and charm - limited camping is also available on Kauai and Molokai. Maui is busy, without good camping, but of course the beach hotels are fantastic but expensive. Inter island flights are currently about $40 each direction.