Busy April

Suddenly, all the things on your to-do list are lined off and it’s time to start thinking about a new list. But you want to take a pause and not add anything right away so that you can relax in the lull.  That’s where we are just now.

Except for a small chip in the left-hand glass panel the shower is completed.  Without Joe’s help I’d still be in there laying tile.  Replacement glass will take another couple of weeks, but at least we can enjoy the shower now.

Five days of April were reserved for a Canyonland’s hike with UltraLIght friend Will and his Montana friends. The Utah desert is a place that you’d want to visit only a couple times in a year and April is one of them.  Day temps in the 70’s and nighttime in the mid-30’s made for a 50-mile exploration of some of the park’s hinterlands. Discovering new routes to link up trails is one of Will’s passions and we lucked out this time with two new routes confirmed.

Easter week is the busiest time of the year in this National Park with backcountry permits reserved months in advance.  However if you’re lucky enough to get one, the crowds completely disappear once you get beyond the day-hiking range.  We spent four days without seeing a soul, and only a two sets of footprints. Water is the big concern, and we were fortunate to have Will’s experience to tell us where to find those water holes.

The day after our return from the desert, I was scheduled to give a talk on GaiaGPS for the San Juan Mountain Association.  Gaia is a smartphone GPS mapping application that I’ve been using for four years, most recently on this Utah desert trip.

Will typically doesn’t need a map to orient himself in the backcountry, but confirming his location sure saves some misadventures into unknown side canyons.

Just like our UltraLIght talk a month earlier, we’d underestimated the attendance by 200%.  The Ultralight talk was standing room only and the Gaia talk had 60 people if you include me and the director.  As with all technical presentations, even though all the folks had the app in the class, they still needed practical experience.  So Saturday morning we took 20 of them on a “hands-on” hike to hone their skills.  One fact I brought out in the talk was that of the hikers our Search and Rescue group has searched for in the last two years, 9 of the 12 were day-hikers from Durango. Even locals get lost, and one testimony from a county native was that he got disoriented this winter only a mile from the road in the snowy hills near Andrews Lake at Molas Pass.  He wanted to have Gaia so that didn’t happen again.

GaiaGPS works everywhere, you might consider adding that app to your smartphone if you’re apt to venture away from the highway.

Still almost 10 days left in April and summer hasn’t even begun.

 

Cruiser Reunion

Really fortunate to have so many folks who were involved come to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Paradox’s loss and the rescue of the crew. Deja Vu came into town first, followed by Dragonfly, then Marion D and finally Kira (formerly Neaptide, and before that Galadriel).

It was such a popular event that we’re trying to plan a winter meet-up in Mexico next season, albeit on the hard. Finding a place that sleeps 10 shouldn’t be too hard down there.

Joe spearheaded a shower remodel while waiting for the crews to show up.  He’s probably the only land cruiser to travel with all his tools. We were almost finished by the time Al & Jill showed up so the only thing Al got to help with was discovering why we couldn’t get any water out of the shower once it was hooked up.

 

We had plenty of time for eating, catching up, eating, and hiking. Everyone brought or cooked a favorite dinner and dessert so the meals were outstanding.

Helen, Joe and Al joined us at the Durango Rec Center for several days of spinning and pickle ball.  Jill walked the river trail multiple times.

 

Finding a hiking spot when the local area is still covered with snow was no problem.  Stanna chose Bisti Wilderness area south of Farmington where all 10 of us hiked thru the Cracked Eggs, hoodoos and giant petrified logs.

 

 

Most interesting was the night we each recalled our roles in helping the Paradox crew get back to land. We played the short video of the rescue, which several had never seen.  Stanna and I remain grateful to all the cruisers, various ham radio nets, and the US Coast Guard men and women who were involved in our rescue.

Thanks to all who came.

 

Shower Time


Postponed for over 5 years, the condo shower is finally getting the attention it needed.  It must run in the family, because an Aunt let her shower go for so long we had to rebuild the sub-floor and replace the entire shower pan.  Ours could have been that bad, and I was expecting the worst, but it turns out the tile issues were only grout deep.

However, that wasn’t determined until the entire shower door was removed and the first floor tiles lifted.  At this point we’d already ordered all new tiles, plumbing fixtures and fancied a new glass door, so there was no going back.

Originally we’d planned to do the demolition and install after our Cruiser Reunion and our out-of-town friends had departed, but an email from Joe & Helen saying they’d like to arrive early from California spurred other thoughts.  Joe’s speciality, among many other talents and professions, is remodeling kitchens and bathrooms. And best of all he, like most our friends, would rather work on a project than sit around jawing about old times or, in this day, Trump.

The shower stall was totally demolished before Joe arrived and in two days we were ready for tile.  I’d envisioned a much more complicated shower pan, however Joe determined that our curb-less shower stall wouldn’t need floor surgery, because the gipcrete floor (part of in-floor heating was removed to expose the subfloor) provided enough depth for our new design.

New plumbing was a snap with the deployment of Shark Bite connectors and PEX tubbing, so that Stanna will have that extra hand-held shower she’s envied every time we visit a Swiss hotel.  We even remembered to place nailer blocks in the studs for that grab rail we will soon be needing.

Insulation and vapor barrier went in before the vinyl pan liner and the DuraBoard walls.

 

The bench and wall niche rounded out the pre-tile chores so that all remaining was the sloped cement shower pan.  Joe decided we should knock the pan out, allowing it to dry overnight so in the advent of the tile arriving on-time on Monday  we could carry on this rapid remodel. Two days in, we’re ready for tile and the reunion.

 

 

Wish we were doing something special

It’s hard to admit that we’ve not been doing anything special since our return from Thailand. Taxes was the big thing. The pile of mail was less owing to more online payments, efficiency of my sister trashing junk mail, and being gone only 3 months. One thing that took more time than usual was overcoming jet lag.  Jumping back into the Durango routine only goes so far when trying to make up for 13 hours of time difference.  Staying up until 9 PM is our primary goal, but we’re still waking at 3 AM for the first 5 or more days.

The only fun item waiting in Durango was a Thunderbolt Display I purchased from Janet while I was gone.  Overkill for sure, but I’ve always coveted a second 27″ monitor and now I get to try one. The biggest benefit besides have two screens of origami screensaver to show off our 20,000-photo library, is that I’ve started editing that photo library.

The only person I know that’s meticulous about organizing his photos is Don Pole, and we’ve never gotten close to his surgical precision. A second display isn’t mandatory to accomplish sorting, editing and trashing photos in your photo library, but it makes it more fun. As of this posting I’ve eliminated 5,000 of 25,000 and probably have another 5K to go.

The other motivation was to put my photo library in iCloud Photo Library, so that I could have all my photos on all my Apple devices.  In Thailand this year I kept wanting to show a particular photo of home or our travels and it wasn’t on my iPad, iPhone or Stanna’s MacBook.  Now they are.

I‘ve also been prepping for a reprise of two separate San Juan Mountain Association talks given last spring: UltraLight Backpacking Gear and Using GaiaGPS. Just talking or a PowerPoint doesn’t cut it for me, so designing displays, and a live demo of what’s in your pack, needed preparation. The display on the left shows shoe weights and that 6# water bottle demonstrates how much 1 Pound extra on your feet feels like on your back.  There are 10 different displays of various gear choices including food choices.  The GaiaGPS smartphone GPS mapping app talk will introduce hikers, bikers and trail riders to the app, using a large screen TV  display of my iPhone so that folks can visualize better than on a 4.7″ screen.

One habit that’s been hard to break is photographing all our meals, so since we’re back in the Southwest here is just one smothered burrito.

And for those wondering about cycling: Spin class has been there for burning calories three times a week and Durango weather was perfect last weekend for a 38-mile ride.

Our 33rd anniversary dinner, thanks to David & Pam’s belatedly-used gift certificate.  Hard not to take that food porn, but the meal was delicious.

 

 

Night Life

One of the favorite tourist attractions in Thailand is a Night Market: an evolution of food stalls for those pre-cooked foods, like pad Thai, soups, meats, fish and sweets, or ingredients for cooking your own meals like noodles, rice, eggs, raw meats and fish, and now combined with clothing, arts and crafts.  Heavy emphasis on the clothing and souvenirs.

The other kind of Thai night market is one that starts about midnight and peaks between 3 AM and 5 AM. One that takes place in that seemingly-abandoned-in-the-daytime open air market with a shambles of rickety tables that mid-morning has only a few tables selling vegetables  to housewives.


Trang, being the provincial (state) capital, has the regional market that supplies all the mom and pop neighborhood stands as well as other smaller, but lesser. open air markets.  It all starts at 2 AM where the wholesale vendors of fish, pork, chicken, a cornucopia of vegetables, pre-packaged meals, drinks and snacks, display their overflowing bounty on those rickety tables.  Bundles and bags of goods are quickly shuffled out to triple-parked trucks and three-wheeled scooters, where they’re off to the next stage in the distribution channel.


This market consolidates fish trucked-in in 150-gallon plastic coolers, meat slaughtered the evening before (and butchered on site), pre-plucked chickens (also butchered insitu  into all the salable parts), pick-up loads of one type of leafy vegetables {unknown to us) or another (bagged in 5 and 10-kg bundles), heaps of pineapples, bananas, and fruits, plus all the home-made banana-leaf-wrapped snacks of sticky rice with meats or sweets by the hundreds.

Some foods and snacks are prepared in the stalls, assembly-line style.  They are deep frying Thai donuts, other sesame dough-balls with sweets inside, coconut covered treats with fresh coconut meat ground on-site. Still other stalls, countless of them, bag liquid drinks like coffee, coconut milk concoctions, and soups for resale.  Green noodle and coconut milk desserts are bagged individually and assembled together for last-minute enjoyment with ice in a bowl at a roadside restaurant or as a home treat.


Cycling thru the countryside I see scooter-up roadside stands with tables of plastic boxes of pre-packaged foods for breakfasts and lunches. Mom’s or dad’s take their kids (helmet-less) on the back or stuffed in between their legs on the family scooter to school each day, stopping at the neighborhood stand for a school lunch. [Easily 70% of Thai families’ only vehicle is a scooter.] Now I know where these lunches come from.  I’d always assumed the family in the house behind had prepared the goods.  Maybe they do, but I’ve learned they can be purchased wholesale along with the chicken that gets deep-fried at that same stand each day.  Everyone in Thailand has a job.

We’d asked about the Mu Yang (roast pork) that is famous in Trang, where was it sold? So half-way thru our early morning tour, we rushed off on our scooters to see one of the in-town families that slaughters and roasts their pork each day for sale and consumption. I’d seen the process before in a rural setting, Stanna hadn’t.  This operation was an urban business only minutes from the train station.

SunSern let himself in thru a front gate and on to the backyard business of a family that prepares six or more whole pigs for roasting each night. Permission secured (Thai folks always say yes to your viewing how they make or do things), we arrived just in time to see them lower three of their pork carcasses down into the in-ground oven.  Wooden staves are burned to charcoal and pushed from a keyhole slot to the bottom of the brick-lined vertical oven.

The top is then covered with corrugated tin roofing panels and checked for bubbling of the meat that has been coated with the secret family sauce. One hour later, after numerous flashlight inspections and listening for crackling, the roast pork is hauled out and cooled for sectioning and sale at dawn. Trang’s roast pork is the most delicious meat I’ve ever tasted and we got to pick some off the cooling carcasses.

Back to the market, by 4 AM the place was hopping with buyers picking up their pre-arranged orders or selecting baskets full of goods for resale at their own stalls or stands.

 

 

 

Wang PubPa Mek


Top of the Southwestern Thai peninsula would be my translation of Wang PubPa Mek. As per usual, I don’t know where I’m going until I get there, and in this case I still don’t know. What I do know is that we left with some 100-plus cyclists with our camping gear Saturday afternoon from the Tourist Authority and a film crew, and cycled some 40-km northwest above the town of Sikao, Trang Province.

Southern Thailand is trying to promote destinations other than the underwater weddings, caves, beaches, islands and national parks.  Last year I went with a group of cyclists to promote the Seven Dragon Spines of the Andaman Sea (narrow rocky shoals that are only visible off the coast with full moon low tides – seeing all of which will bring a person good luck).  Access to these off-shore Dragon Spines is limited to traveling down long mangrove-strewn roads to small fishing villages.

I was told toward the end of the ride that I wouldn’t be able to go all the way on my bike because it was too steep and too rough a road, and that I should snag a ride in a pickup. Sounded like a challenge. If this is to become a tourist attraction, like the Dragon Spines, it can’t be a challenge.

We were rewarded, however, with an exclusive look and outstanding view of a new “attraction,” not quite ready for prime time, a little over an hour’s automobile drive from Trang.  Interesting to note that once we arrived at the saddle between the new mountain top vista points, I’d realized that I’d been there 5 years earlier with a band of only 10 cyclists and a lady on a rented motor scooter (Stanna). We didn’t camp, nor were any of the improvements developed such as the cement stairway to a mid-level “sala” (gazebo) to gaze West over the inland karsts and those out in the Andaman Sea known as islands. It was easy to see their enthusiasm for the locale, but there still lies a road improvement ahead.

What was unique about this ride, was that once the cyclists reached the top of the mountain (and only about half of those were able to make the last kilometer under their own power, many hitched rides with officials and families who came to join the riders) those “adventurers” camped and pre-dawn next day scaled a  mountain, many camping for the first time in their lives, as evidenced by their quandary of setting up brand new tents.

Thai camping isn’t much different than RV camping in the States, or a camping platz in Germany, along the Mediterranean, or in New Zealand for that matter.  Cheek by jowl, only you don’t often have to pay for the privilege. It’s a true social event with talking between tents well after most have retired and are trying to get to sleep. This outdoor adventure had the added feature of a catered dinner: three kinds of fish dishes, vegetables and giant caldrons of steamed white rice.  And in the new multi-purpose sala (outdoor hall) they trucked in a stage and karaoke set-up for those needing to caterwaul into the wee hours.

At 4:30 am a truck PA system repeatedly entreated us to rise and start climbing the mountain, which I’d failed to notice was inland from the two vistas I’d enjoyed the late afternoon previous. Like an alpine start for some snow-covered peak, some 100 adventurers snaked thru the jungle and up a lightly trodden ridge line like a rhumba-line of ants with headlamps and bike lights. These climbers weren’t Outward Bound instructors showing off climbing in their flip-flop and thongs, but cyclists and their families, trying to maneuver the rocky, rooty, viney and dead-leaf-strewn slope with the shoes they brought for camping or the cleats they’d ridden in.  The going was slow. [photo was going down two hours later in the daylight – still tough]

Spectacular it was.  A 270° view of the entire Western coastline and far out to the karst islands dotting the horizon.  Even looking inland, watching the dawn break over the mountain range that forms the divide of this narrow Thai peninsula was worth the challenge.

The film crew staged and surreptitiously took endless photos, and the one I liked best was the crew standing on the rickety “only 10 person at a time” overlook composing the stragglers after sunrise for a last mountain photo in that special light.


BTW my skinny-tire, 26 -year-old road bike was the first to reach the top followed by a 19-year-old on a mountain bike. A fun time, good people and an adventure for everyone.  I learned later that they plan to only do guided trips up that ridgeline for 100 Baht a head.

 

 

Objectivity

“Many people have come out and said I’m right”* is Trump’s justification for his vision of the world.  By repeating something so often, and confounding the world with so many absurdities, both sides of the political divide are overwhelmed by his ludicrous and conflicting utterances.

This specter of absurdity blinds one with deeper confirmation bias such that the definition of normal shifts to the new un-real reality.

Please find the time to read: http://time.com/4675860/donald-trump-fake-news-attacks/ a long form essay and response to Trump’s attack on the media and independent thinking. 

*Interview with Bill O’Reily discussing voter fraud 2/5/17 6:49 minutes

Naiveté Exposed

Not since 2010 have I seen so dense a mass of foreigners promenading the streets as I saw this weekend in Koh Lanta. New Years’ Eve 2010 in Chaing Mai was the last time it was elbow-to-elbow with a throng of primarily Europeans, curb to curb carousing to find a bargain, drink or curiosity, from the collage of colorful street vendors, bars beckoning in English with “specials” on drinks and restaurants cheek by jowl, some even advertising “Thai food.”   All in their casual singlet’s or bikini-topped beachware playing the roles of carefree vagabonds with their newly minted tattoos. It was Disneyland for adults with a Sun, Fun and Beach theme.


About 15 cyclists from the Trang Cycling Club trucked or rode to the island to take part in a Koh Lanta-promoted 30 km circle tour of the island.

Never knowing just what the weekend event is, I just ask where and when to meet and find out once we start, or  get there.  The last time I’d visited the island with the cycle group we rode the 140-km distance and participated in a similar event associated with Lanta Koh Lanta, a festival in Old Town on the east side of the island.  It was more of a fair with a costumed parade and typical food stall tents and amusements lined up on a closed street in front of the school.  Yes, there were tourists but by far the majority were Thai.


It’s not uncommon for our group to arrange with a Wat (Buddhist Temple) to allow us to “crash camp” inside the temple.  We take over the Wat or school (like on Sukorn Island) sleeping inside with tents, cooking with gear trucked in, washing and bathing in their facilities, all for 50 Baht ($1.40) per person.  It’s all quite normal and acceptable, the monks even want to share their food, gathered daily with begging bowls on the streets of the local community.  One other reason to “camp” inside was the troop of monkeys that seem to like rifling thru human things.

This Wat is distinguished by several features: It’s the headwaters of a natural spring that supplies most of the nearby town, and with it’s proximity to the invasion of European Buddhist foreign visitors seeking a dose of enlightenment and merit making, it uses the English speaking monk to bless them in situ. In return this Wat has  received foreign funding for major capital upgrades to the worship hall, baths and toilets.

One of our group said they wanted to go to the “market” after dinner.  Thinking he was going after provisions, I asked to go along expecting a sleepy mini-mart or vegetable stand selling the last of the day’s products. Boy howdy, was I naive.

Around the hillside, less than a quiet kilometer away, was nothing short of “Gringo-town” fronting the western Koh Lanta beaches.  For the seeker of movie-grade bazaar crowd scenes and action, this is the place to be, the place to selfie yourself having the best time Facebook can offer. One time I saw graffiti on the back of a bench in Spain facing the tourist hotels saying “Hello Mr. Tomato” referring to the propensity of tourists to come and immediately get sunburned. This was also de rigueur in Koh Lanta: get a tan as fast as you can, to prove you had a great vacation.

The event the following morning was also on a beach, this one 12-km further south and far from the madding crowds. About 298 Thai riders and 2 fahrangs (one Italian guy whose Thai wife runs some kind of business for tourists), saddled up for the Tour d’Lanta.  Once again it was led by a “sound truck” at 20 KmPH so we were in effect a “lycra parade” of happy-to-be-riding cyclists with our personal escort thru villages, towns and countryside.

It’s amazing to see the two Thailands: the beach party version of a popular Asian beach town an hour from an International airport, and the local Thai people’s reality of a town like Trang. Evidently in the short time we’ve been visiting Thailand, 7 years now, the tourists have discovered a new wonderland that is just in-between Koh Lanta’s past beach shack quaintness and the high-rise hotel scene of Krabi or Phuket. If you want to see beach shack prosperity before it becomes high dollar fun, come join the tens of thousands ambling the night markets and renting scooters to find a secluded beach with only 100 other sun seekers on Koh Lanta.

We finished the ride with an all-you-can-eat typical plateful of rice topped with two kinds of fish and vegetables.  Cleansing our palates with unlimited watermelon wedges, it was hard to get up from our tables.

But we did. Some of our group opted for the 2 PM squid fishing contest, others returned to the Wat, and four of us challenged to road to the National Park at the far end of the island.  There were two challenges, neither of which I managed to photograph. The first was riding a narrow winding hillside road above the coastline along with no less than one thousand motor scooters piloted by first-time drivers. You could ratchet down the thousand to maybe 759, but I’d like to throw in all those 241 scooters parked along the road where a trail led to secluded beaches.

The second challenge was the road itself, a cliff-hanger of sorts rising from beach level to rocky hillside in fractions of a kilometer.  I only saw one sign that said 17% grade, but there were many 14’s 12’s and the rest were unmarked. Some of the scooters with two of the larger wide-load foreigners had to jettison a rider to make it to the top.  Slept straight thru that night.

This public “shower” where the water bowls self-fill was a new lesson in Thai bathing.  We’d seen isolated instances where they wrap themselves in a sarong and then splash water over themselves, but that was out in the open.  Here in the semi-walled shower four or five guys can dowse themselves in their sarongs all at once.  If you fling that bowl fast enough it’s kind of like a shower. [An above-ground cistern keeps the sinks filled via a siphoning principal.]

All good experiences, and I never need to go back to Koh Lanta.  Six of us rode home for a 140-km close to the weekend.

Valentine’s Day ride – 2017

Too many people for individual trophies this year, thankfully. The 50-km Valentine’s Day ride to Pak Meng on Sunday the 12th was over 500 riders.  That’s a line of 2 by 2 bicycles 250 riders long; imagining 10-15 feet between them, it would stretch almost ¾ of a mile long. It was surprisingly orderly except when encountering hills and rubber-necking flat tires.

The pace was 20 km/hour (12 mph) so just about everyone could hold their place in line. The second vehicle in the parade was this street “illegal” sound truck that took every bit of a single lane and most of the shoulder with it’s crew of “mic jockeys” who cajoled, encouraged (and scolded the riders who rode outside the twin rows) for the entire length of the ride. When the new King was Crown Prince he led a couple of nation-wide rides called “Bike for Dad” (for his father, the King who recently died) and “Bike for Mom” for his mother the Queen; the theme song from one of those rides, sung monotonously, filled the roadway when the microphones weren’t blaring.

Stanna and I had ridden this event round-trip last year, earning our name-engraved trophy on stage with the Provincal Governor (everyone got one). But Stanna opted to use the motor scooter this year, anticipating high winds on the return journey.  However, she needn’t have worried, the organizers planned for the tired masses by recruiting a motorcycle delivery truck and air conditioned bus to carry at least 100 bikes and riders back to Trang.

Pak Meng is the closest beach to Trang and the departure port for many of the daily island tours. Only two foreigners were among the fleet, myself and a Frenchman I’d never seen in Trang. One thing we’ve gotten used to is having our photo taken with lots of complete strangers, so after the group photo we asked to have just us in one.

A number of other riders and I chose to take the long way home on lightly trafficked roads, south along the coastline thru a National Park, on to a hot springs and back to Trang thru Kantang, turning the holiday event into a formidable ride of 120 km over 8 hours.

 

Still in Malaysia…

It was well worth cycling to Malaysia, or as Stanna is quick to qualify, we didn’t cycle the 160 km between Trang and Satun, but all other distances, because it gives you the freedom to explore anywhere you want without the hassle of taxis (only effective if you know where you want to go), buses (if you know the routes and schedules) or walking (which isn’t always popular when the distances tally in the miles).

We cycled to the Trang bus station, 12 km, where we put our bikes in the storage locker of a double decker, and then once we were “dropped” at the center of Satun (a favor we didn’t realize until learning the bus station was out of town) we cycled around town and on to our internet booked guesthouse on the river.

 

The port and ferry pier are 8 km south of Satun thru the mangrove groves making the otherwise hot trip delightful along the shaded roadway.  The Langkawi Ferry terminal rivals a small commercial airport with international glassed-in walkways to the immigration and customs areas.  We’re not certain but there must be four or five different ferry routes originating and terminating on Langkawi.  The long walkways of arrivals and departure retail and duty free shops easily matches some capital city airports.

The island size is about 12×12 miles so it’s not hard to get around on bicycle although we hardly saw any others, excepting one 70+ year-old Dutch couple who was halfway on a trips from Phuket to Singapore. With almost 100,000 inhabitants, the roads are crowded with cars but generally traveling at a reasonable pace.

We especially enjoyed seeing a urban renewal project which channeled a couple of river bends along an older market road.  They’d recently completed a modern two story fresh air market with almost 100 stalls.  Seeing the fresh vegetables, spices, meats being butchered and fish displayed is always worthy of photos.

 

We suspect this market is even busier before sunrise, as most of the heavy trading happens before folks open their shops and stands.

Our last full day was relegated to finding the craft market shown on all the road signs.  A pre-dawn ride I made around the island found that most the signs pointed to the same craft market 25 km over the mountain to the north shore.

Stanna opted for a lesser promoted batik workshop and showroom on our same side of the island with lesser hills to scale.  Great tour of the batik process (no photos allowed) and endless rooms of batik wares to peruse.  Back in our room and into the pool by 3 made the last day just right.  Cheese Roti was slighted for our dinner.

Two more legs of cycling interspersed with a 90 minute ferry ride found us back in Satun where we convinced the van drivers our two road bike could “no problem” fit behind the back seat of a van.

 

Langkawi

Previously, we’ve only been to the Malaysian border where, depending on the lines, one can check in and out of that country in less than 10 minutes. Even if you have two 60-day Thai visas, it’s still required to leave Thailand and re-enter: a curious requirement no doubt fostered by government officials who, like all country’s officials, are following edicts and directives that made sense at the conference room table, but not necessarily in practicality.  Or it’s simply payback for US requirements at our borders.

We often use this mandatory displacement to visit other countries, albeit not in the fashion that we prefer: long-term stays to suss out more of the culture, customs, the people and feeling toward foreigners, rather than being just tourists, which are tolerated as sources of cash, disdain, and amusement.  This time we took our bikes and an eighty-passenger ferry to the northern-most island of Malaysia, Langkawi.


Four days on an economically-dependent tourist island, replete with hourly international flights, daily cruise ships and high-rise luxury hotels, doesn’t really constitute learning much about the culture and customs of any country.  Nevertheless, it did give us a taste of food (wonderful and spicy), traffic (far greater ratio of cars to scooters), affluence (higher than Thai standards – but skewed by tourism in this case), religious influence (most women veiled and more prominent mosques) and cost of living (food prices in stores apparently 15% cheaper). [A web search validates the comparison of almost all consumer things from rent to beer at 8 to 18% cheaper than in Thailand.]

Thailand offers Roti, but not cheese roti, which is akin to a quesadilla or India’s flat bread, served with 3 flavors of dips. Roti’s are a flour-based tort thrown pizza-style, round and round, to get the circular shape and thickness and then flipped on to a smooth grill top and seared much like a tortilla.  Typically you’d want a sweet (condensed milk and sugar) or a fruit one with banana, but the cheese variety was definitely worth enjoying.  The 16″ diameter “bread” is folded in from four sides, after the filling is laid in the center, to loosely form an eight inch square. “To Go” orders, the most popular serving, are cut into hand-sized chunks, while the whole roti is severed on a plate for diners wanting to tear their own bite-sized morsels to dip. One dip was a delicious curry with some sauteed vegetables and another was a chickpea version that tasted like a flavorful humus.  The third was a stronger soy based mix which was a great contrast to the others. Our second cheese roti was a dinner serving of two each. Good thing there were a few vegetables in the dips.  We can relish a total carb meal when you do an all-day cycle tour of the island.


Our accommodations were definitely in the low-rise, past-it’s-prime version of accommodation now suited for and serving native tourists.  We prefer seeing and experiencing the local version whenever possible, so we ate and slept where Malaysians ventured.  Preferring a pool to the beach, where the beached whales garnered their tomato tans and slept on $200-a-night beach recliners with their novels on their bellies, we enjoyed several hours each afternoon in the pool out our front door, for $22 a night including a sparse breakfast.

Cycling to the high-dollar beach we found the parasailing, jet skiing, banana riding, sun seekers all breaking the fun barrier, and funding the local economy.  The sands are exactly what the brochures boast: long white sands, umbrellas galore, vendors, and foreigners in bikinis. Smart business makes for semi-private beaches, side by side with the next hotel, making free-loading public access difficult, save for entry at the very far ends. We refrained from photographing those lounging Russians in their undisclosed locations.


Eating at local curb-side/cycle-up buffets is how the locals dine and we joined various ones, depending on our route, for every meal. Why worry deciphering a foreign language menu when you can grab a plate and scoop up rice and whatever you fancy from a minimum of 20 or more quarter-steam-table pans lined up, spoons and tongs beckoning, without sneeze guards. A drink server tallies up your choices and lunches are less than $2 for a large variety of meats, fish, vegetables and rices.

Still more to follow….

 

Visa Dance

We took our bikes to Malaysia for the 60-day Visa Dance. It wasn’t as virtuous as originally planned riding the whole way, because the closer ferry we’d planned to take didn’t work for us.  The Satun Pier was 168 km from Trang and that was longer than the 50+ Stanna had trained.

Thailand requires visitors to leave the country in order to renew their 30- or 60-day visas. You merely have to check out, check into and out of another country, and then you can come back for another visa period.  This can only 20 minutes if you don’t stay in the neighboring country, or in our case, we usually plan to explore, as we did in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar in previous years.

We did cycle to the bus station in Trang and then after a 2-hour bus ride to Satun, cycled to the Port out on the coast. The Lonely Planet guide book featured a historical museum in Satun so we left a day early and overnighted there, allowing us a morning in the museum. Just a reminder that Thai guesthouses are quite a bargain, generally in the $12 to $18 range with all the amenities like A/C, TV, hot water and frig.


This guesthouse’s restaurant and cantilevered deck was right along the river front which had long-tail-powered fishing boats traveling from the coast inland with bounty. We had our choice of bungalows as we apparently were the only guests this night.

 

 

The museum was a large house built for a visit from a reigning king in 1887, but he failed to arrive so the provincial governor took it for his residence.  Interesting to learn that in 130 years the house had been not only a residence, but also government offices, a school and even occupying Japanese headquarters during WWII.  Now only “trophy-sized” in current term of Thai houses, this would have been considered a mansion compared to the average southern Thai’s domicile of woven-mat-walled hovels and perhaps the wealthy in a house of wooden planks.  The displays in the renovated home featured various historical dioramas, original furnishings and cultural themes.

 

 

 

 

I’m always enthralled with old technology dioramas as they glimpse a slice of life putting textual imagination into three dimensions. What was especially meaningful for me was the exhibit of Sakai artifacts and their own diorama.

Some may recall my post several years back, when the cycle club went up and along a mountain ridge in order to see present-day Sakai living their hunter gather lifestyle in the forests of Southern Thailand. The women and children wore salvaged t-shirts but the chief looked exactly the same including his ‘”Mai Sang” blow pipe weapon in his hand.

More to come on Malaysia.