Oh boy oh boy oh boy. I haven’t written a legitimate post since I left Chiang Mai, a few months ago, and this concatenation of musings will have to suffice. My mind is very loose and disparate these days.
My remaining weeks in Thailand were somewhat uneventful, by which I mean I simply have little to say concerning them. For almost a week I was in fact embroiled in very rich conversation and consumed many wonderful traditional Thai dishes. I was gifted a handmade bracelet and a pair of traditional Thai fisherman’s pants. I dined with the neighbors and generally blended into the neighborhood for a time. I had to bury one of the dogs, he was hit by a car. This was the first grave I have dug in many, many years. We did it at night as a thunderstorm approached.
I am getting ahead of myself: the last transmission was from Siem Reap, Cambodia. I am now a few days outside of Singapore, in Malaysia. Tut tut, how poor a documentarian I am!
In a nutshell, I drank a variety of different types of alcohol, in a variety of bars with a variety of women, the only constant being my fast friend Phil, who happened to be the one to meet all of these groups of girls, bless him. I saw the sun rise a couple of days. I was sprayed with a lot of water and hit with a lot of baby powder during the New Year’s Water festival.
My boy Phil
This was not what I was in town to do, but it is a great town for just this, with many excellent bars and restaurants. What I was here to do was see the legendary ruins of Angkor Wat. For days I put it off, too hungover, lazy, and sleepy to make the trip out. I didn’t want to ride my bicycle and the heat was oppressive.
Eventually Phil and I made it out there. What can I say of one of the wonders of the world? 400 square kilometers of temples and schools, massive moats, beautiful jungle. The buildings are mysterious, awe-inspiring, expansive, impressive, solemn, ransacked, reclaimed by jungle. There are too many to see in a day, but we saw the 5 sites generally supposed to be the most intriguing or significant. I am hesitant to share any pictures. They do no justice and only spoil the effect. Everyone ought to see them if they have any penchant for travel at all.
The other spectacle of note were the gigantic bats hanging in the trees of a park in Siem Reap.
I hung around with Phil until he left. We witnessed another drag show and I decided my appetite for these events was sated this year when a young man took a strong liking to me. Nothing wrong with this, just the straw that broke the camel’s back. He touched my johnson.
Anyhoo, I was unable to rise at any decent hour and stayed two more nights in Siem Reap before making a desperate escape around eleven o’clock. I pushed through the enervating heat 100 kilometers back the way I came. This was no weather to be cycling in, and Cambodia held no allure for me scenery wise, more farmland, a patch of jungle or two, more beaches and islands- all lovely, I am sure- but I had somewhere to be, and I had promised Di I would visit her on the way back.
Di, the woman herself
Don’t want a photo
I made it back to Di’s house, very sick. Certainly I had mistreated my body, but some tropical malady seemed to be upon me. All my energy was gone. Seven hours of sleep, eight, fourteen, all day, nothing could recharge me and the heat dictated the activities of each waking hour. I spent four or five days there, I can’t recall. Di and I talked about everything, she looked at just about all of my pictures, I learned the story of her life, the nature of the political situation in Thailand, about prices of land, about the old King, the new King and his sisters. I learned about the development of the area over the years, traditional house design and some history of the country.
I tried to leave on the 24th of April and failed. After one more day I managed to get up early, although I felt extremely fatigued, and departed. I was signed up for a Vipassana meditation session that began on the 15th of May and I had a lot of distance to cover.
On the road again
Aranyaprathet is pretty well straight East from Bangkok, which sits at the top of the bay of Thailand. In order to stay on land, it was necessary to navigate the madness of Bangkok again. I decided to avoid this with the preservation of mind and body in mind, and planned to angle Southwest to Pattaya, from there taking a ferry across to Hua Hin and bypassing the city. There were a number of routes to get there, and the most direct routes entailed more backtracking. I had already travelled the road between Aranyaprathet and Bangkok, and I had also seen the route from Bangkok down the coast, which Adam and I travelled by bus. I decided to avoid these.
I cut straight down South. There was a national park and a lake that looked interesting, and they were! The roads were less populated and the amenities were scarcer, but the change of scene was pleasant.
Quiet days, blistering everpresent sun. I was constantly warding off sunburns and dodging random bursts of rain.
There are wonderful rock formations scattered here and there in Southern Thailand, jutting out like teeth from the flat lands around. The rock is unfamiliar to my eye, frequently riddled with caves, and very sheer. Often there is a temple or monastery at the foot of these places.
I stayed in little hotels when it was convenient, camped otherwise. I was so glad I cut through the park, there were wild elephants there, although I didn’t see any, and one felt that if a panther or tiger were to remain in this part of Thailand, it would be there. I was a bit nervous even, despite the almost certain extinction of the cat population here, before reasoning with myself that I too live in a land with great cats, and I have never seen one. There were a lot of monkeys though!
There were big blocks in the road to keep people from speeding. I thought about what the chances of hitting an elephant were. I saw a lot of poop on the side of the road, so it seemed possible. I made it to the lake that evening after an empty day in the jungle. I was hungry and thirsty at intervals and struggled as ever to stop at the queer little village shops despite my need.
Come evening I was provisioned. I rounded the lake, which was unimpressive, and in doing so also passed the last patch of forest marked on the map for a good 20 kilometers. It was early, about four o’clock, and I had only managed a meager 80 kilometers, but I was wiped out and when I saw an abandoned path leading into the trees I took it. Some lightning began to quicken in an armada of pregnant looking clouds and I decided to set up my tent and waterproof everything before I cooked. That was smart. As my dinner finished cooking a heavy tropical rain descended and I retreated inside. It rained heavily for hours, but I had snacks and Shakespeare to keep me company.
In the morning I awoke to a beautiful scene. The burgeoning rays of sunlight glorified the gleaming greenery of the forest around me and I felt recharged, grateful to be there. Some ants had built in to some trash I had set aside in the night. When I say built in, I mean they had an advanced civilization established, the trash was almost invisible already. I watched them, fascinated, while I drank my coffee. These were tiny ants, but a dozen massive, fearsomely pincered relatives seemed to intermix with them and I wondered initially whether there was some symbiotic arrangement between them, but doubt was cast on this hypothesis when I saw on several occasions these behemoths of the microcosm swarmed- to no avail- by their smaller cousins.
The insects really complete the jungle vibe. The difference between a jungle and a forest is a delicate distinction; although this was proper jungle, it felt like forest to me. A few more varieties of climbing vines aside, it felt no different than nature anywhere else. I had assumed I would feel swarmed by strange massive bugs and uncouth reptiles, odd mammals and a sea of sounds. Not so much. I’ll let you know if this is the case in South America if I make it there. Here, insects, monkeys and exotic birds carry the definition of “jungle.” I am obsessed with ants now. They create highways- they literally clear little roads-, build elaborate structures, sometimes overnight, they have a social system with specialized duties, some of them farm aphids, and they dominate the surface of the land. There are so many different types of ants, and they outweigh and outnumber humankind by a longshot. Industrious, fascinating creatures! As a camper, I have an intimate and at times frustrating relationship with their kind.
The next night I stayed in a palm plantation. I had a lovely evening and in the morning the ants caught my attention again when I went to pee and found myself attacked because I had unwittingly impeded an ant highway. It was a vulnerable moment to be attacked, but I managed to disengage the ants without peeing on myself. I began to trace the highway and found it to be about twenty meters long. Incredible.
Some sort of insect had created a burrow under a bag of mine in the night, and when I removed it, their larvae were unfortunately exposed. I watched two different types of ants pillage them with fascination. A larger, orange type of ant seemed to be more aggressive, while a slightly smaller black variety quickly evaded them and dashed to and from their hole with live bugs, which they were far better at catching. I watched four or five ants attempt to dislodge one of the unfortunate insects from a twig it had latched onto for a good fifteen minutes. Fascinating!
Back to the story. I made it to Pattaya that day and took some much needed rest after buying my ferry ticket. Pattaya is a trip, full of European tourists, chock full! The beach is crowded with speed boats, parasails, jet skis. Souvenir shops and bars abound, and down by the pier there is a street of debauchery that lays dormant in the day and stays open all night. I never went there, although the two young hostel workers tried to rope me in that night. I had pretty well sworn off drinking after Siem Reap, and I couldn’t afford to miss the boat.
The next day I made my way down to the ferry, went through the process of x-raying all my bags, after which I could relax. They even missed my sizeable scary knife, which was not allowed on the boat but ended up sitting peaceably in my carry-on nevertheless. We reached Hua Hin around three o’clock, but my inclination to cycle was totally gone. I actually rode 6 kilometers North into town to stay at a cheap hostel that night. My enthusiasm was gone. The strange sickness seemed to have left me more or less, but the heat! It was impossible to sleep at night for more than a few hours in the tent, which I had come to abhor. I decided to pay for accommodation as it suited me.
I stayed in a variety of guesthouses and motels. Most were roadside style, some were a bit seedy, some were surprisingly nice, all were within the price range of 9 to 11 dollars. It was cooler here than across the bay by a few degrees, which made a huge difference. The land narrowed and the road wound between the sea and the mountains.
A strange emptiness seemed to have taken hold of me. All I did was make distance, my sights set on Vipassana. At times I would remain in my hotel room for hours, feeling claustrophobic but accepting it as an allegory for my own mind. I would pace within some of the more cavernous places and scrutinize my goals and desires, egoic and otherwise. I came to the conclusion that it was simply an egotistical desire that prompted me to consider Australia. I heard the plans of others, and I became ambitious. I was considering Australia before I had even reached China, which is absurd! How could I have known how I would feel by now? Battered, almost broke, ground down. Satisfied. I am satisfied with the trip. Singapore seemed far enough at the outset; I hadn’t given a single thought to going further. So, the result of my contemplation was that I would go home from Singapore, my plans shifting once more to their original design.
Now I will jump to notes I took, in place of completing any real writing, more for the sake of convenience than for brevity, but fulfilling both:
—- May 8——-
I have started to process my trip now that I know I am heading home, and it hurts. It is quite apparent that the adventure ended when I left China. I don’t really intend to return to China, but the meat of the adventure was met in the deserts and the harsh winter. The best parts of the trip by far were Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan.
I have a hard time imagining any other part of the world providing the combination of factors I found there, perhaps Africa calls. I can find these things in my own country, however, perhaps, for the mountains are empty, and a defining aspect of adventure is desolation, isolation, a lack of support, an absence of civilized amenities. SE Asia is too easy. It’s not the heat, it’s not so much the duration of travel, but the convenience! Too easy! My goodness, what a strange epiphany, to feel low because the journey is not challenging enough.
Notes on S Thailand:
My hands are badly burned, day in and day out. Sunscreen sweats right off. If I get skin cancer it will be on the hands. Note to self: buy gloves.
No banana milk in Southern Thailand. I love it, but the 7-Elevens down here don’t stock it.
People drive like assholes- lot of cars driving up the shoulder on the wrong side of the road. A lot.
More trash. People throwing trash.
People obnoxious about greeting me- yelling and being silly. It seems that once one gets far enough from Bangkok, one becomes exotic again.
Homeless looking people. Haven’t seen many homeless people at all in Asia, a few in China, some in Bangkok. More down here.
I saw a Sizzler’s. It made me sad. I found myself in a KFC. The chicken was delicious, very high quality.
In Chumphon I stayed at a little hostel that was more like an Airbnb, with huge, comfortable beds, a lovely communal area and a nice bathroom. My only roommate was an older British fellow named John, and for some reason they put us right next to each other. We hit it off though, and he was quite impressed with my trip, full of questions.
It was a mellow evening for the most part. I talked to John for an hour or two before he went outside for a smoke. I took the time to respond to some emails and became absorbed in my work. After a while I thought John had been absent for some time, but he’s his own man, so I thought no more of it. I heard some tapping, and assumed they were doing some rearranging in the shop below us, but when the noise moved to one of the windows outside the room, I decided to investigate. As I approached I saw two hands grasping the ledge of the window. I peeked over the edge, and who was it but John standing on the roof! He had managed to get locked out, and had been trying to infiltrate the building for a good hour! Unfortunately our room is very well insulated and there was no way for me to hear him yell. When I let him in, I saw a ladder set up below a very small window in front, and the means by which John had made it to the room window was via a very fragile looking stretch of roof. Oh man! He had been tinkering quite diligently out here and I should have known! He was quite happy to be inside, however, and had feared I was asleep and he would be trapped outside all night. Just another story to add to the pile.
I decided to take a rest day in Surat Thani after ten days without a break. I found a lovely hostel right on the river that was super cheap, with really cool looking capsule bunks. I showed up after another long, hot day and was shown into a different room entirely, which consisted of eight mattresses tightly packed in a row on the ground in a low but well-lit room. It was empty. I didn’t mind it, as I had it to myself, although I was a little disappointed not to experience the capsule rooms. The walls were white, the bedding was white, and was reminiscent of a mental hospital.
My note taking has failed me, for I met a German teacher with a very cool name I can no longer recall, but we toured the night bazaar together in search of some food. She was stationed in my bunk room, and the first question I asked was whether they assigned her the bed right next to mine. Thankfully, they put her at the other side of the room.
The day-off was uneventful. I did some laundry and finished and edited a handful of short stories that wanted attention. I was moved to a capsule room, which I had mixed feelings about, as I wanted to see the rooms but did not relish having to move. I took it amenably though, life is too short and I didn’t ask for an explanation.
That evening I decided to have a beer, as I was feeling restless, in order to help me sleep and get an early start the next day. Three Westerners happened upon the hostel who weren’t staying there, but ordered some beers.
“That’s a nice Surly you got there,” I heard in an American accent. I looked up and beheld a very Pacific Northwest type fellow speaking to me. I smiled and thanked him, and asked him where he was from. “Oregon,” he replied.
Well I’ll be. He invited me to join him and his friends, a young couple from Sweden. We emptied a number of beers and talked until about midnight. My new friend Jimmy has owned a few Surly’s, a big mountain-biker. He lived in Bend for years, and used to live in Corvallis too, a town I lived in for many years. To hear him mentioning trails and restaurants I used to frequent ( “The Dream (American Dream Pizza), Extendo trail, McDonald forest) was super surreal, and really made my week! He lives and works in Surat Thani, and I was sorely tempted to stay another day, but it was going to be a close thing making it to Vipassana on time. It is not often one encounters another long-term traveller with such a similar background and I wanted to pick his brain about his own experiences away from home. The next day I continued on, feeling surprisingly fresh considering how much beer I drank the night before.
I started doing big days from here, at least 120k a day, hoping to sneak another rest day in, but it was not to be. By the time I made it to Kuantan, that day in Surat Thani was the only one I took off in 20 days.
May 8- Entering Songkla
I became delirious riding into Songkla. Here are my notes:
Runner’s high/schizophrenia, experiencing God, acid regression. Shaky limbs, legs feel weird, grinning at people, glad I have my sunglasses on because I feel insane and feel like I could be arrested. 100k, no food, just coffee and soda, not smart. Staring at the circle people, they walk among us…
You gotta eat when you exercise. The “circle people” is a reference to the depictions of people on crosswalk signs: I thought to myself, we have all these pictures of people with round heads, but I have never seen them! Do they truly walk among us? You can get high without drugs kids, just exercise.
May 9- En route to Pattani, it is very humid.
The room last night was pretty rough, a lipstick kiss on the mirror, stained walls. In the night, cockroaches of various size emerged and scuttled around the bathroom. Seemed like a place to bring a cheap prostitute. Some hotel rooms, poorly lit as they are, make you feel like nothing else exists outside of the room, and you become quite claustrophobic.
Rammadan is begun. More covered heads as I get South.
Easter in France, Easter in Aranyapratet. Rammadan in Turkey, Rammadan in Malayasia.
I am happier knowing I have a goal in mind. It was a mistake to extend the trip in my head, because then I couldn’t see the end. The nature of a trip like this, and more importantly, the way I do it, the way I am, necessitates that I have a goal, for it gives me direction. Otherwise the world is just a giant treadmill and I really can’t handle that.
Deciding to go home has allowed me to start processing the trip. It is weird. I read the first couple of posts I wrote in Portugal and I was really surprised. I didn’t write them- by which I mean, I don’t relate to the perspective of the person who wrote them, my past self. I was comforted by this observation.
Booked a room in Pattani 120k from where I stayed last night. No inclination to camp any longer. Saw some huge spiders two days ago, btw, it is getting more tropical. It’s pretty down here. More forest and clean rivers. I am looking forward to a cold Oregon Fall, whenever I find myself there again.
BIGASS spiders. Not too scary though. Rain storm had me trapped for two hours.
Really different vibe South of Pattani, very muslim, but different than other Islamic countries I have visited. Even the toddler girls wear hijabs, and the men dress very Muslim. Very friendly though, and the women are not forbidden to look at and talk to men! All muslim countries seem to be very friendly!
Really muggy and cloudy. Big consecutive days.
Stayed in a room above a brothel.
J**** T&%$@*k! I have arrived in Malaysia, and what a day it has been! I budgeted my time and my money to a tee, but was thwarted at the border. The ferry was not running, due to “technical difficulties.” I shared a few expletives with the fellows who informed me, one of which kindly echoed each one I uttered.
This tacked on another 40 kilometers to my journey and left me 20k short of where I expected to be that day. I was also pretty much out of money.
I expressed a desire to the universe that someone would give me something for free, as I was now very short on cash and it was very hot. Within ten minutes a fellow flagged me down and gave me a bag with a water, an electrolyte drink and an energy drink, all cold. I thanked him courteously. How about that!
Easiest border crossing ever- accidentally left Thailand and had to go back for a stamp. No atms. Rain. Can’t find the facking hotel. A guy called me rich. This annoyed me. People think that if they had more money they would be happier, and this is a great deception. I can tell you from my own experience, you are the source of your misery, not the world, not the economy, not the system, not your parents, not your environment.
Accidentally suggested that my bike was worth more than the receptionist made in six months in an attempt to get my bike inside. Whoops. I don’t know if she understood me, but that was very rude of me. A carry-over of the fake worry that we would pull in China. Less tactful here. Got my bike inside though.
Malaysia has different outlets. Dang.
There’s nowhere to run man, you are cornered by yourself. Sometimes it takes a big change to make you realize that your problems aren’t going to be solved from the outside. I was miserable in the States and I am hardly different now, but I know that I must take responsibility for myself. Things I don’t like about my life will not change if I do not change them, particularly when it comes to attitude and outlook. Only contemplation and active experimentation will work: you have to DO differently in order to change, and in order to change you have to try new things and give up old habits.
Tomorrow I begin Vipassana. I have exhausted myself so much getting down here I haven’t had time to think about it. Perfect.
It has been a haul though, I’ve been pulling a lot of 120k days, and that last 20 is what gets you. I still have 65k tomorrow, which should be relatively easy to cover before 4 o’clock, by which time I am supposed to arrive.
What a crazy ride it has been. Malaysia is a fascinating country, and a good send off for the end of my trip. I am ready for home. I am ready to write a book and make some music and see my family. I am ready to drive down the West coast of North America and feel the brisk wind, sense the calm fortitude of the firs, pines, sequoias. I speak their language, I am of the same soil. Nothing compares to one’s native land after long travel!
What will it say to me?
I am sitting here by the ocean, looking straight out toward home, nothing in between myself and the West coast of the U.S. but the Philippines and a great ocean. It is quiet here, but for the hypnotic, soothing rhythm of the waves. When I return, there will be noise. Cities, power tools, traffic, chatter, clamor. There will be the laughter and sorrow of loved ones, relationships and the chaotic, mellifluous cacophony of children. There will be worry and woe, work, bills, stress, strivings, dreams broken and pieced back together. We cannot know what we are destined for. I think I must take this peaceful quietude inside of me, sequester some of it away and seal it, so that there may ever be a harmonious balance between the riotous externalities of life and an inner calm, stable and still, against which all the jarring notes of life might be quelled.