Susie Tour 2004 - Greetings from the Thai-Burmese Border

Ever have one of those days when you're glad that your typhoid vaccinations are up-to-date? Yeah, me too. So I was in the midst of my exploration of Bangkok's mass transit system. Having done well with the ferry which goes up and down the Chao Praya River (the the docking at each stop is always handled by men and the money collectors are all female - the men have this whistling system for docking and un-docking and the change ladies walk around shaking their metal change holders to get people's attention), I had decided to try exploring one of the cool smaller canals off of the river.

I had read in the Lonely Planet that if you took the local ferry to the end of the line, you'd get to see cool old teak houses and a peek at the way many, um, Bangkokonians (?), live. For the low, low price of only 60 baht (that's $1.66 to you and me at the current pathetic exchange rate) I could take a 2-hour tour ("a two-hour tour...) of the canal. Round trip. I was all over it. So, flash forward to me, knees pretty much to chest, in a long thin boat, two people wide and maybe 25 feet long (14 rows of folks, plus the boat man). Well, when we started out, there where a whopping 30 of us in this little craft which put us pretty low in the water. That's when I realized why there were these 2-foot wide Pepsi-Cola tarp like things running along each side of the boat. To try to keep the nasty water of the Chao Praya in the Chao Praya. Versus spraying gently in my hair, on my face, etc. Lovely. For a while, I was reconsidering my little adventure (but happy that I'm up-to-date on my typhoid shots).

Fortunately, after a few people got out (the boatman took many of them directly to the docks attached to their houses), the boat sat a little higher in the water and the spray lessened considerably. And it turned out to be quite cool. Lots of old teak houses, other boats, getting a peek in people's houses, seeing how they live etc.

So, net, Bangkok was good. And here I am now in an obscure part of northwestern Thailand: Mae Sot which is on the border with Burma. I drove here yesterday with my guide Ting (female) and my driver Jit (male). Ah yes, my staff. The princess tour continues... You know, it was funny as I negotiated the final price for this tour with the Thai travel agent, it seemed like a lot of money but I was a desperate, last-minute person, and it was within my budget, so that was that.

And then I arrived in Sukkothai, my first stop in northern Thailand. I come out of the airport and what do I see but Ting. Holding a placard with my name, and a bouquet of roses. Okaaaaay.....and then I meet Jit, too. And I see the car. Um, van thing-y. Giant Toyota van thing-y which can accomodate large American people. Of which you know I am not one. Let alone the TEN of them it can seat. Plus Ting and Jit. Alright-y then. The van has a little counter kind of thing which separates me from Ting and Jit - it holds a little cooler in which they keep water bottles and cool "refreshing towels". Oh, and there's a candy jar full of individually wrapped Mentos. Well, at least free bottled water and candy is part of the tour price!!

So on with Thailand. I think I made two good decisions today. One: I decided to turn back from hiking to the temple I was going to see when I encountered a forest fire in my path (Ting had lagged way behind so she was waiting for me a ways back). It wasn't a huge fire, maybe 20 feet long, but the flames were probably only 1-3 feet high, and I debated for a few minutes whether or not to go on. I figured if it stayed the same size after I crossed it to go to the temple, I would've been fine. But it's very dry here, there was lots of dead bamboo on the ground, and the wind was blowing. Reluctantly I turned back. It was only later, when I was in the giganto-van, that I thought , "darn, I should've asked Ting to take my picture in front of the fire!" And then I realized how stupid that was...

Good decision number two: we were going to see a Karen village (Ka like the cu in cup and ren like wren). Then a local person told us that it wasn't safe. Huh? What's up with that? Well, apparently, the Karen & Burmese are still fighting (the Karen are a hill tribe which spans part of Burma) but pretty much just at night. Since it was getting close to sundown (an hour or two), the shelling and stuff would likely ensue shortly. Needless to say, I decided to take a pass....

Okay, so no Karen village, no temple. But, on the very bright side, no BBQ-Susie and no, um mortar-fired Susie either. And the even better news was that we did go to a Gibbon Sanctuary. Gibbons are a lesser ape which are frequently smuggled from the wild to be pets for people (although how anyone could stand their howling and shreiking in their home is truly beyond me). When the Thai police find them, they turn them over to the sanctuary. Sad, but at least they get a good home for the remainder of their lives. It was really interesting - they have 36 of them right now. I got to hold Simon, a two-month old baby one who was born in captivity to a mother who got too freaked out to nurse him when he was born, so he's being raised by hand. Cool.

I'll finish up here shortly. But first, can someone please tell me what's with the Koreans and golf? I had to fly through Seoul (last minute trip and miles and all). So I land in Bangkok & my luggage took a while to come out. Out of sheer boredom (and trying to fend off the very minor panic that accompanies the jet-lagged waiting and waiting for my luggage), having noticed what seemed to be an unnatural number of golf bags, I decided to count how many were on the carousel. FIFTY FIVE in one revolution.

Okay, what else can I tell you in brief?

Thais seem to really love Christmas music, even though most of them are Buddhist not Christian, and they seem quite reluctant to give it up after the big day. I am, however, optimistic that I'll stop hearing renditions of White Christmas any day now.

My lunch today cost 15 baht. 10 for the noodle soup and 5 for the big bottle of water. That's 41 cents to you and me.

Sticky rice everywhere. On the roadside cooked with black beans and coconut milk, wrapped in bamboo and grilled. In the markets with coconut milk and bananas, wrapped in leaves and grilled. Steamed and served with mangos. Happy Susie.

Hung out in a little weaving village yesterday with the resident old ladies (Ting also fortunately makes a fab-oo translator). Bought some neat textiles, but the real treat was hanging out and learning more about how they live.

Ting is afraid of chickens. WHAT is up with that? How can you be a guide in northern Thailand and be scared of the most frequently encountered domestic animal? It's pretty funny to see her skitter whenever we're near them, though (and we have been near them quite a bit).

So that's it for now. So far it's going great. Relaxing and fascinating. I hope you all have a wonderful New Year's and another missive will surely follow in a bit.

Take care,


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