Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thailand's Tuk-Tuks

Writing during a layover at another Asian airport to be revealed soon, and while taking one last glance at the various Tuk-Tuks found throughout Thailand, I can share with the Tuk-Tuk Talker readership that my unexpected and enjoyable four months in Thailand has, at least for now, come to an end.
I am currently in Seoul, South Korea, passing the time until my flight to Los Angeles, the city I call home, but a place in which I have not spent much time the past ten years. It will be good to be home after three years of European and Southeast Asian travel in order to revel in family and friends and all that California and the United States have to offer.
After four months of dating abroad, Paige and I will treasure time at home and look to see what the future holds, but don't think that just because we're going home that the travels will conclude. Though we have scheduled trips to Seattle, Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas, Kansas City, Washington D.C. and New York to visit family and friends, the Tuk-Tuk Talker simply isn't valid outside of Southeast Asia. So after a couple more entries, the Tuk-Tuk Talker, and three years of travel blogging, will come to an appropriate conclusion as I return home.
One day soon I will return to Sweden. One day soon I will return to Thailand. I will continue to enjoy travel and enjoy, most of all, the people around the world found along the way.
A little update on Seoul and South Korea coming next week.
See you then.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Tour of Thailand - A Visit From Friends

Towards the end of our time, at least for now, in Thailand, Paige and I hosted friends from Southern California, Jason and Laura.
Hua Hin, Chiang Mai, Bangkok. Beaches, jungles, zip line, elephants, spicy food, fruit drinks. It was a vacation in Thailand, with all the best the wonderful Thai people have to offer. Thanks for a great 10 days, friends.
Just a few more submissions to the Tuk-Tuk Talker, everyone.
See you tomorrow for a special double dose this week and a bit more information about my plans.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thailand Fun Facts

To any of you paying attention, you know this blog was delayed almost a week. My consistency is starting to fail, perhaps a foreshadowing of what is coming, but for now, thanks for your patience....
Just some fun facts, that never quite fit in any one category, from Thailand that every traveller to Thailand should know:

  • Never touch the top of someone's head - just as the feet are considered a degrading part of the body and you should be conscious of them, the head is considered a sacred part and should not be casually touched.

  • In all of Asia, pedestrians do not, I repeat, DO NOT have the right-of-way on the streets. My advice when wanting to cross a street in Thailand is to wait for Thai people to lead the way and just follow....

  • While the outside roads and some public spaces may not be spic 'n span, the insides of all Thai homes and business are as clean as can be. Always remove those shoes so you don't get the spotless floor dirty. One of the images that will always be in my head from Thailand is the focused sweeping of floors and walkways by Thai people. Inside it's cleaner than anywhere in the Western world, including even Sweden!

  • In Thailand, it's all about the rice. The verb "to eat" in the Thai language even includes the word "rice."

  • Walking around Bangkok, there might not always be the friendly sidewalks you're used to when you're home. Just beware that an easy walk can become riddled with obstacles with only one turn. My advice of course is to take a tuk-tuk. Also highly recommended is the Sky Train above-ground subway. Great air-conditioning on that thing.

  • There's not really a "winter, spring, summer or fall" in Thailand or SE Asia. It's more like "rainy, hot, hotter or hottest." We're in the hotter season right now - April and May are the hottest.

  • Just a couple more entries on the Tuk-tuk talker, then things change...stay tuned.
Pictures above:
1. The Giant Swing, which people actually swung from "Buccaneer Ride-style" in the early 1900s, is one of about three or four iconic symbols of Bangkok.
2. Exotic orchids and lilies are quintessential tropical and always catch one's eye around here.
3. The Royal Barges, an oft-used symbol of royalty and regality in this water-dominated part of the world, are an overrated tourist attraction in Bangkok.
4. Tiki wood is seen everywhere in Thailand, but not always in this dining room table set-up example.
5. In any traffic jam, you wanna be in a tuk-tuk.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Rickshaw Rider: An Excursion to India

For about the last five years, I have wanted to experience the one country that most people declare is the most culturally opposite of the United States, and therefore the pinnacle of a travel adventure. That country is India and that experience happened the past 10 days.

Paige and I joined a group from her church that was traveling not to the most highly sought out cultural locations - we missed the Taj Mahal this time - but to what I think is truly the best way to experience a country: Get outta the cities and into the small towns and villages. Our time in one small city and surrounding endless villages (India has 1 billion people) and one large city was exhilarating, and inspiring.

Ongole is a small city close to the eastern coast above Chennai (Madras in the British Empire) and you are aware of Kolkata (Calcutta in the old British Empire), which alone has 60 million people. Yes, 60 million people, and it’s not even the largest city in India…

Some thoughts:

· Just standing on an Indian street, watching the motorbikes, auto-rickshaws, ox-carts, tour busses and herds of goats with goatherders whiz or meander by is worth a thousand pictures and more words. To the outsider it is the antithesis of western order and system, but all the Indians seem to get along just fine…just remember one thing, “honk.”

· Indian food is some of the best in the world, and unsurprisingly the best is in India – what a great 10 days of eating I’ve just had. Nan bread and curry just won’t be the same anywhere else, and ice cream never tasted so good as when it soothes the spice-laden mouth after Indian food IN India.

· Indians do not nod their head up and down to acknowledge communication; they shake their head from side to side in a figure eight, which to the westerner looks exactly like a head-bobble. Doing this as a westerner is great fun.

· Whether the big cities or the rural villages, women and their elaborate, colorful saris is the most ingrained image in my head. Beautiful, simply beautiful.

· The infamous Indian caste system is not as apparent to the traveler’s eyes as I thought it would be, but one conversation with an Indian reveals that it is, like most hierarchical social systems in the world based on race, ethnicity, money and/or class, alive and well….

· To be IN India when Slumdog Millionaire triumphed at the Oscars was simply impeccable timing…and speaking of impeccable timing:

· While in Calcutta visiting Mother Teresa's tomb, we had the privilege of witnessing Martin Luther King III, during a re-tracing of his father's steps through Ghandi's India 50 years earlier, pay his respects, and give a speech to the 150 onlookers. This was unplanned and unthinkable timing, as the 20 photographers and journalists documented, of remembering two of our world's most revered symbols of peace and love. We just sat back and soaked in the moment. Here’s an article about our surprising morning:

· The Indian rickshaw is being replaced by the “auto” or “auto-rickshaw,” also known as the Tuk-Tuk in other countries, but along with the Taj Mahal and the sari dresses, will always be a symbol of India.

If you ever have a chance, go to India.

Keep in mind that your senses will be challenged, your wits will be outwitted and your instincts and intuition will be severely flummoxed, but if your travel motivations are true, it might not be better anywhere on earth. Don’t drive anywhere, cross a street at your own risk, but have the time of your life.

Back to Thailand, for just a few more weeks, next week.

Pictures above:
1. & 2.: An Indian village outside of Ongole. Bright colors and warm smiles...India!
3. Paige, in her beautiful sari, with one of our group's hosts.
4. Martin Luther King III visits Mother Teresa's resting place in Kolkata. Incredible timing for our group who just soaked in the unexpected moment.
5. The classic Indian rickshaw.