Thailand 2002

Fri Dec 13, 2002

 Bangkok, Bangkok!


Sawat dee khrap!

This issue deals with FAQ - questions asked (or implied) by my readers:

Q: Where do I live?
A: I live in inexpensive guest house in the middle of Bangkok's
backpackers ghetto. For many of my readers the word "ghetto" has obvious
negative connotations, so some explanations are due. Imagine several
city blocks populated exclusively by people under 30 (and mostly over 18)
The Internet cafes are door to door, as well as bars, restaurants and
inexpensive hotels. The party goes on non-stop, it only slows down in
the early morning hours when roosters and screaming cats take over. Of
course, it's nothing like Greenwich Village - first of all it's warmer,
secondly it's cheaper, thirdly there are no roosters in New York. And
finally there is some exotics... What's that? I just was passed by an
elephant who had a blinker attached to its tail... Nice honk too, but no
turn signals.
The hotel itself is a very basic room, but clean like if it's a hospital.
Thais are very hygiene-conscious people. Other than that the place has
no character and also offers zero opportunities for socializing. I
hardly see any other tenants. This place was recommended to me by a
friend, and I wonder what was her motive? There are dozens of other
places on the same street that seem to be much more appealing, but they
are already fully booked. On the other hand I am staying in BKK only for
few days - so the lack of socializing doesn't make much difference.
Another nuisance is that my room doesn't have el. outlet where I can
recharge the batteries for my camera - so I might change the hotel for
this reason alone.

Q: What do I eat?
A: There are thousands of improvised cafes on the streets, 1-2 cook run
operations. Food is digestible, very cheap (30-50 cents per course), but
I haven't yet discovered anything as tasty as Thai food in Manhattan. I
tried proper restaurants as well ($1.5-2 per course), but haven't noticed
any difference in quality. On thing that should be mentioned is that
food is very spicy, something that probably makes it safe for western
stomachs. If bacteria can survive in local curries, there could be life
on Venera. So, if you plan to visit Thailand in near future, better
start training you palates now. Oh, apples here are very good and not
spicy at all. Huge, individually wrapped, delicious - perfect for
practicing Lenny's drills (sorry, it's an inside joke)

Q. How do I move around?
A. Mostly walking. Take taxis for longer distances. Buses here are
almost free, but even a taxi ride costs on average as much as subway trip
back home. So it just seems to be too much trouble to figure bus routes,
stops, waiting, etc... One problem though that applies to both walking
and taxiing is left-side traffic. Each time driver turns into a "wrong"
lane, I reach for my non-existent left-side steering will and try to
steer the other way... Another reflex that I should unlearn is reaching
for my pocket each time I hear phone ringing.

Q: What do I see?
A: The old BKK temples are magnificent - I was impressed even when I saw
these spires from the distance. And at close range I was awe-struck.
Forget Paris, forget London, forget S.Petersburg... I could have had a
similar feeling when I saw Giralda in Seville - but the point is that
BKK's temples are some of the finest architectural achievements I ever
saw. Definitely never saw so much glitter. Civilizations less
intelligent than Thais spent insane amount of gold to achieve glitter,
but Thais used mosaic of colored glass, porcelain and mirrors - with much
more dazzling effect. I uploaded some pictures online, but I don't
believe that still photos are capable of capturing this incredible
razzle-dazzle. The pictures are un-editted and as such they are not as
good as they will be after I re-upload them in February. But for really
impatient the URL is

A note on Thai language - it's impossible to learn. Even the so called
"phonetic" transliteration is full of confusion. First of all if it's
phonetic why there are so many silent "h"? (like int ThAILAND) Secondly,
some other letters are silent as well, i.e. the politeness expression
"khrap" is pronounced more like "cup" and not as "crap" as some of
un-initiated would think. Go figure...

Hasta luego amigos! (that's not what Thais say for good-bye, but it's the
best I can do)


Sun Dec 15, 2002



1. Western Bangkok
2. I am a celebrity!
3. Thai-English
4. Are you tired!
5. Traffic patterns
6. Sound and Light show!

Some of you said that after reading my previous story you felt like going
to Bangkok as well... This is a rather unintended effect, because as for
myself I don't feel like going back there. In two days it seems like I
saw all the best and the worst it has to offer. things it has to offer.
Therefore to correct your irrational exuberance now I intend to go on
rambling about the expansion of worst features of the Western culture.
Donkey-Donuts, Macdonalds, KFCs are all over, most popular drink - Pepsi,
when I ask for orange juice - they bring Fanta! If I compared
backpackers section of BKK to Greenwich Village with Asian flavor, then
the rest of the Bangkok is more like westernized version of New York's
Chinatown. Same people, same stuff sold on the streets, the only
difference is that here in Thailand everybody speaks basic transactional
English. After all my unsuccessful efforts to learn several Thai words,
it's truly amazing to see that all "babushkas" selling fried bugs, can
conduct their business in English. BTW, they taste like chicken (bugs
not babushkas), but crunchier - or so I heard. Don't expect miracles
though - very few Thais speak English beyond whatever basics is required
for their bug-trade (or whatever else they sell). But in any case even
the knowledge of English numbers already puts them (babushkas not bugs)
way ahead of many unnamed Western nations. I give Thais lots of respect
for their linguistic ability (even if it makes me feel mentally inferior)
Of course, there are some funny moments too - today I was shopping for a
hat and learned that they come in different sizes. The one that fit was
"Regular-Medium. Waist 32-34, Inseam 31-35" Or when I asked for fish in
some lakeside restaurant, the waitress girl smiled and left. 20 minutes
later after I talked to her again I figured that the first time she just
didn't understand my request, but chose not to argue :)

One cool thing about Thailand is rather personal - finally I found a
place where I am not mistaken for a local. As a matter of fact I
probably look very exotic - everywhere I go I notice some kind of
commotion. Little children come over to touch me and squeak "hello",
schoolgirls giggle and ask me to pose in a picture with them... what's
going on? I am sure I am not the first westerner they see - there are
plenty of tourists roaming the streets. Hey, people who were in Thailand
before, did you also receive same kind of attention - or is it just me?

So, after 2 days in BKK, I traveled north to Ayuthaya (sounds like Are
You Tired in Thai-English) - old Thai capital. This splendid city was
captured and burned by Burmese in 18th century. Even though the invaders
were expelled only few months later, the city has never regained its
prior glory. What's left now are the ruins of dozens of monasteries -
huge stone-walled complexes with temples , palaces, etc. Many ruins are
in very good condition and it's quite easy to see that Ayuthaya used to
be a very impressive city. It still is, at least its old - ruined part.
The modern section is like most of Bangkok - absolutely faceless and
thoroughly westernized.
The monasteries are quite apart from each other and even further from my
hotel, so I rented a bicycle to move around quickly, effortlessly and
with a breeze. Hey, what a great city transport! That's how I thought
before I got a flat and had to hire a taxi to bring me and my bike back
to the rental place.
BTW, why don't they make bike tires of solid rubber (or anything else
that doesn't have to be pumped)? I've been pondering this question for
the last 25 years, can somebody finally enlighten me? In meanwhile I'd
like to report to my readers that after some trial and error I moreorless
figured the left-side driving patterns. Main difficulty was aparently
not the conversion from right to left, but lack of consistensy - Thai
drivers will drive on any side of the road, usually picking the one which
has less traffic.
However despite the obvious road dangers, the renting process couldn't be
simplier - no deposits, collaterals, credit checks or release forms.
Only one thing is said: "bring it back before 7"
-May I bring it back tomorrow morning?
-Where do you stay?
-Across the street...
-Sure, no problem, bring it back tomorrow.
Now, that's something that I like here!

Finishing with the subject of Ayutaya, I'd like to mention (especially
for Russian readers) that surprisingly this city invoked the memory
images of Suzdal - a city in Russia, part of the so called Golden Ring.
Both are small towns with big history and mind-boggling number of ancient
temples and monasteries - all of which are in various state of disrepair.
Both are UNESCO Heritage Cites - the only difference is that Suzdal is
much more North East. Well, maybe there are few more differences as well,
but certainly not in urban fauna. Sparrows, pigeons and squirrels seem
to exist all over the world. The ways of Nature are truly amazing - why
pigeons? Why not something useful, pleasant to look at, and not capable
of flying over new hats?

Did I say finishing with the subject? No! I forgot to mention the Sound
and Light show - the true highlight of my stay. Just imagine the warm
tropical night, full moon, quiet lake that reflects the ancient temple
that towers on the opposite bank... Well that's the stage and the
decorations. When I initially mentioned the show to one of the fellow
backpackers I misnamed it as Laser show. Then I immediately corrected
myself - they certainly haven't heard of lasers in this part of the
world. Wrong! The show was of amazing technical sophistication - beats
all Disney World productions. It had almost everything - staged naval
and land battles, complete with raging fires and explosions, elephants,
horses, fireworks, laser Buddha images projected on the walls of the
temple and even movies and images displayed on the 6 meter screen created
by fountains... It starts however with what seems to be a national
anthem - because everybody, including little children, got up from their
seats and stood straight until it was over. Some day, I'll post the
pictures, but in meanwhile you still have a chance to see it with your
own eyes. The show is on every night until Dec 22nd - it's part of the
annual UN Heritage celebrations and I was quite lucky to get to Ayuthaya
exactly at the time of festivities.

Well, this was one long message.. Are you tired? I am... Good night
folks (or whatever time of the day you have now)



Tue Dec 17, 2002

  Baht show  

Greetings from Khao Yai national park!

A guide asked:
-Would you like to go to baht cave? (MM: Baht - is local currency)
-Would like to see a million baht flying?

This sounded like a real extravaganza. It immediately invoked the
childhood memories of Russian weddings when money will be thrown in the
air and kids would start squirming on the floor picking up the coins.
I'd usually collect more than others and back then I liked weddings.
However I indulged in these pleasant memories only for few moments time
it took me to realize that the guide must be talking about "bats". Well,
a million bats flying - this also sounds like a show.
The performers in this show are millions of tiny flying mammals - each
about the size of a big moth. They make their exit every evening at
around 6pm. From the observation point it first looks like a column of
smoke rising from a mountainside. The column grows and at some point
looks like a giant snake - wiggling, bending, twisting across the sky.
When bats fly directly overhead the direction of individual bats seems to
be erratic, but as whole they manage to maintain this wiggling snake
formations for hundreds meters - or as far as eye can see. And the
flapping of millions of tiny wings creates an audible sound, like if you
are standing under highway overpass. The show lasts for 10-15 minutes
and when it seems that it's finally over - another snake rises from the
mountain. Guide explained that the last group to leave are females. Huh!
I knew that!

Thu Dec 19, 2002



Dear all,

It's always a pleasure to receive your feedback, no matter how sweet or
mean it is. I love it either way. I especially like the suggestions and
corrections to my letters, whether it's a missing comma or matters of
greater importance. I.e. one of the attentive readers suggested that
Donkey-Donuts might be in fact different from more familiar Dunkin Donuts
chain. Well, it well could be. He also inquired whether considering
local eating customs KFC stands for Korean Fried Cricket? Personally I
doubt that it's the case. Yesterday, for instance, I ordered Thai
ice-tea, you know the kind that they serve in New York and what I've got?
A bottle of Lipton! To and an injury to the insult, local variety of
Lipton has trice the usual amount of sugar. It's almost like drinking
maple syrup.

Talking about different food items, I posted the pictures of the more
unusual of them online. My site at now has many
new pictures from Ayutaya and Khao Yai park.

Finally, the news of the day - I am in Pattaya. It's another western
city, but no longer a Chinatown, no, it's a larger and improved version of
Miami's South Beach. This time the difference is that of doubling signs
in Spanish, here they are doubled in German and Russian. For many miles
along the beach there is an endless array of hotels, clubs, bars... Yes,
bars - I never saw so many bars in all other cities combined. There are
streets of bars, there are city blocks of bars, there are huge open
markets where every stall is a bar... All of these bars are operated by
several friendly hostesses who entertain customers in a variety of
ways... i.e. playing bar games. One of the games is similar to
tic-tac-toe, but apparently more difficult, because I lose to bar girls
almost all the time. Well, it's time for me to go back for another
round. Therefore I'll have to tell you about my kite-surfing experiences
in the next issue.

Sun Dec 22, 2002

Kitesurfing in Pattaya 


Hello everybody,

I am still in Pattaya. One of my primary reasons for coming here was
learning to kitesurf because this is one of the few places in the world
where there are appropriate conditions for this sport and also there are
people who know how to teach. Of course I could have also done it in
Brooklyn at 5-6 times the local price. Is there something that New York
doesn't have that money can buy? Well, I haven't seen any fried bugs
Anyway, upon subscribing to the classes I learned that kite-surfing is
considered to be an extreme sport. Hmm... I wouldn't have guessed - it
looked so peaceful from the shore :)
But after the first time I crashed my small trainer kite into the sand
with an impact of a small nuclear weapon, I could see the extreme element
in it. Especially for the people lying on the beach. So far I haven't
yet been in immediate danger, except when riding local motorcycle taxis
to the kitesurfing beach, but it's already a separate story.
Going back to surfing - Flo, my instructor, is one of those crazy
Frenchmen that end up hanging upside down from the statue of Liberty when
their skydiving stunts go wrong. He's a professional kite-surfer,
windsurfer, snowboarder and even professional rollerblader. Since he's
originally from Alps, I bet he's a damn good skier too. Of course, as it
happens with all the people who push their luck a bit too far he's got a
bunch of injuries - but as it happens with all crazy people it didn't
stop him from doing stunts. BTW, most of his injuries were from
rollerblading - many of us can learn an important lesson here - wear
protection, particularly the wrist guards. Yes, I am writing this for
you - you know who you are.
Anyway, according to Flo, all of his previous students survived and this
is all that matters. One of them even opened his own kite-surfing
school (and this wasn't Flo's best student) My own progress however is
very modest. Nevertheless Flo is quite confident in his teaching skills
and my abilities. He blames it all on insufficient wind: "Do you see
anybody else kite-surfing in these conditions?" Well, it seemed to be a
good point.
Today, finally the wind was OK and I managed to got up and ride several
meters on the board... Too bad that it was my last day in Pattaya, next
time you see me riding - this will be already in Brooklyn.

There are many things to be said of Pattaya, I could have easily spent a
month here, but today is my last evening and this note must end. If you
read that far - there are several pictures of Pattaya in new fotki album:


Tue Dec 24, 2002

   X-Mas in Ao Nang


Hello all,

I think I am done with complaining. In my 2 weeks in Thailand I finally
got used to the idea that there is not much Asia can be found here. Who
knows, maybe this is for the better. Even when I compared local places
to New York's Chinatown or South Beach in Miami I had to admit that Thai
version much better than the US originals.
Yesterday I finally arrived to the Southernmost point of my trip - city Ao
Nang in Krabi region of Thailand. This is the place where all the
remaining traces of Asia have disappeared, all one can see are sparkling
rows of brand name shops, fancy restaurants, expensive 5-star resorts,
all decorated for X-Mas... (never mind that Thailand is a Buddhist
country - business is business) And based on what I saw on the beach the
clientele are mostly Swedish bikini models - is not it the perfect
tropical Paradise? No wonder one of James Bond movies (I think
Goldfinger) was shot in this area. However if you'd like to escape all
this ritz and glitz, there is a stretch of relatively undeveloped beaches
only few hundred meters away. These few hundred meters are composed of
vertical impassable cliffs that so far have managed to slow down the
onslaught of civilization. These cliff-protected beaches, accessible
only by boat, are indeed spectacular. Beautiful waters, the finest white
sand, and weirdly shaped rocks covered with tropical forest. Oh, the
picture won't be complete without huge sea caves with overhanging
stalactites and... did I already mentioned swedish bikini models?
Because of the busy holiday season the beaches are very populated but
still far from being crowded. And if you don't mind a short hike with
some elements of rock-climbing and rappelling - there is a place that
reminded me the Lost World of Conan Doyle. It's a small circular lagoon,
less then 100m in diameter surrounded on all sides by vertical limestone
wall about 60-70m tall. When I stood in the middle of the lagoon (it's
quite shallow) and looked at all the surrounding cliffs this place seemed
prehistoric - the way it was before humans climbed down from trees.
But beware, the civilization is encroaching fast - there are new
construction sites all over, and today I saw huge barge being unloaded
right at the beach. The cargo was all toilet paper rolls. Many
thousands of them. So if you'd like to see this placed still unspoiled,
better come down here quickly - before all this paper is used up.


Wed Dec 25, 2002

Readers Mail 

Here are some questions which may interest other people on the list:

> I have 2 questions about the pictures in Khao Yai album:
> 1) in the one where you're lying on a liana - what are those things
> you're wearing on your legs below the knees? Is it for protection
> against insects/snakes?

These are leech socks - protection against leeches (piyavok) - little
blood-sucking worms.
Even though now is low-leech season, they were quite useful. I caught
one leech on my pants and two people from our group who did not wear
these socks got quite a few on their legs. One of them was our guide who
would quickly spot and remove them and another was silly american girl
who probably decided that they are not fashionable. She actually ended
up making blood donation to local ecosystem.

> 2) in the picture of the night sky, are those bats flying?

Yes, these are bats - sorry that's the best picture I could do under the
given light conditions. I made a couple of short movie clips though,
will show them when I come back.

3) what to do if I deleted your message and now regret it?

You can get it from archive:

P.S. I have several subjects for my travel notes that I didn't have time
to publish and it is not likely I'll be able to publish them all. Do
you have any preference which of them you'd like to see published:

1) Driving in Pattaya
2) Buddha Mountain or U-Tapao?
3) Which way is Tiger Cave?
4) Mr.Bean at Ao Nang

Fri Dec 27, 2002

Daily routine in Ao Nang

I don't know if I am entitled to write travel notes. After all I am not
traveling anymore - I am staying in a resort town and getting used to the
"package-tourist" routine. Every day starts and ends the same - I get up
at 8 - 8:30am a bus arrives to my hotel that takes me to the meeting
point for the day activity. One day it's snorkeling, another
rock-climbing, next one canoeing or jungle hike - the choice is
extensive. After it's done - a boat takes me home, I shower and go to
the beach to watch the beautiful sunset (didn't happen yet, but I am
still hopeful). After that I have rather unremarkable dinner and go for
a stroll along the Beach street. Looking at shop windows, recognizing
some familiar faces of fellow-strollers, demonstrate my evening
outfits... Than I stop at La Dolce Vita (Southern Thai for Sweet Life)
and have a scoop of excellent ice-cream. At home I was able to achieve a
similar taste by mixing up plombir with large quantities of home made
sour-cherry jam. However La Dolce Vita uses similar technology with
blueberries and the result is just as good. Then I sit in Internet cafe,
enjoying the ice-cream and contemplating my next day activity. Maybe
However, a friend just sent me a note suggesting that I rent a scooter
and head to un-touristy parts of the South. Hmm... maybe instead of
scuba tomorrow, I'll go find out whether I already know how to ride
scooters? It's less than a week before my flight to Nepal, so I also
need to think whether I have enough time for any major unplanned
adventures. Will see.
And in meanwhile I found where the social life in Ao Nang happens - under
and up the rocks! As I climbed up today - I met 3 New Yorker girls on my
way up, and one Californian on my way down. I also was kind enough to
lend my rock shoes to the local movie star - I hope she'll get my name in
the credits.

Fri Jan 3, 2003

Bye-bye Thailand  

Finally I got back to Bangkok - to more sophisticated Internet systems,
and was able to upload many new pictures. You can look for updates in my
Bangkok, Pattaya and Southern Islands albums at
...Hey, where did you all go? I still have some other things to say!
First of all words "finally got back to Bangkok" don't accurately
describe what I feel. I left South rather reluctantly, three weeks in
Thailand weren't nearly enough. I only started developing the taste for
the country and catching on some of the Thai words. This language
sometimes is surprisingly logical: i.e. cat is "meaw". However it's
also very inconsistent, because the word for dog is "maa"...
So, what is a good stretch of time to see Thailand? I still don't know.
I met one girl who spent 4 weeks on one beach - Ton Sai, a somewhat
secluded place a bit South from westernized Ao Nang. Imagine 4 weeks
sleeping, eating, rock climbing, swimming in tropical ocean, stretching on
finest quality beach... and then sleeping, eating, rock climbing...
As for myself, I find tropical islands addictive. I can easily see myself
getting used to this lifestyle. Alas it was not part of my original plan
and tomorrow I am flying towards adventures in Himalayas. Soon you'll
hear from me from the top of the world.

Hasta luego amigos,


P.S. Just remembered one observation that I made in many countries and
always wanted to share. It's about total lack of mathematical skills
among the majority of world's population. It seems that old-school
soviet teachers were right - calculators are the worst enemy of brain
cells. I've seen people all over, from Israel to Brazil and from Peru to
Thailand aren't even aware that simple arithmetical operations can be
performed without any electrical aids. People reaching for calculators
when adding 10 to 20 - I don't exaggerate, saw it many times. Forget
about subtraction - it's not even discovered. If I cross out an item
from the bill, they'll just recalculate the whole amount from the start.
The problems arise only when dealing with dates - these are really
complicated. Today a clerk at the luggage storage facility had an
impossible problem: I left my luggage on December 18th and picking it up
on January 3rd. So how much money do I owe him if the cost of one day is
10 Baht? After scratching his head for a while, he finally got an idea -
reached for the calendar and started counting days one by one. But
apparently he run out of fingers because he came up with a rather
surprising result: 100 Baht. Well, I didn't argue - let it be his
punishment for not doing his homework.