Monday, June 30, 2008

Thailand Essentials

There are, in my mind, a few essential things needed when you come to Thailand. You might not agree with me on all of them but these are the things I use on a daily basis.

1. an umbrella. This may not seem very important in a place that has such lovely weather. But mine gets carried around with me everywhere for a reason. In the rainy season there are always sudden unexpected down pours (so pays to expect them at all times). In all other seasons it's pretty hot and sunny and you are half as particular as I am about my skin, you'll be wanting to carry a brolly with you on these days too. It functions as your own personal shade and stops you getting burnt. A lot of women (and men!) do it to so don't worry about looking odd or out of place (Westerners see wrinkles as the first sign of ageing but for Asians it's skin discolouration and freckles so they stay out of the sun to avoid it happening early). If anything you'll fit in more. I even take to the beach with me so I can go for walks and always be in the shade.

2. a fabulously huge sun hat. This does the the job of keeping me out of the sun when my umbrella isn't practical, like on the ferry and sitting outside to eat. Plus it makes me feel ultra glamorous. Nothing bad about that.

3. a gorgeous pair of bathers. This is actually something I don't have yet but I'm totally on the hunt for a great pair. I've always thought vintage style bathers are far more alluring than modern ones. I have my eye on these, these and these. Oh and these. So pretty, too hard to chose.

4. long sleeved cover up. This is important for a couple of reasons. It gives you instant skin coverage in case you are getting too much sun (if you haven't noticed, I'm obsessed with keeping out of the UV). The other reason is, when you go into a lot of temples, you are not allowed to show your shoulders, sometimes even your arms*, because you need to demonstrate modesty to for the monks. But wearing this all day in the sweltering high Thai heat is both unpractical and unnecessary. Just pop the shirt in your bag and take it on and off as needed. Much better than the hassle and ick factor of borrowing clothes fro the temple.

*you'll also need to be wearing long pants/a skirt. This goes for guys too. Can't be showing those offensive ankles.

5. sunglasses. A MUST. You'll notice Thai people generally don't wear them. In fact, I have been made fun of quite a few times by Thai's for wearing mine "Hello, can you see me? ahahahahah!!". But I can't leave the house without them. What's the point of being all squinty all the time. All it does is give you wrinkles.

6. an adorable coin purse. You will accumulate a silly amount a coins. I find most purses and wallets are not equip for large amounts of shrapnel. I always like to use up my coins and give exact change (it's part of how I've been learning to count in Thai but more on that later). So my coin purse is invaluable. I use it so much, it's worn a hole in it.

7. high high high SPF sunscreen. I know I sound like a broken record (protect your skin RAAAAHHH) but it really is very important. The amount of foreigners I see, especially at the beach, burnt to a crisp is unbelievable. It's just soooo bad for you people. CANCER! I put sunscreen on 30 minutes before I leave the house no matter what I am doing or where I am going. At the beach I reapply it every hour and as soon as I get out of the water. Your skin will thank you.

8. face wipes. These are mostly a must for Bangkok. All the grime and filth in the air can really ingrain itself in you skin and it feels wonderful to was that muck off. These little babies just make it easy. They are also super convenient for the beach. TIP: keep then in the fridge for maximum refreshment, especially if you got to much sun at the beach (naughty naughty).

9. water and plenty of it. I think that explains itself really.

10. flat shoes. I walk everywhere. Walking around in high heels in Bangkok is a death sentence for you ankles. The pavement is all over the freaking place. Crack, holes, grates that are half fallen in, you name it I've seen it and walked over/around it. So if you're going to walk anywhere in BKK flat shoes are the safest and most comfortable option.

11. a hand fan. In case you haven't noticed yet, Thailand is freakin' hot. And not just hot, humid. So most foreigners sweat like pigs on spits. Fanning yourself just takes the edge off and stops you from looking like a drowning victim.

12. peppermint tea, my secret weapon. Don't get me wrong, Thai food is delicious. But it can upset you stomach like nobodies business. Not because of food poisoning but because of the spices. Most people just have a little trouble digesting so much ginger, garlic and chili. It can result in a painfully bloated belly. To counter this, I keep a huge jug strong, cold peppermint tea in the fridge. Fixes it up in no time. Brew some the night before in your hotel room and carry it round in a water bottle. You wont regret it.

Is there anything you think I should add?

This is completely gratuitous but I am completely obsessed with Polyvore. I would love to wear this to the beach! I consider that to a Thailand essential. Tehehehehehehe.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Arch Nemisis!

Photo by Timballa

I have an arch Nemesis, code name: Stinkeye Man. He goes to the gym the same time as me in the morning (which is 6am by the way. I know, I'm crazy). Every time I walk in, he gives me the most evil stink eye known to man.* He continues to give me the stinkeye for his entire work out. He also smells and doesn't bring a towel with him to wipe down the equipment (ewwwww!), number 47 on the "Elly's Pet Hates" list. Plus he doesn't use the gym stuff properly and wears inappropriate shoes. He just annoys the crap out of me. I still smile at him anyway when I walk in, even though he is a douche. And what do I get in return. The ol' stinkeye, that's what.

And NOW I think he is trying to get me to leave the gym. When I come in now he is using my favourite treadmill which is the first thing I use in the morning so I have to use the old one that's squeaky. Then he doesn't get off until I am done on mine so I can't use it. He also changes his speed every time I do and goes faster than I am going. He is definitely trying to make me feel so uncomfortable that I will leave.

To bad for him. I'm a stubborn SOB. The force is strong within me and I will not cross over to the dark side! Plus it gives me even more motivation to keep going, just to annoy him and, hypothetically, flip him off when he's not looking.

*Side note: Stinkeye Man is not as cute as this puppy.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Shaolin Soccer.

Photo by shutter art

This, is Takraw. It's a game native to South East Asia and it is one of the most awesomely insane things I have EVER SEEN!

Imagine, if you will, a game that is a mixture of soccer, volleyball, kung fu and hacky sac and Takraw is what you get. Alex and I are watching it right now on TV. Each team has 3 players. The ball is made of rattan and teams may only touch the ball with their feet, legs, chest, shoulders and back. To kick the ball over the net, they basically do a backflip. It is absolutley crazy and sooooo awesome. I suggest looking up some clips on youtube. You will not be dissapointed. I want to learn! It looks like all kinds of fun.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Happiness is....

is these two albums for me right now. *JOY*

Heavens to Betsey!!!

I have never been one to go gaga over a watch. I had a swatch watch once with fluro sports equipment on the band (ooohhh yeah) and and blue Baby G watch that I thought was the shizz. But the they were presents. I've always just had the status of meh when it comes to actually buyng myself watch.

Until I saw this watch by Betsey Johnson. I neeeeed it. Even the packagin is adorable! I'm a sucker for good packaging. I love that the face is covered aswell. I think it's totally me. It comes in other colours but I like the black. Now just to find a website that ells it and ships out of the US. Hmmmmmm.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hello Madam! Where you go?

This is the call of ubiquitous Tuk-Tuk driver, a native of the Bangkok region but a pest that has spread to all urban areas in Thailand. They lure unsuspecting tourists in with their friendly faces and promises to take you around Bangkok for the whole day for a mere 10 baht (around .30 cents Aussie). But the poor tourist finds themselves being taken to the various nests of the Tuk-Tuk driver which include shitty souvenir shops and "gem" *cough* cut glass *cough* stores. While this leaves the Tourist relatively unharmed aside from perhaps, their wallet, it does leave them extremely pissed off and with a terrible idea of Bangkok. It, however, does not have to be this way.

I am a firm believer in doing a lot of research on your destination before you travel. And not just on sights to see and places to eat but on dangers and annoyances as well. This seems like common sense but if I had a dollar for every tourist I've heard complaining about Tuk-Tuk drivers, well, you know the rest.

Any guide book* will tell about how crappy Tuk-Tuks are. For those not in the know, a Tuk-Tuk is basically the result of a lawn mower and a motorcycle having babies (and what disappointed parents they would be). Add in some gaudy decorations to catch people's eye and you have a tourist trap on wheels. And of course tourist like to take them! They are honestly kind of fun. But you have to weigh up that cost with the possibility of having a pretty horrible day if you get a rip off merchant for a driver (which is almost always).
The basic con is this: The driver, friendly and all smiles, will come up to you and tell you he will take you round Bangkok for an hour, even the whole day, for some ridiculously low price. "AH ha!" thinks the tourist "What a bargain I have scored here. I am soooooo clever. Genius THIS Einstein!!". This is the first mistake. So the tourist goes on his/her merry way thinking about the AWESOME day he/she is going to have for 30 cents. AWESOME. Wrong. Poor little tourist might get taken to a few good spots. But he will also go to quite a few of the aforementioned places (souvenir and gem shops) and spend 10 minutes in there being annoyed and not wanting to buy anything because they are so annoyed. Them comes the inevitable bad opinion of Bangkok.

Admittedly, it is not all the Tuk-Tuk drivers fault. The reason they take you to these places is because the stores give the incentives like fuel vouchers just for bringing tourists there and commissions if you buy something. It doesn't make it any less annoying but it gives you more of an idea of what's going on. I have heard a few stories (possibly urban myths spread by the Tuk-Tuk drivers themselves to make tourists more trusting) of people having a nice day on one of these bargain all day rides, only having to go to one or two shops-o-crap before being taken places that they actually want to go to. On the flip side, I have heard just as many stories of people getting taken to half a dozen shops before being turfed out wherever the driver feels like.

If you do manage to find Tuk-Tuk that's not trying to rip you off by taking you on a "tour", they will cost you at least 3x what a lovely, clean and air conditioned taxi will. Tuk-Tuks don't run on a meter like the Taxis do, you have to barter. They use far less petrol than taxis, being a 2 stroke motor and all, and you have to sit in the open, lead loaded air. For locals they are cheaper. This is definitely not the case for tourists. The ones on my soi wont get get off their butts take me from the supermarket to my house (about a 10 minute walk tops) for less than 50 baht. A motorcycle taxi** is 10 baht and ad taxi is 35. I know I sound like a total miser, but it all adds up. Plus it just plain annoys me.

So, for my money, Tuk-Tuks are just not worth the hassle in my opinion. If you get get one to take you somewhere for a reasonable price then go for it! They are kinda fun. But be careful. It you get an bad driver it can seriously ruin your day. I've personally never been conned but that's because I actually read up on BKK before I came here. Here's a few tips to help you deal with Tuk-Tuks.

- If it seems to good to be true, it is. If you don't have to barter then you will get ripped off.

- If the driver is carrying a tourist map, don't approach him. You will get ripped off.

- Stay away from the Tuk-Tuks in really touristy areas. You will get ripped off.

- Don't listen to drivers in the touristy areas if they approach you and tell you the sight you are about to see is closed till 3/closed for a Buddhist holiday/monk protesting outside. Then he will kindly offer to take you somewhere else for 10 baht! WOW! Stop. Walk away, you are about to be ripped off.

I hope this helps if you ever come to Bangkok and have to deal with those damn Tuk-Tuks *shakes fist*.

* don't even get me started on how much I hate the Lonely Planet Thailand book. It is missing so much information. Save your money and research everything online before you come here.

** Motorcycle taxis are very dangerous and are the reason you see a lot of missing limbs in Thailand. Never take them more than a short distance. More on this later.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bling a Ding Ding.

Bling Bling yo! Myf got me this for my birthday last week and I am head over heels in love with it. I spotted this ring in all it's cupcake bling glory in a small stall at Chut a Chut markets when we went on Saturday. At first I denied my love for it because it was gold, which I don't wear, and it was just plain huge. But then my overwhemling love for items shaped like food stuffs and cupcakes in general took over and I had to have it! Sadly, I didn't have the scratch on me to buy it (it was about 850 baht which = approximately $30 AUD) so the lovely Myf offered to purchase it for me (thanks hon!). I couldn't be happier!!!

Singin' in the Rain

This is the view outside my widow now right this very moment. No it's not the Bangkok smog (which is totally gross by the way). It's rain! Crazy huh! It's the start of the rainy season here and oh boy do they mean rainy. It rain most afternoons at the moment but I have never seen it quite this tropical. The rain is actually great because it cools everything down and clears some of the smog. Plus it's nice to listen to it. I feel like going outside and dancing about but I would probably regret it!
My soi flooded!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Who Let the Dogs Out?

These little guys are Soi dogs, Bangkok's homeless dog population (Sois are the side streets that run off main roads). Soi dogs would be in the top 5 list of "Things that Freak Tourists Out". They are pretty mangy and gross. They all perfectly embody the word "Mongrel". You could never pick any kind of pedigree in them. They are usually pretty skinny too and infested with parasites. Aside from scraps in the garbage, they are mostly fed by school kids snacking on their way home and street food vendors packing up for the day. Some of them do have "Owners" meaning they hang round one family/person more than others. A couple even have collars.

It's a bit fashionable in Thailand at the moment to have a puppy. Who doesn't like puppies?? They are cute and little and don't eat much. But of course, puppies get bigger, less cute and eat more. So they get turfed onto the street and get replaced by a newer model. So these poor, house raised dogs have to learn to fend for themselves on the street quick smart or they're toast. They have to fight for food with each other, find somewhere to hide and sleep and negotiate the crazy Bangkok traffic. I swear, some of these dogs are better at crossing the road than me.

Soi dogs aren't as dangerous as most people might think. They are usually too hot and tired to bother with you (Soi dogs will sleep almost anywhere there is shade, including the road with the traffic whirling by). Most of the time you can walk on by without even getting a glance. I would worry if the dog is foaming at the mouth and has a crazy look in it's eyes (rabies is still pretty prevalent here). Lots of people report attacks by Soi dogs every year and get rabies shots. But, on the flip side, most of these people have only been licked by them and then panic. I do genuinely feel bed for these dogs. Sometimes I feel like carrying round a huge bag of Smackos and throwing them out to the dogs like some sort dried meat product wielding saint. This would be completely impractical because a) I'd get followed home and b) I'd get mobbed. They estimate there are around 150,000 homeless dogs in Bangkok.

But it's not all bad for the Soi dogs. The King himself haa taken an interest. He adopted his own Soi dog to set an example for Thai people to do the same. There are groups of monks that go out and catch the dogs and then turn them over to vets who de-flea, de-tick and neuter them before letting them back out into the streets. This has helped to reduce the population of homeless dogs. These vets donate their time and a considerable amount of cash out of their own pockets. They are even starting to use soi dogs as police sniffer dogs. The do put them down, but only if they are very sick. Thai people believe that dogs are people who have lived wicked previous lives so think it's not right to kill them. But at the same time, this is part of the reason people don't feel bad turning them out into the street.

It's nice to see the Thai government and people starting to look out for their animals, in their own way of course. I actually think soi dogs, through all their mange, are quite cute. Thai dogs always seem to look like they're smiling. And if they can be happy with how they live, perhaps we can learn something from them.