Friday, March 31, 2006

All aboard the night train

Just another thing I love about Thailand are the trains. Normally the idea of night travel makes me shudder but here it's all class, second class to be exact.

If you book a second class ticket you arrive and sit in a seat, look out the window, admire the view. Then after some dinner and a beer, a little man appears and turns the seats into a comfy bed, complete with pillow, blanket, a curtained partion and even a reading light.

Result? Rather than peeling ourselves off sweaty vinyl seats, sleepless and cranky we arrived in Bangkok this morning feeling completely refreshed.

Koh Phangan - The good and the bad

There is the good side of being on this particular lovely tropical island.......

As long as you can stomach this........

Hammock land

Much time was spent in hammocks by all.....even by the crazy sanctuary cats.
Except when they were being juggled by Moon - he liked to swing them in the air, pull their ears, thump them on the back, throw them into trees and drape then around his neck. Oddly they didn't seem to mind a bit, Moon told me it's because he sends them "love messages" before thumping them. Hmmmmmm...wonder if Ed and I should have tried Love Messages with the Pumas in Bolivia?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


After breaking the fast, feeling good and being the lowest weight I have been in 3 years I thought I would celebrate with a thai massage. Halfway through my matchstick sized thai massage lady pauses mid manipulatation and says "excuse me? You have babeee?" I've gone "mmmmmm yeah...hang on, what? Baby? No! Why?" "oh sorry" she giggles "you have big belly, hee hee hee."

Just fabulous, seems that the massage maybe wasn't quite the best way to celebrate the end of the fast afterall - think I need to go straight to the restaurant and order a huge bowl of green curry, beer, some chocolate and get working further on that belly of mine.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

And it's eating time!

Shoes parked outside the restaurant

Well we've done it - we've survived the fast. With it came extreme vomiting, embarassing discussions about poo, compromising situations, mood swings like you wouldn't believe and a mind like a sieve. (between us Ed and I have managed to lose the key to our bungalow about 6 times in as many days).

This morning after one last disgusting shake and a wheatgrass colonic (just another ingredient I don't think I will want to swallow ever again) we were dispatched to the restaurant with a voucher for a tiny bowl of papaya drizzled with lime. Strangely we didn't even feel hungry but my tongue loved every second. It felt so good to chew something and the lime was like an explosion of flavour in my mouth - ahhhh. It took me about half an hour to eat mine and Ed didn't even finish. Almost straight away you could feel the little energy in our bodies draining away to be deployed in the business of digestion.

So what do I think? My hair, nails and skin look and feel amazing - my eyes are clear and even my stomach is flat. A few kilos lighter and I feel quite light and well. The dowside of the fast - the furry tongue, gummy teeth, vomiting, the brain drain and the mood swings.

Would I do it again? I'm not sure - on one hand it must be a good thing to give your body a break from everything toxic that we pour into it but I'm not sure if it's worth the pain.

I read in a trashy mag that everytime Jennifer Aniston has an awards show to attend she books herself into a spa like this one for 7 days so she can 'look her very best' - that is such a worry. How much time and obsession must you have on your hands to be able to dedicate 7 days to not eating just so you can look good for one night, priorities please!

But without wanting to get too spiritual about it all, the fast does teach you the value of food, the importance of food, what it feels like not to have food, and how as westerners, food is something we take for granted. It is always available - and in such plentiful amounts and varieties we can use it as a source of entertainment, a way to stave off boredom, almost as a hobby.

So before we head back into eating land once again I will try and keep these things in mind and hopefully take some of the things I've learned on board for the long term - just wonder how long it will be before I want my first coffee?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Cheese Sandwich

With a daily routine that goes a little like this:

7.00am Slug down urky mix of clay and psyllium husk (that swells to 40 times its size inside your body)

8.30 choke down 6 huge herbal supplements

10:00 knock back another delightful clay and psyllium number

11.30 more pills (6 of em)

1.00 more psyllium and clay shakes

2.30 another 6 pills

4.00pm another shake and coffee up the bum time

6.00 more pills

7.30 juice

8.30 another 6 pills

and so on..........

and on and on and on....

With all this stuff to force down, and all the water I'm drinking, most of the time I'm feeling quite full and quite amazingly, not that hungry.

Well that's what I thought until I took myself down to the beach for a swim- on my way there I passed a table upon which was lying, a half eaten, dried out, discarded cheese sandwich.

When I laid eyes on it my heart started with excitement and I really, really wanted to eat it.

God knows how desperate I will be by tomorrow - even the cats might need to watch out. It's enough to drive me back to the hammock.

The pain with so little gain

Moon the cleanse guru

"Moon, I've been vomiting all night and I feel terrible"

"Oh good, good!"

I am really starting to wonder who is the crazy one here...the band of cleanse warriors that Ed and I are sharing our last weeks in Thailand with who think spewing all night and feeling terrible is a great positive experience, or me for being insane enough to actually shell out money to feel this bad. This thought hit me as I sat last night at 2am on the toilet, holding a bucket that I could throw up into, wearing a headlamp on my head cause the electricity had been shut off, while large spiders crawled around on the walls above me.

Ed (stomach of steel) Holmes has been faring a lot better than moi so far, and was even good enough to come down stairs to the bathroom to bring me a pillow after finding me curled up in a ball, whimpering on the floor.

But after a morning of feeling crap (pardon the pun) and after some fabulous coconut juice I have slowly started to rebuild myself. But although the others have told me by Day five I will be feeling fabulous I am wondering why I have had such a bad reaction compared to the rest of the group who have had nothing but some headaches and tiredness, am I paying serious karma for my years of boozing and partying it up?

Since I've been feeling so nauseous I have had to avoid the "Wellness Centre" where the conversations of our fellow fasters range from when they were rebirthed and did their fire walking course to, of course, poo.

These are some of the conversations that I have been privvy to.

"Well I didn't know what the green thing was that came out of me so I took some photos to show Moon"

"Has anyone else had something like white spaghetti?"

"I really found that mine smelt nice, I'm mean sure, I didn't want to eat it but it kind of smelt like paprika"

You can't really blame me for feeling sick.

But my favourite line so far was from my very own Eduardo who upon hearing Moons slightly garbled intro to what the colonics were about said "Well at least we get coffee drinks so that's good" to which I snapped "the coffee isn't to drink, it's to go up your bum".

Ah such high romance on the beaches of Thailand.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cleanse Thyself

Well it had to be done, and it will either make A: a lot of sense for our travel weary bodies or B: will make a bloody good party story.

Either way Ed and I have scampered across Thailand to the island of Koh Phangan to a little place on a beach called the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is all jungle, wooden bungalows with a kind of hippie vibe. There are people here with nose rings twirling fire sticks, earnest Dutch people who recommend re-birthing sessions and other folk wisping up the hills to yoga sessions. The Sanctuary is the perfect place to relax, get away from it all and indulge in the award winning, delicious sounding vegtetarian organic restaurant - yum.

Except there is one problem......Ed and I have signed up for the famous 7 day fast and cleanse program here. That's right, for seven days there will be no beer, no coffee, and worse of all NO FOOD - just a program of herbs, water, tea, thin vege broth for us. Oh and colonic irrigation.......... yes stop reading now if it's freaking you out. For those not in the know, a colonic is a 'hose up the bum, clean everything out' kind of situation - twice daily.

So far Ed and I have completed the pre cleanse menu, a diet of only raw vegetables and water. This was hard enough, we had to sit on the outskirts of the fabulous restaurant pecking at our plates of leaves and cucumber before running back to the hut to hide from all the people eating red curries, tofu burgers and drinking beer.

But today is the big one, today we start the fast properly, all overseen by our enthusiastic fast coach "Moon" a hyperactic Thai guy who is totally into the whole cleanse routine - "yeah yeah CLEAN YOUR BODY, your liver is the boss" he likes to yell, arms waving about. "Your body is like a shirt - you need to clean it, right?".

So stay tuned - it could be very interesting. My impressions so far? It is incredible how much food punctuates your day. Things happen "after breakfast" or "before lunch" and deciding on where to go to dinner and what to have is a nights entertainment. With no meals as such, the day is quite different, we are punctuated by a regime of pill popping and water drinking and that's it. I feel empty in more than just my stomach, it's like a major part of my life has disappeared overnight - I miss it.

But in the meantime our colonic session is waiting for us this afternoon - all we know so far is what is in our bathroom. Some mysterious looking hooks hanging from the ceiling, plastic tubing and bottles of something I haven't been brave enough to investigate yet - eeeek!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Beach

Koh Phi Phi - two islands famous for two things. Phi Phi Leh famous for being The Beach in the film version of the book The Beach and Phi Phi Don being famous for being one of the worst sites for the 2004 tsunami which decimated the island, killing 2000 people.

With bad timing, just after we made a decision to go to Phi Phi (after being told it is a must see in Thailand) a series of aftershocks sent the island into a panic the day before we arrived - people freaked out and ran for the hills but luckily nothing happened.

So we went, and just made sure that we stayed way up the hill after harms way. Found ourselves in the lovely little Garden bungalows run by a bunch of stoner hippie thai people and populated with a couple of cheeky cats and a nice swimming pool.

The island has appeared to have bounced back thanks to good ole tourism, in fact in most places it's pretty difficult to tell that anything happened here at all -fingers crossed it doesn't overdevelop too much, there seems to be quite the building frenzy going on.

But it's a beautiful island - blinding white sand, aqua blue water. We took two trips to Phi Phi Leh which thankfully cannot be built on and is for day trips only. Looking like a massive limestone boat floating on the sea Phi Phi Leh has deep lagoons hidden behind it's sheer walls which are so beautiful it is almost ridiculous. We took a boat to one of the lagoons early in the morning and for a while were the only people there - we slid into the water and I honestly felt like I had fallen into a postcard or tv commercial where everything is so beautiful it looks like it can only exist in photoshop - except that it was real. Nature turned the colour scheme up to eleven when she made this one.

But just to remind me that I was still in the real world while I was swimming around in fantasy paradiseland la la la, a fish came up and bit me on the ankle, cheeky bugger. He was only quite small and darted away after doing it. Thinking that maybe I had imagined it I swam on and then he bolted out from behind a rock and did it again! This time I could feel his rough little mouth on my ankle bone. After telling Ed (who didn't believe me) suddenly I hear Ed going "oh it's so nice here blah blah blah ARGH!" the feisty little fish got him too. Funny thing, he must be sick of gormless tousits ruining his lovely home, can't really blame him.

Burmese Birthdays

Wow - thanks to the almost non exsistent email and internet service in Burma I am waaay behind on my blogging: am back in thailand now but thought I'd better wrap up the rest of the journey.

My birthday: I spent the dawning of my 35th year in Taungoo (a very dusty hot logging town) after watching three elephants pull teak logs out of the jungle the day before. Basically the whole logging thing has put me off teak for life (shame that as I just love the furniture) the reason? Beautiful swathes of jungle in Burma has be decimated from logging - one valley we drove through looked like the sad bit the Dr Suess book The Lorax - just burned tree stumps and dirt. Secondly Lek had said to me "you won't like teak when you see how hard the elephants work", the littlest elephant in the group we watched was literally whimpering before she was chained up to the log. The effort she was making to pull it was making her groan and her forehead was almost on the ground. Hard word for the poor ellies. Apparently a lot of the teak they pull ends up as cute little elephant shaped figurines that get sold in thailand, yuk.

On my birthday after a spectacular breakky featuring no less than 34 plates on the table and people actually FANNING us while we ate it was time to jump on the bus to Yangon. The bus ride was memorable only for the amazing video of Burmas hottest band "Iron Cross" getting down and grungy with their long hair and guitars singing early Beatles stuff IN Burmese - you ain't heard nothing til you've heard "Please Please Me" in Burmese. We all sang along with the locals of course!

After a visit to the Shwedagon Paya - a massive gold leaf, gold plated, ruby and diamond encrusted temple it was time to farewell our crazy elephant friends. On this day it was Ed's birthday and we celebrated by nursing hangovers from the night before in our swanky hotel, watching truly awful horror films on cable and checking out the view of the Shwedagon Paya from our huge windows, deluxe.

After the gang left we had a few more days in Yangon and after some questionable meals, traffic fumes, blackouts, an invitation from a buddhist monk to visit him in Malaysia and 40 degree heat it was time to step on out of there and head for the beach in Thailand.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Hunting an elephant

Once we were done with the temples we all hopped in a mini van and started the long 12 hour drive to the dusty logging town of Taungoo. The drive could have been worse, we were sitting in an unairconditioned vehicle baking in the 40 degree heat but the scenery more than made up for the sweatiness.

Sweet faced white oxen with dark eyes pulled old fashioned carts with huge spoked wheels, ladies in yellow face paint and elegant straw hats and parasols walked the streets, men in long sarongs and checked shirts sat in tea shops on the sides of the road and although we were on the main road between north and south were were virtually the only traffic apart from the odd Ox.

On our way to Taungoo we passed the small town that is now the capital of the Union of Myanmar. Back in December, people in Yangon (the original capital) noticed Government buildings emptying out - lights not being switched on and numerous trucks carrying everything from building materials and people heading north. In late December the Military Junta announced they had moved the capital to the tiny town of Pyinana - just like that. Of course foreigners are not allowed anywhere near the place and even the town nearby when we stopped for tea was banned for overnight visits. All very spooky and so typical of the regime here. When we asked our guide about it all he said "I don't want to talk about it here, maybe when we are in the jungle I can talk."

So to the jungle, after having another enormous burmese lunch where no less than 43 plates appeared on the table for just 7 people we planned our jaunt up into the teak logging areas of the country. People were doubtful we would be allowed in the area cause the govt had just built a new dam but things weren't good where we were staying in Taungoo either and I was happy to take a chance. Two bombs and two cases of arson had happened over two days - the day before and the day we arrived - everyone was jumpy.

The next morning we set off into the jungle, after paying the appropriate bribes we headed further and further away from civilization. After the truck carrying all our stuff broke down in the dirt for the third time and our very silly guide just giggled I started to feel like I was in some reality TV show where they dump a bunch of celebs in the wilderness and through challenge after challenge into the way.

After a stop at a village where Lek played doctor handing out eyedrops, paracetemol and lots of toys to the kids and an interminable wait to see if we were going anywhere we were off again. But where were the elephants?

Off in the dusty truck again, bush bashing and wondering if we had enough water to last us the next two days we travelled for a few more hours. Stopping at a roadside to cook lunch and there finally emerged an elephant - a young girl of about 6 years old wearing chains around her neck. She is part of the blackmarket logging operation we are to visit.

Back in the car for the final trek and our moods are brighter - then we stop and take a walk into the jungle to the elephant camp. After a 20 minute hike the "camp" our guide promised turned out to be a flimsy bamboo shelter with three very young and very suprised Burmese boys living in it. "Did they know we were coming?" we ask Mong Soe the guide...."uhhh yes" he says looking shifty.

Before we can argue suddenly the heavens open up and it is pouring with rain, we are in the jungle (probably illegally), we have no real shelter and no option to go anywhere. At that point the shelter us big foreigners are sharing with the little Burmese guys collapses. Chas the englishman goes beserk and I feel even more like a contestant in a reality tv show.

Interesting to watch the different nationalities react, Chas the Englishman totally freaked, Ed and I were feeling pretty hopeless, Jeff was being stoic and Canadian and trying to help whilst Lek and Chom, being Thai, barely batted an eyelid and nor did the Burmese guys. As soon as the rain stopped the guys were off cutting bamboo and rebuilding the shelter, while the normally glamorous and urbane Lek conjured a fire out of soggy firewood and got cooking making her own implements out of bamboo and managed to rope me into roasting some tomatoes. All in all these guys put us to shame, what a useless lot us westerners are.

By sunset there was dinner on the fire, a shelter, beers in hand and lo and behold - two more elephants, magic.


Bagan is a small town to the west of Burma that is famous for pretty much one thing - thousands and thousands of temples. In fact thousands of years ago the Kings there got the idea into their heads that the more temples the better, and the better the faster they could insure themselves a one way ticket into a good reincarnation gig.

Our merry band of elephant folk jumped on another tiny propeller plane staffed by beautiful aliens and made the short hop for 20 minutes to see the wonders there. After we landed we engaged the services of a couple of little horse and carts and clip clopped off down the dirt roads to visit the temples. Our horse was named "Rambo", when I asked the name of the other horse I was told "Rambo 2" - of course. In fact Rambo 2 was pretty cool, he liked to run to the front, liked being patted and when I turned my head away he tried to give me a good bite but missed and only managed a mouthful of my handbag instead, I love an untrustworthy animal!

As for the temples they are quite incredible, all different and all in different states of decay. Some are the home of massive gold leaf buddhas who almost look sinister at the size smiling down upon you.

After that it was a quite clip clop at a temple that we could climb to watch the sunset - there were about 6 other tourists there - what a difference compared to the near hysterical hordes at Angkok in Cambodia.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Moustache Brothers

Drunk on one beer in the heat of the evening, Ed and I are wobbling though the bumpy and dark streets of Mandalay on a Tri-shaw. A wonderful bicycle taxi like a rickshaw except that instead of sitting behind the bike the two passengers sit beside the rider like a side car - one facing forward one back. Lara and Chom were in another, Lek and Jeff in another again as we raced through the streets chatting as Lek yelled out "Moustache Brothers! Moustache Brothers!".

The Moustache Brothers perform a nightly show for tourists in the front room of their house. the two brothers and their cousin have always been vaudeville performers and quite famous across the country until they made the mistake of taking the piss out of the Military Junta that run this country - for that small crime one of the brothers was packed off to prison for 7 years hard labour, breaking rocks in the jungle and the other two put under surveillance and forbidden to perform again.

Wriggling around the rules the brothers perform in their own home, only to foreigners (locals could be arrested) and now that Par Par Law is out of prison they delight in sticking it up the government. According to them tourists are vital to the protection of Myanmar - without them we would have no eyes and ears, you are like our umbrella says one of the brothers.

The show is silly, cheesy but inspiring. The brothers pose for photos and we are all encouraged to spread the word of their situation to the world. When I mention to one of them I am a journalist (also banned in Myanmar...I had to say I was an "Executive" on my visa) he springs to life filling my hands with other articles and photos of them with Aung Sung Suu Kyi - "take them but don't show anyone" he says. "If you write an article send it to me with another traveller - you cannot post it" he whispers before breaking into a cheeky grin and shouting out "See you round like a rissole!"

On the way back our trishaw driver Tony holds a long discussion with me in almost perfect english on literature, the arts, business and finally his hatred of the oppressive government. After having a rant he suddenly checks himself and says "I'm sorry, I don't want to talk about the government anymore - there are too many ears on these streets." He asks me what I do for a living and when I tell him a white lie, marketing I say, he then gives me a very astute speech on how important the role of marketing is in business. At the end he sighs and says "you are very lucky, you can do something important. I have nothing to sell here except my energy, peddalling this bike."

After disembarking - giving Tony a large tip he shakes my hand and Eds. "You are most welcome in my country" he says bowing. "Please come back again."

The road to Mandalay

Our second day of Mandalay we headed off to see the sights. As a city it is not a hit you over the head gorgeous place but get up close and there are all sorts of things to be seen.

First stop was on the edges of town at a buddhist monastery where hundreds of blood red robed monks and their young novices converge after collecting alms from the streets of the city. All along the edges of the monestary were texts carved into the wall in Burmese script - a style of script that looks like the writings of a spaceman or underwater creature - all bubble shapes and curls.

Then it was to a long rickety teak bridge, the longest in the world in fact - this wobbly contraption takes monks and locals across the river estuary and into the town. It was dreamlike out at the bridge - Ed, Laura, Chas and I took a small wooden boat across in the haze of the morning heat passing an army of ducks marching through green marshland, persued by their minder in a conical straw hat and waving a stick with a ribbon on the end. A brown snake slithered past us, lazy in the water. We took the walk back over the bridge and were treated to the sight of beautiful burmese girls with thick long black shiny hair, flowered sarongs and blouses sitting ram rod straight on old fashioned bicycles with big wheels. To protect themselves from the sun the women and children paint circles of Thanaka - a yellow product made from tree bark on their faces in wide stripes, round circles of elaborate dots.

People here see so few visitors, so a reaction was always guaranteed from almost everyone. Some people looked stunned, others bikes would wobble as they swivelled their heads to take another look but most people gave us huge wide smiles, waves and often an enthusiastic "Hello" bellowed out in their old fashioned sounding Burmese english.

Burmese Days

It was strange from the minute we boarded the Mandalay Airways plane - a tiny boxlike creature with propellers not jets. As soon as our party stepped on board we were greeted by two of the best looking people I have ever seen - all almond shaped eyes and coffee coloured skin. "Helllll-ow" purred one of them in very upper class english before showing us to our seats. It was immediately clear we were off to a very different kind of country.

Mandalay - hot, dusty, dark. It is so easy to tell that Myanmar was once a British colony, the old buildings that litter the streets of this city are not unlike the kind of Victorian / Edwardian creations you would see in Sydney or in Melbourne. Except there are no trendy warehouse conversions for these buildings. They look like rotting wedding cakes, floral garlands, plaster mouldings and ornatmental urns are blooming with damp, cracked with weeds and lean on a drunken angle.

The dark streets of town are like that for two reasons - one there are no street lights, two the Government limit the amount of power or simply turn it off at will plunging the city into darkness. Enterprising locals have their own generators which hum and shriek pumping out hot, smoky exhaust into the already hot smoky night.

We find a streetside restaurant - there are no menus just curries. Mutton, Chicken and vegetable. Beer? A shake of the head. Tea? our restaurant boy suggests - why not. The tea arrives, hot, milky, thick and spicy - the country tastes more like India than Thailand.

By ten the streets are completely blacked out, we dodge low lit trucks, tractors spewing exhaust and bicycle taxis, trishaws that come out of the darkness with no lights at all. It's still hot and the dust makes us all cough - sleep comes easy but filled with strange dreams...