Monday, July 26, 2010

the best of my love

You probably won't visit Ban Phe. If you do, you'll probably walk from the bus station to the dock across the street to catch a ferry to Ko Samet. But if you wanted to go to Ban Phe, or if you'll be here for a TEFL course at some point, I hope this helps.

I'm leaving Thailand tomorrow night to go back to America. I'll be in the Seattle area for about three weeks before flying to Korea where I will start working again in late August. It's been a nice three months of unemployed vagabondery, but I've got to start making money again.

Before I leave, though, I want to share the best things about Ban Phe.

My favorite guesthouse in Ban Phe is Bedrock. I like that the fan rooms are 200 baht a night now in the low season (that's about six dollars) and the restaurant has fantastic food (including the best Pad Thai in Ban Phe.) It's also got free wi-fi and they'll rent you a motorbike. The rotating selection of Old White Guys at the bar is the cherry on top.

My favorite restaurant in Ban Phe is "Naughtiness." It's actually called "S Land," but some folks refer to it as "Sunny's" after the adorable little girl who is the daughter of one of the employees (it's a family-owned thing.) Naughtiness has the best seafood curry in Ban Phe (which is saying something, since Ban Phe is famous for seafood.) They also have one of the few espresso machines in town. It's cheap and good.

My favorite massage place in Ban Phe is the place across from Christie's with the big reflexology foot diagram on the door. They don't always offer the ginger tea at the end, but they will let you take a nap indefinitely after your massage, which always ends with a satisfying "pop-pop-pop" of your back.

My favorite day-trip out of Ban Phe is Khao Chamao Park about 40 minutes away.

My favorite place to buy pretty much anything (mostly tee shirts, belts, and tasty desserts) is the night market on Mondays and Thursdays. It always has a great selection of produce, bootleg movies and clothing.

And I'm leaving. Tomorrow. Which is kind of weird.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I have to have a berth or I cannot get to sleep.

Ban Phe, it seems, sucks the will to blog even about places I've already been to and enjoyed.

Well after visiting the two big temple complexes in central Java, I visited the Sultan's Palace. Central Java still has a Sultan, and he still lives at the palace, which means that you can't actually go inside any of the buildings. Here is a picture, taken from as close as I could get, of a hall of some sort.

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I visited a market, and another market, and a batik place, and a Muslim hospital where a new friend's nephew was recovering from... "How do you say it in English? Blood fever?"

Wai-wai-wait, I thought. What kind of bizarre medeival illness will I take with me from this hospital? I went anyway, and it turned out it was Dengue fever. Oh. Dengue fever. I can deal with that.

(The first month in Thailand my TEFL class and I were all deathly afraid of Dengue. One fella thought he had contracted it but it turned out to be not-Dengue. The symptoms were described to me as "you feel like you will absolutely die, for about two weeks, and then you get better.")

Luckily, I did not come out of it with Dengue.

Other highlights of my Fabulous! Nine! Days! On! Java! (You really must go, you really must. I just can't write much about it right now in this Internet cafe...) include the bicycle rickshaw! I felt ickily colonial being escorted in a carriage behind a motorbike in Cambodia. But in Yogyakarta, the rickshaw drivers propel you through the streets by the strength of their worldly bodies. I took one trip on one, to the train station when I left, and all I could think the whole time was "I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry."

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That's my bicycle rickshaw guy. He's cool. Then I took the night train to Jakarta, which is not suited to photographs. The trains on Java do not have berths and I had to try to sleep in a (very comfortable, Executif) seat. In the morning went to the airport.

Look, it's the airport!
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And a handful of the 13 thousand Indonesian islands I didn't visit on my trip!
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And then I was back in Thailand.

Monday, July 19, 2010

living rock

After Borobudur, I visited the Hindu temple Prambanan by day. And I became a celebrity.

This is Prambanan:


The complex includes temples to different Hindu deities. I think this one was Shiva. Maybe. I should have taken notes.

This is Candi Sewu, another (Buddhist) temple near Prambanan:

In Thailand, sometimes people randomly ask to have their picture taken with me. It's always kind of weird, and I oblige. It doesn't happen very often. In my four hours or so at Borobudur and Prambanan, though, *seven* families asked to pose for pictures with me.

This is the only one where I asked them to take a picture with my camera too. One woman asked me to sit by her and asked where I was from, and then called to her family, "American! USA!" and they got all excited and this happened.

There was a little boy, but he did *not* want to go stand by the white lady.

And then there was a giant spider!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

sing to the morning light

Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and I woke up really, really early to go there at sunrise.


One can walk around each level of the temple, which is decorated with reliefs that make the journey up the monument mirror a spiritual journey of enlightenment.


There are depictions of the life of Buddha, of course, but I didn't understand all of the pictures. Like here's a pirate ship!

And some monkeys!

After the corridors of reliefs, the top three levels have hundreds of stupas, and inside each stupa is a Buddha image.


This stupa was left partially restored to show the Buddha inside.


Borobudur was worth awakening at the 4:30 prayer call. A+

Friday, July 16, 2010


Prambanan is a Hindu temple near Yogyakarta, built in the 9th century. The temple is illuminated at night, and there is an open-air theater in front of it (from which the temple is visible at night) where the Ramayana ballet is performed almost nightly.

The Ramayana tells the story of Rama. There are pretty costumes. Rama was able to use a fancy bow left by Shiva, and as a reward he got to marry Sita, the fairest of them all.



Then stuff happened. Much of the epic involves Hanuman, who is kind of my favorite on account of MONKEYS! And there were little kids who played some of the monkeys and kept falling over and being cute. None of these pictures came out, so here are some pretty girls:


The ballet picks up with the part called Sundara Kanda, where Hanuman sets fire to Ravana's citadel.


But then it gets a little iffy in Yuddha Kanda, where Rama is unsure of his wife's purity so he sets her on fire. Like ya do. She survived, and they lived happily ever after.


(That is until Rama becomes doubtful of her purity again an banishes her, and then she gets swallowed by the earth. That part isn't in the ballet.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

off the rails

My second day in Indonesia I woke up *really* early because it had taken a good hour to reach the train station when I bought my ticket. There was the sunrise, through my dirty window.


And this time, since it was so early, it only took 20 minutes to get to Stasiun Gambir.


I got on my train. It's an 8-hour train ride from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, and I chose to make the trip (at least the "to" part) during the day because it's supposed to have great views. The window of my train car was the dirtiest window I've ever encountered, but the views were very pretty.



It's a holiday here in Indonesia, and I hadn't made reservations ahead of time for a place in Yogya. Most of the guesthouses in the Malioboro area had "full" signs out front, and those that didn't just told me when I asked. My taxi driver was fantastic though and took me to the other backpacker area across town and tried a couple of guesthouses until I found a room. It will do. It doesn't have a hot shower, but it has two double beds and a twin, and it cost less than the guesthouse where I wanted to stay in the first place.

I didn't sleep very well, though. My windows don't close completely because I have a fan room. The first Muslim prayer call is before dawn, at about 4:30 in the morning. I awoke to that, and then slowly realized that there was a managerie of caged birds down the hall, which called from then on. Most of them just screech, but at least one says "wow-wow."

So I got up, and had some gado-gado!


Gado-gado is a big pile of steamed cabbage, green beans, sprouts, potatoes (and tofu, here) served with PEANUT SAUCE! The peanut sauce is in the gravy boat there. In Thailand I've only ever seen peanut sauce with satay, and I've only once seen non-meaty satay. Hooray, I say, for peanut sauce.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

some Indonesian junk

After a few days in Ban Phe, including a wicked-awesome karaoke night with Annie, who was back in town for a few days, I flew to Indonesia.

They turned on a fog machine for my grand rockstar entrance onto the plane and everything!


Because I would arrive in the middle of the night, I booked a room ahead of time. Behold!


I did not plan much about this trip. I knew how to get out of Jakarta (by train) and that I wanted to go to Yogyakarta and see the temples at Borobudur and Prambanan. I figured that Jakarta, being big and dirty and one of the most polluted cities on Earth, was not worth my attention. I was totally wrong.

I came back from Stasiun Gambir in a tuk-tuk after buying my ticket for the following day. Tuk-tuks in Jakarta have ragtops and cute little carnival-ride doors.


When I got back to my room, I took a bubble bath with an extremely overpriced Cosmo I had purchased in the airport. I went out to get something to eat, thinking I would eat dinner, go back to my room and pack, and then read until I went to bed. I was not interested in Jakarta, and I did not bring my camera. Such folly!

I visited a row of restaurant stalls next to my hotel, and passed one with plates of fried deliciousness that looked like meat in the window. I kept walking until a fellow beckoned me to try some cake, and I said I'd like some cake for dessert but was looking for dinner. Where should I go? He led me back to the place with the golden window-food and ordered a plate of vegetarian deliciousness for me.

The food, he explained, is from West Sumatra. I had a potato dumpling thing, a boiled egg, and a pile of vegetables on rice with chili. It was fantastic. I talked to my new friend, Said, about things I didn't know about Indonesia and Islam, which was a lot about Indonesia and Islam. I didn't have room for cake but went back to his stand for some guava-lemon juice and then he showed me around the old city and explained the big old Dutch buildings, many of which are now museums. Some are posh restaurants or bars, but a lot of them are just abandoned, with trees growing inside them in the middle of the city. I guess a city only needs so many museums, and Jakarta has a heck of a lot of museums.

I didn't have my camera, of course, but here's an example seen from my taxi the next day.


And then we had authentic Javanese powdered coffee on a sidewalk in the old city. (I had tea, actually. You know me.) It was illuminating. The moral of this story: learn something about a place before you go there. I did plenty of research on Thailand, Cambodia and Laos before visiting, but very little on Indonesia except for how to get around. I'm very glad that I met someone who showed me some of the city, but next time I would certainly plan to spend more time in Jakarta to see all there is to see.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

i want a hula hoop

Banteay Samré is my other favorite temple, besides Preah Khan. I like it because it's also fairly quiet, and very complete.


The doorways are short, though.
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Even when collapsed into the double small hoops, it's a challenge to carry this sucker up and down the narrow temple stairs!

So we took the hula hoop out into the courtyard, and I finally have video!

Here's Autumn, being fantastic

And me, developing fantasticness, very slowly

And that was all. Cambodia offered great food, wine, shopping and massages in addition to the temples. The next day we spent a good fourteen hours on buses and standing in line at immigration before we reached Ban Phe. It was 11:30 at night on the 4th of July, and we remembered just in time to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" with Christian, who also existed. I'm sure that the other guests at my guesthouse appreciated it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

no one knows

On day two of temple-hopping in Cambodia, Autumn and I styled entirely new outfits with scarves from the market.

We visited Pre Rup, a temple mountain with ridiculous steps.

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And then we hula hooped at Preah Khan (this is a lot of the same stuff, isn't it?) Preah Khan was my favorite temple when I visited Cambodia in October, and I'm glad that it was one of Autumn's favorites, too. It's sprawling and has giant tree roots growing over it, like Ta Prohm, but it has far fewer visitors. It's quiet and serene and the grassy courtyards were fluttering with hundreds of little yellow butterflies. The butterflies were surreal, but not something we could capture on film.



There are other, less irreverent reasons to visit ancient temples, besides hula hooping and taking pictures of one another. These are not much fun to blog about.


Besides, Autumn swung on a vine!

And this!

Curiouser and curiouser...

Preah Khan is arranged in a very deliberate cruciform layout, with doorways getting smaller and smaller as one approaches the inner sanctuary from any direction. This building (the one I'm hugging) makes me happy because it's so random. Off to the side but within the walls of the temple, it's a two-story structure with big round columns. Nobody knows what it was for.


Friday, July 9, 2010

hey, lady

After wandering around Angkor Wat, Autumn and I maneuvered our way past the chorus of "Laydee, you buy cold water/new dress/new scarf/fan/lunch/bracelets/etc." and visited Angkor Thom. The saleswomen are much like zombies. Slow moving, but when one sees you and moans, "Laydee..." it alerts all the others to your presence and you have a hoard of women and children trying to sell you things.

Angkor Thom is a big walled city, and home to one of the most famous temples here outside of Angkor Wat: The Bayon. The Bayon gives the general impression of a pile of rubble from a distance.


As you climb up into the temple, you notice the faces that adorn each tower. And the girls posing in window frames


and giving Eskimo kisses to ancient kings.


And then we fell in the mud!



It was tricksy mud, made to look like solid ground. We went down within the same fraction of a second, but kept going, up the steep steps of the royal palace.


And to Ta Prohm, where hula hooping happened


and America's Next Top Model posing happened.

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A good day.

I'll write about the rest of our trip for next week.