thailand is apparently very open to gay people and especially ladyboys (men dressed like women). some people joke and laugh about it but i hardly get the impression that its something remotely dangerous to do or even uncommon. i have seen a local art exibit, a talk show, and an advertised forum about thailand being the most tolerant country in the world. we've had at least 4 restaurant servers who were ladyboys and no one really seems to take any notice. crazy!


in bangkok. the bus ride wasn't bad at all! it still crazy and stinky here!

i keep running into people here who have come to thailand for medical care. its something that wouldn't occur to me but i am assured that the dental and medical are very good in bangkok and much cheaper (example the guy i ran into today at the vietnam embassy said he had a 40 day inpatient hospital stay and a back surgery for $7000. currently he is here for dental that will end up costing him $500 instead of $2000 in the states). i do remember my dentist telling me not to get dental work done here, though. i saw a doctor in koh tao about my asthma and scuba diving. he didn't speak english and pointed to a sheet of paper that told me things about asthma and had recommendations. he had no idea what medicines i was referring to and i felt better in my own hands. but, i expect in bangkok it could be different. if anyone knows anything about this, let me know. i am very curious! regardless, i think its insane that our medical system is so expensive that people will come all the way to asia istead!!!


after 5 days in tropical island paradise i am a certified scuba diver!! its something i thought would be natural for me as i always identified as a fish, but actually it took a lot of courage. the trick is realizing that you are re-training your brain to do something that it totally against your instincts (which is a pretty strong force). your brain tells you that you can't breath underwater (not true). it tells you to hold your breath (a no-no). and the brain rears its ugly head when you are underwater and you have to take off you mask and you get water in your nose and feel like you have to choke, and you notice a slight panic and the urge to surface (a no-no). not to mention, when your breathing is through tubes, valves and magically adjusted to the right pressure, it feels pretty weird. but the more i did it, like anything else, the more natural it felt. i'm officially a pro now. next, the great barrier reef!

so, i've been mulling over many possible plans for the time between elli leaving and meeting my mom in vietnam... (now and Nov 20th) and have decided to:
head up to laos to work on a slikworm/mullberry farm (oct 7-21st),
visit with my aunt (around 21st),
travel through laos and down into cambodia (through nov 13th), see angkor wat,
into Surin, thailand for the elephant round-up (nov 14th and 15th)
back up to bangkok (by the 19th) and then off to vietnam.

tomorrow is a big travel day. boat and bus will take us from koh tao to bangkok...10:30am->8:30pm. we are told that the 7 hour bus isn't too bad, but that we will never do it twice. hmmm.... wish me luck!


my 28th year brought new friends, a tropical island, my first scuba lesson and a feeling in my stomach akin to razorblades. i'm not sure what was wrong. i might have gotten seasick, but it was the worst pain and vomitting (for 4-5 hours!) in sarah history. i cursed asia and longed for my own bed in my own home, but realizing that i didn't actually have either, i just sat and cried. the israelis next door gave me charcoal, i gave me immodium, and sleep gave me a very weirdly sore neck. today...i am still on a tropical island, diving will resume tomorrow, at the moment i am drinking pink electrolytes and wondering how something that intense can leave me feeling relatively normal 12 hours later.

kayaking last week in khao sok national park was amazing. imagine filling the entire yosemite valley with clear, aqua-colored water and filling the forest with dusky langurs, monitor lizards, wild gibbons (who song is the saddest, erieest, thing you've ever heard), 180 bird species, elephants, asian bears, tigers, frogs, toads and the biggest moth in the world (which for some reason i didn't take a picture of).

if you're bored, dusky langur site: http://www.howletts.net/sprimates/dlangur.html

the gibbon problem and also hear the cry:
(let me know if the sound works, i can't test it from this computer)

a story our guide told about the park... a while back in thailand there were many student protests over the military government. there were huge protests and the military responded by flying over in hellicopters and shooting many many people. everytime the press tried to report about it, they found themselves suddenly audited and thrown in jail. this happenned for a while until the king (who, like england doesn't really have any power except that all the people love and respect him) made the offending generals crawl on there bellies and kiss his feet on national television. this was the ultimate dishonor. meanwhile, some students ran away and hid out in the jungle (this park) and were thought to be armed and dangerous. maybe they were, maybe they weren't, but the fear of them kept the logging companies out of the area and what remains is a 160 year old forest.

on a side note, there is a golden retreiver in this internet cafe that is making me think of keenan.

some pictures to come soon!


i will be flying south today to surathani then immediately picked up by the kayaking guy for 3-4 day kayaking trip in the islands... so i will be offline for a while.
the other day, i ended up going to this place by accident... read if you are interested in the government's efforts to eliminate opium growing in the hilltribe communities (i didn't write this but its interesting anyway) The project area was really fancy; beautiful paths, waterfalls, and row after row of greenhouse with a complicated irrigation system:

The Royal Project, Thailand
360 days in SE Asia & Oz - Home Page

Wander up Doi Inthanon, the largest mountain in Thailand, and you won't find snow or skiers, hiking trails or mountain chalets, but what you will see are two vast chedis, a number of hill-tribe villages and large, mysterious plastic tunnels. In the Thai climate, so near to the equator, you'll never have to wait more than a few minutes beyond 6PM to see the landscape change radically - as the sun goes down powerful artificial lighting is switched on inside the tunnels, placing long, glowing tubes of light across your field of vision. These tunnels can be found all across the Northern highlands of Thailand.

Origins of the Royal Project
In 1969, with the cultivation of the opium poppy outlawed, the King of Thailand recognised that many hill-tribes faced serious poverty. Traditionally opium had played a large part in many hill-tribes' customs, and had become a major source of income once trade in the drug had been established. Worse still, since many hill-tribes had little recognition of the government, or understanding of how Bangkok related to them, ending the production of opium wasn't going to be a simple matter of the government saying they didn't want it to be grown anymore, short of throwing vast numbers of bewildered tribespeople into jail.

The King, therefore, established the Royal Project in an attempt to replace opium production with the cultivation of legal cash crops. Food is in abundance in Thailand, with cheap food stalls lining every street, and little money is available for small scale production of staples such as rice and vegetables, so the Royal project concentrates on luxury items such as fruits and cold climate flowers.

Other aims of the project are to raise livestock, conserve soil and water, preserve the rich forest environment, enhance the natural resources of the Northern highlands and stop shifting cultivation, which involves using up the resources of an area of fertile farmland and then abandoning it and moving on.

Much of the initial backing for the project came from the US Department of Agriculture, in the form of contracts for production which replaced previous opium poppy crops. Numerous other countries, universities and volunteer organisations lent assistance in the form of equipment, seeds and education. There is an emphasis on organic farming, and use of chemicals is avoided wherever possible, and this meant additional training so that the project could provide plant technicians capable of early detection of pests and disease.

With an emphasis on giving hill-tribes the abilities necessary to fend for themselves, education and the provision of schools, books, medicine and the voluntary time of doctors, nurses and dentists is an essential part of the project. Tribespeople themselves get involved in these efforts, with members of the tribes themselves taking central roles in drug education, policing and even treatment.

Today, 295 villages are part of the Royal Project. The large plastic tunnels to be seen on Doi Inthanon are tended by the small number of villages that line the mountain's slopes, and it is a testament to the success of the project that such large scale production is possible involving a relatively small number of people. Artificial lighting extends the consistent, year-round 12 hour day, whilst the tunnelling retains heat against the relatively harsh altitudinous nights and protects the crop from the brutal monsoon rains.

All the way along the road up that runs through Doi Inthanon you'll find small markets with stalls selling candied locally grown fruits and delicious, chewy fresh peanuts. The distribution, however, of the crop is by no means only local; under the Doi Kham (Golden Mountain) brand the high quality produce is sold across Thailand and abroad.

The Royal Project has won a number of awards, including the 1988 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding 'for its concerted national and international effort to curtain opium growing and bringing worthy livelihoods to Thailand's hill-tribes' and the Thai Export Merchandise prize at the 1988 Thai Expo.


more thailand pictures...
the place we are staying (gap's house in chiang mai) and temples, temples, temples.

feeling a little bit purposeless today. but i think that's more about unemployment than traveling.

tomorrow elli comes back from treking and we will be off to see some caves about 70km from here.

today i was interviewed by a girl in a wat. she was doing a project and was supposed to interview tourists in english about festivals in their country. i chose halloween, but we alo hit on July 4th, Christmas, New Years (they have that here, too but they give gifts). (nearby a monk was blessingsome people, sort of singing, sort of chanting) her favorite Thai festival is the one in april where everyone is really really hot but happy, because they are all throwing water around at each other.

also read today that the founding king of chiang mai was killed by lightning in 1311. for some reason that seems interesting to me. i'm sure the palace was constantly guarded, every precaution taken and then POW from the heavens. and it hits the king of all people.


who's reading this i wonder?
oh yeah, and another thing... when the blogger time says 6:48am, its actually 20:48 here (the next day). on my return flight, given a good tailwind, i will get home before i left.
elli told me those cute tweety birds fly right back as soon as you set them free. it seems they are fed and trained. i would have been very disappointed. good thing i donated to homeless dogs.
some days you just want to use the bathroom and there is a cock fight in your way.

and later in those some days, you drink some tea from a street vendor that you chose because it was the one with no english translation and you were trying to be trooper and you turn out to be a slightly-tripping trooper. in the middle of a sunday bizairre. which is actually quite fun so you get another.

again, don't get scared to visit, mom. its fun here.


hey some new thailand photos!!



oh yeah, mom, the bug bite is fine. no problem. its like a really itchy mosquito bite now. don't get scared to come visit.
after many busy days, i decided to take it easy and just walk around town today. i ended up at most of the local wats (temples), knelt next to a man who turned out to be the director of archeology at a museum in surathani (where we will be on wednesday). he answered some of my silly temple questions, like "why so many temples here?" apparently, this city was once the center of an independent province with its own kings who each wanted temples built for his mother and father. then there are temples for dead kings and temples at monastic schools. he showed me how to put holy water on my head from a well. inside the wat, i sat and studied the many golden buddas, the teak building construction and then noticed a donation box that said "good luck on your birthday". there were boxes for every day of the week, morning and evening. my birthday is coming up in a week or so and i became convinced that it would be bad luck not to donate. so i grabbed a few baht and paused to reflect on what day of the week i was born. i have no idea. uh oh. i know its 11am, but what day of the week? i chose wednesday. although in retrospect i think it might be thursday. should've gone for one baht in each day. maybe that's how they get ya! no one knows what day they were born on, do they? those clever, clever monks.

the archeologist showed up again and told me to follow him next door to a larger temple. he left when we got there and i was excited to see that i had found "monk chat"! i had read that at a certain temple, the young monks who are studying english are available to chat with tourists = "monk chat". i got really into it and chatted for about 2 hours.

a few things... there are 6 reasons that men become monks but i can't remember them all... 1. to honor his mother and father (the parents want him to) 2. to study at the school (many boys who don't have access to good schools can learn at the monastic school for a while then leave later) 3. for fun (?) 4. his reason, the ultimate goal, achieve nirvana or ultimate happiness.

monks don't work. after their training they can keep studying or teach ("spread the teachings of the budda to the thai people" or travel but only as a missionary). they eat only breakfast and lunch but only what is donated by people. he doesn't get hungry (i asked), he is used to it. "a monk eats to live, does not live to eat. food is to nourish the body and is not for enjoyment". he is not a vegetarian, which i found surprising. if meat is donated he can eat it as long as he didn't see or hear the killing and the killing wasn't done for just him.

he also studies math, science, comparative religion, english. monks are not allowed to study the arts (singing, music, dance) because they are a distraction from the true path. he asked what i did for work and having not heard of genetics, i found myself trying to explain DNA to a monk.

after monk chat i went to enter the wat and was approached by a woman with a tray of tiny birds in tiny bamboo cages. she said "30 baht ($0.75) set them free. 40 baht for entire family (holds up a cage with 5 or 6 cute tweety birds). good luck for you set them free." it took me a moment. i considered setting them all free. i really wanted to set them all free. but i figured that would cost me quite a bit of baht. i thought about setting two of them free. but then decided my money would be better put in the donation box for homeless children or, more mysterious, the donation box for "dogs". i decided she would just catch more birds even if i set them free so the money went into the "dogs" box. as i walked into the wat i was thinking, what does it say about me that i just picked "dogs" over homeless children?! ok. another few bahts in the "homeless children" box.


sawatdee ka!
hello from thailand!

i made it here about a week ago and it has been fabulous. already there is too much to tell. i got a tip on a place to staty in bangkok which turned out to be a haven in an otherwise busy, smoggy city. my advice to anyone traveling here is to get out of bangkok as soon as possible! that being said, like any other city there are beautiful parts (although i haven't seen them) and many temples, markets, and resources for travelers. my only reference to 3rd world developing countries (if thailand can even be considered that) i africa. and i was pleased to discover that compared to that, even bangkok felt much easier and, to me completely safe.

at the lodge we stayed at we got a tip that the cook's family (whom i think lives on the owner's land) has a farm with guest houses not too far away (5 hour drive west). the idea was: take a bus from bangkok to kanchanaburi, take a local bus from kanchanaburi to erawan market, ask for "mr.hey". so, we decided to go for a 3-day adventure to the farm before heading to northern thailand. we ended up staying with the family (of the cook, Nat) who cooked thai food for us, let us help and gave cooking lessons, gave us thai lessons saying, "you speak thai (insert the thai word for whatever it is we are talking about)". i remember how to say good food and i am full. immediately apon arrival she shuffled us down the street saying "walk 1km. see cave. 4:00.". ok. we walked down the street, found the sign for the cave, saw that the place closed at 4:00 but it was a few minutes before 4, so we went in. it looked like everyone had gone home for the day but elle had her flashlight so we climbed up the hillside to the cave to check it out. there was an orange string on the ground that obviously led the way, so we ventured in with her tiny headlamp, following the string. no problem! elle got a little scared and wanted to leave. after deciding that there was no boogy man, we held hands and went in a little futher. very dark. very cool. a sign inside says "do not destroy". a fence inside next to a bottomless pit says "danger". all very clear. we hung out in there for a while and got 1000 mosquito bites then went back down for dinner.

wan penh (nat's mother) said "tomorrow you come here 7:00 morning. eat. drink tea. coffee. then you go to waterfall. swim verrrrry slowwwly. come here 1:00." ok. very clear. all of thailand has been like this. seemingly a confusing situation is very clear and absurdly easy. hopefully i will get some pistures of the waterfall (7 waterfalls) soon. they were amazing. whitish-blue-aqua water, limestone and littered with caves all around. families fo swimming monkeys. the signs read "the monkeys eat your food and they bite". i tried to take a picture and the little monkey got feirce and chased the big monkey (me).

we decided that we would avoid bangkok as much as possible but since we had to go there in order to catch the train north, we decided to have a super travel day and drive 2.5 hours, see the river kwai, 2.5 hours to bangkok, hang out 5 hours, take the night train north (12 hours). that was last night. i loved the train. the earplugs helped. woke up to fog in the jungle outside the window. something bit my foot on the train. its likwe 10 mosquito bites in one. a ping pong welt that itches like mad. besides that i recommend trains. at least once, anyway.

at the moment i am in chang mai, the first beautiful, nice smelling major city i have seen so far. and its time for dinner!


i am in seoul. in a PC bong (PC room) in myeong-dong. i sat next to a korean opera singer and her boyfriend(?) on the plane from SF. she suggested myeong-dong. it took litterally 5 minutes to go through customs. no one asked me anything or looked at my bags and it was so easy i woundered if i was missing somehthing.

so i took the 605-1 bus from the airport and got off at myeong-dong station. it was pretty easy. i have a layover of about 15 hours so i figured i should definately get out of the airport. but i am afraid to wander too far in those 15 hours because 1. there is a really nice public restroom in starbucks across the street and i haven't seen any others and 2. the streets are narrow and windy and a little confusing here. it seems that i am in the area where there are lots of trendy shoe stores which is fun if i had any room to carry shoes. so i am walking around and looking at what kind of shoes everyine else is wearing in this part of town. there is a small army of black and white converse. will they ever go out of style? somehow i doubt it.

elle is waiting for me in bangkok. i am getting there 2 days after i expected because i missed a flight and had to stay the night in SF. except that she is waiting, it was great that i happenned to miss the flight. i was so happy to be in sf and i got to see rachel, heather and the old roomies. i spent the day in my old neighborhood and went to my favorite bar. i heart SF.