Hey everybody! I’ve started a new thing called PureChiangMai and I’d like you to check it out. It’s called PureChiangMai, and I’m hoping to bring some of the same ethos behind Everything is Dirty into a site focused on Chiang Mai. I’ll still be traveling, obviously, and I hope to kick this blog back up in the future. But for now, please check out PureChiangMai for stuff like pictures of forest fires and treatises on clubbing in Thailand. Thanks!
The first time I visited Cambodia I was nineteen years old and completely without a clue. Even a sleepy capital like Phnom Penh was intimidating, and staying in the filthy, run-down bowels of Boeung Kak Lake’s tourist ghetto didn’t do much to ease the mind. But Boeung Kak itself was beautiful, and watching the sunset from creaky wooden decks jutting out from floating guesthouses was unbelievable. This is what it used to look like.
Boeung Kak is gone now. It’s been filled with sand dredged from the Mekong and all the neighborhoods around it are dead or dying. The backpacker ghetto was always dark, dirty and dangerous, but now it’s downright tragic. Most of the guesthouses with names like “Lake View” and “Lakeside Paradise” have shut down and huge piles of sand tower over their gutted remains. A few bars and restaurants are still operating, but their clientele seems to be only drug dealers and the saddest old white men you’ll ever see. I climbed up the sand and walked out over what used to be the lake, before being chased away by an angry foreman. I managed to get a few pictures, though.
What happened? It’s a sadly familiar story in this part of the world – people had been living on the lake for decades, but without any sort of official paperwork to prove ownership of their land. The World Bank had a project meant to provide Boeung Kak’s residents with titles but it moved too slowly and was canceled by the Cambodian government. Instead, they decided to take shady Chinese investment money to confiscate the land, fill the lake in and build fancy condominiums and shopping complexes for the upper class. All in all about ten thousand people were forced out of their homes.
WIANG HAENG AND DOI ANG KHANG, THAILAND
Thai campgrounds are pretty awful, unless you don’t mind pitching your tent on a lawn next to a parking lot two feet away from someone else. I get it, it’s a social event, but when I go camping I want to pretend I’m tracking mastodons or sneaking behind enemy lines or one of those other manly things I’ll never get to do.
Luckily, it turns out you can pitch a tent and start a fire pretty much anywhere. It’s hard to get used to, because where I grew up that’s a great way to get arrested, but as long as you don’t eat endangered wildlife or leave trash like a dickhead you can get away with pretty much anything.
So we rented Honda Phantoms (for when you’re broke but want to look like you’re on a Harley) and drove through the mountains. The 1322 to Wiang Haeng dead-ends in one of Burma’s black zones, but before that it’s wonderfully paved and is full of crazy hairpin turns on something like a 20% grade. Doi Ang Khang is often glibly referred to as “The Switzerland of Thailand,” and that’s all I have to say about that.
KOH PHRA THONG, THAILAND
(Part 1) (Part 2)
There aren’t exactly motorbike rental shops on Koh Phra Thong, but the guy we stayed with let me take one of his to cruise around the island. There’s one paved road that goes from the north side halfway down the island and back up to a town in the northeast corner, but the rest is loose sand a foot deep and completely impassable. Luckily, you can drive on the beach.
KOH PHRA THONG, THAILAND
The day after Christmas, 2004, the third largest earthquake ever recorded struck Indonesia and sent thirty meter high waves barreling across the Indian Ocean. The west coast of Thailand was devastated, killing thousands of people and destroying much of the infrastructure. Popular tourist destinations like Phuket and Khao Lak quickly recovered (even seven years later all of Khao Lak’s tourist literature proclaims that it’s ‘completely rebuilt!’), but more out of the way destinations are still struggling with the economic, environmental and social consequences of the wave.
On Koh Phra Thong, the tsunami swept five kilometers inland and destroyed everything on the west side of the island. One village was rebuilt by a Lions Club and two others were unaffected, but much of the rest of the wreckage was left untouched.
KOH PHRA THONG, THAILAND
Koh Phra Thong (เกาะพระทอง) isn’t a typical Thai beach destination, but if you’ve ever been to a typical Thai beach destination you’ll probably agree that’s a good thing. There are no dance clubs, no beach chairs, no internet cafes and almost all the electricity comes from generators. It’s just miles and miles of empty beaches.
Unfortunately, a lot of Koh Phra Thong’s atmosphere is thanks to the terrible 2004 tsunami that swept across half the island, wiping out several villages and killing at least a hundred people. If you look at the satellite images, you can actually see the wave patterns it left coming in (on the left side):
There’s only one paved road, but I rented a motorbike and cruised up and down the beach for a few hours. We’ll take a look at what I found over the next few days.
CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
As you might have noticed, I let this thing lapse for a little while. But not to worry. I didn’t die in the riots, get thrown in a third-world prison or come down with a synapse-snacking brain parasite. Let’s not dwell on such trivialities though, because I sure as hell didn’t stop having adventures – a deserted tropical island, numerous motorcycle trips and an actual, honest-to-goodness trip to Burma went down while Everything Is Dirty languished. Most weren’t very well documented, but I’m going to start picking through the backlog two or three times a week and we’ll see where everything goes from there.
For now, enjoy these pictures of Loy Krathong 2010 (see this post from ’09 for more).
CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
I’m back in Thailand (though there are still a few more India posts) and everything completely hit the fan last week. The protesters’ rogue military commander was assassinated and Bangkok turned into a warzone for nearly a week – all told, 52 people died, 407 were injured and 34 buildings were burned, including the stock exchange, a major news channel and the second largest mall in SE Asia. On Wednesday the violence spread and three major city halls were burned in the Northeast.
Chiang Mai is a little tamer than the rest of Thailand in most aspects, but there were still a bunch of drunk rioters camping out on a bridge. They set up a barricade, destroyed a police box, burned a pile of tires and eventually blew up two fire trucks while taunting the police line on the other side of the river. The fuzz made a few attempts to drive into the camp, but they never got closer than about two hundred meters thanks to one crazy motherfucker with a fire extinguisher. Two dipshit foreigners destroyed street signs and threw tires on the fire, after which I hope they were arrested and summarily executed. After a few hours the military marched in with machine guns and stood there until everybody left. I heard some buildings on the other side of town were burned too, but nearest I can tell no one was injured.
It’s all over now. Nothing was solved. I could complain at length about how the Thai establishment asked for this, how the red shirt leaders let their legitimate political grievances take a backseat to rhetoric and senseless rioting, and above all how the international media completely misrepresented the situation and jacked themselves off over a fantasy about class warfare and “Democracy”, but in the end I’m not sure anybody really wants to hear it. Thais, expats, the media and the rest of the world already know what they think.
JORETHANG -> YUKSOM, SIKKIM, INDIA
Sorry about the hiatus, things have been a little scattered. Let’s go back to Sikkim, shall we?
Jorethang isn’t a big town, but it’s still the main transit point through West Sikkim and has a lot of restaurants, hotels and other amenities. As soon as you leave though, you’re in the boonies. The road to Yuksom is serviced by only one jeep a day and climbs up through the Himalayas for about six hours, mostly along nightmarish drops into ravines you can’t see the bottom of. In most parts, cars have to slow to a stop to negotiate a way around each other while all the passengers throw up out the window.
Then you get to Yuksom and things start to get interesting, but we’ll save that for Wednesday.