Bangkok, Oriental city...
After a week in Bangkok, I'm definitely ready to head out. I visited the major wats and the Grand Palace, got my visas, and am looking fearfully forward to the ride out of Bangkok. The wats are spectacular - much different then the Japanese temples. Ornate mosaics and tiling all over, and more stupas then you can imagine. The best thing about my stay has been the comradiary with other Westerners - all very friendly, and great to chat with after months in rural Japan. The Thais are very friendly as well, but it is nice to finally have meaningful discussions without speaking in broken English.
The current plan is to bike to Siem Reap and visit Angkor Wat for several days. Then ferry down to Battambang, and continue on to Phnom Phen and down to the coast for a little R&R on the beach. After that, Vietnam, the Mekong, and Saigon. But as always, plans are destined to change. I've trimmed some of my Laos travels, as they still have travel advisorys against travelling north to Luang Probang. And I'm also trying to get back to Bangkok a week or two before I depart so that I can head down to a beach for some rest before heading back to frigid Chicago.
A good web site for my route across Cambodia can be found at mrpumpy.
Also, don't worry about Japanese earthquakes, as I'm far, far away from there. And the Muslim uprisings are in the far south of Thailand.
PS - fried frogs taste kinda like chicken. the fried grasshoppers are a little crunchy. and the fried cockroaches have a crunchy outside and a soft, sweet interior.
I finally made it out of Bangkok - the traffic wasn't too bad. No bike line, but most people gave me more room then they do in Chicago - with bike lanes. The only hard part is crossing the street, as there are few stoplights to keep traffic in check. But once you're going in the right direction it's a snap. I did get lost for a couple hours as I missed my turnoff and struggled to get back to the street out of town. The major problem with navigation in Bangkok is that there is only two or three streets and everything else is a "soi" (which means alley or something, not really sure). So you've got Suvhumvit Rd. Off of that, there are about 100 sois, a few of which have there own names as well (i.e. Sukhumvit 55 is Thon Lo). Then the sois have sois, and I think sometimes those sois will have sois. So 90% of the street signs (when there is a steet sign, which is rare) say "Soi ##", which can cause a wee bit of confusion.
Once out of Bangkok a little the traffic nearly dries up and you nearly have a lane to yourself - just shared with parked cars and motos and the occasional car making a left turn (they drive on the left here). You pass between fields with palm trees surrounding the paddies. Every once in a while, there'll be an outcrop of food places - little huts, sans walls, with a grill, some tables and chairs. Very quaint. I had rice with vegetables and chicken (or something like chicken, my policy is 'don't ask, don't tell'). Total bill for food and a Coke - $0.75. There was a guy there who spoke a little English, and we chatted for a little about my route. Farangi bikers are definitely out of the ordinary, as I was receiving a lot of stares (something the Thais are quite good at doing) and waves.
The road eventually went down to one lane each way, with a shoulder wide enough to bike on - although occasionally it was in pretty poor shape. Pretty flat except for the occasional bridge. They do have little covered bench areas quite frequently - I think they're bus stops, but whatever they are, they make for a nice retreat from the sun.
I have made it to Chachoengsao, which has a few nice wats. One has one of the most sacred Buddhas in Thailand. It's a nice little riverside town, otherwise nothing spectacular. But a definite change from Bangkok. My hotel room as a nice view of the river and a scary toilet/shower room. I imagine it was last cleaned when they changed the country's name from Siam to Thailand. Back to Eastern toilets as well. But for $5, I guess you can't expect the Ritz, even in Thailand.
Tomorrow I'm out of here bright and early and heading east. Should get into Cambodia on the 30th (not sure what day that is) and Siem Reap by Nov 1st or 2nd. I can then watch the election returns there, which will determine whether I go back to Chicago in February of 2005 or February of 2009.
Friday, October 29, 2004
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Bangkok, Thailand. A cacophony of chaos and confusion. Comparing it to Japan is an exercise in opposites. More like Mexico City meets Amsterdam, at least to me. The streets are clogged with cars and motorbikes - the latter dodging between the lanes, often with passengers (who pay for this privelege) sitting behind them. The sidewalks are rough and tumble, with cracks and fissures all over, patched willy nilly. Vendors have their little food or souvenir stands in many places, making transit adventoursome as you try to avoid stepping through a hole whilst dodging other people, vendors, and the occasional motorbike that's decided to avoid the street traffic. Quite the place. The weather isn't too bad either - about 90 F, but not very humid.
I've gotten my Cambodian visa, and will go to the Vietnam counsulate office Monday to get that visa - which will probably take a couple days. After that I'm headed east towards Cambodia. Still trying to decide how to get there - either straight east or go south towards the coast and then back up. Leaning towards the later, as long as I can figure out the stopping points.
The hostel I'm at is quite nice - a bed cost me just over 600 bhat for four nights. At a little over 40 bhat to the dollar, that's about $15. They even have a bar / restaurant on the ground floor where I've been meeting people from all over the world - albeit heavy on the Australians, English, and American side.
I'm now off to negotiate the mean streets of Bangkok and check out some of those wats (temples) and palaces.
Friday, October 22, 2004
Thursday, October 21, 2004
To paraphrase (and totally distort) Burnham, my new motto is `make no plans.`
I rode up to Koyasan, and barely made it before nightfall. Which is good - I may have mentioned it before, but there is a total lack of streetlights here in Japan. After a bit of searching and asking around, I finally found the hostel. Luckily, they had a place for that night, but would be on vacation the rest of the week. There was a mother and daughter from Hawaii and a young Japanese guy staying there as well, so I was able to talk to some native-English speakers. The next morning, I went around checking out a few of the temples and getting the last of my stamps for my book. It`s quite a lovely little area - reminds me of Vail or Aspen (ala Japanese style, of course).
Since the hostel was closed, I had to choose between staying at a temple (around Y9500, or about $90) or heading back down to Wakayama. Since I`ve stayed at a temple before (and there are no other accommodations up there), I decided to head back and maybe go up to Osaka for a couple days. Those descents are always much more fun the the ascent. Whereas it took me about 7 hours to get up there, it took about 4 getting down. At times I was wondering `how in the world did I ever make it up here?`
Arriving in Wakayama, I went back to the first place I stayed at when I arrive here - the capsule hotel. It`s sort of strange, as things look vaguely familiar, but yet so different. Anyways, the next morning it was raining. Seems they`re having one of those storm things. Like a hurricane... what`s it called... oh yeah, a typhoon. And it looks to be headed straight towards where I`m at. Not being in the mood to cycle through the rain, I`ve holed up here in Wakayama and decided to wait it out. It`ll pass sometime this evening, so my flight tomorrow should be (knock knock) unaffected.
Meanwhile, Bangkok awaits. Weather forecast is for high 80`s and sunny. I`m following the rainy season around SE Asia, so hopefully it`s not dragging on like the typhoon season here.
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Well, this is my last night here in Tokushima, and thus on Shikoku. Got my bike this morning, and the bags are repacked and ready to go. I head off to the dock to grab the ferry early tomorrow morning, and then head up to Koyasan. Should be an interesting first day back on the bike - 80 km and a 900 m climb (that be about 48 miles, and about 3000 feet up). I plan on spending a couple days there - it seems to have quite a few temples and I might as well see it all while I can. After that I head back down to Wakayama or somewhere thereabout and then I`m off to Bangkok on the 21st. This will probably be my last update before I leave, so savor it.
There isn`t a whole lot to do here in Tokushima, so it`s just been a lot of strolling around. It`ll be good to get back moving again.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Interesting things I've learner about Japan...
- they have wagering on bicycle races. Like horse races, but with bicyclists. They also have little speed boats they race and wager on.
- youth sumo (I guess they've got to start somewhere)
- origami competitions (televised!)
- Hotels don't have room numbers ending in "4". shi means 4, shi also means death (although it's a different character), thus 4 is considered an unlucky number (e.g. don't give 4 of anything as a gift). Although, 'yon' also means 4, and is usually used instead of shi. Don't ask why, as that would lead me to some of the further vaguaries of the Japanese numbering system (i.e. the many different ways of counting things).
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Temples: 1-59, 61-88, 1
Distance: 1200-1400 km, depending on who you ask
Weight: 66 kg
So I've managed to complete the circle and returned to Temple #1. The typhoon scare didn't really pan out, as it headed to the east and up into Tokyo. I'm not sure if the few days rest in Takamatsu helped much, but it was either sitting around there or sitting around here in Tokushima.
#88 had quite a festive atmosphere, as it marks the end of most people's journey (being the purist, I needed to continue and hike back to #1). It was also a holiday Monday, which made it even more busy then usual. Incense wafted in the air, as people burned off their final sticks. Pictures were being taken, final goodbyes said. I sat around for about an hour talking to a couple I had run into several times over the previous day.
After two more days, I arrived at #1 and made the short trek over to the train station to come back to Tokushima. There, I ran into my friend Hama from Osaka. He had just finished as well (after taking a wrong turn and losing the better part of a day). He was heading off to Koyosan, and then back to Osaka.
I've decided to forgo #60, in part as a symbol of my continuing journey. Also because of the hassle of getting there from here - either 4-5 days via bicycle or $100 via train. Instead, I'll wait for my bike to arrive on Saturday then head over to Wakayama and bike up to Koyosan. There lies the grave of Kobo Daishe, our revered pilgrimage founder. After that, it's on to Kansai, and flying to Bangkok. I figured I'm in need of new lands to not know, new languages to confuse me, and new customs to flout.
Friday, October 8, 2004
Well, I stopped in Takamatsu for a little rest and site seeing and am now stuck here for the next couple of days. Yup, another typhoon. Tried to go down to #60 this morning and get that out of the way, but the roads are still closed. Probably a good thing, as the rain is coming down pretty good now. I did finally succumb and purchased an umbrella. Mainly to stop people from stopping and offering me theirs all the time. But anyway, I`m waiting out the typhoon here and then finishing up early next week. Still deciding whether or not to bike out to #60 or not, suppose I should since I`ve gone to all this trouble. It`ll just add another 4 or 5 days to the trip (which will still let me leave earlier then originally planned).
Thursday, October 7, 2004
Temples: 1-59, 61-83
Distance: approx. 1300 km
Well, I`m almost there. Currently in Takamatsu, with just 1 temple behind me to get to and 5 in front of me (actually 7 - back to #1 and there`s a temple in Wakayama to see as well). Thinking about taking a rest day here tomorrow, then catching the train in the evening to find a camping spot for the assault up to #60 the next day. Had a nice spot last night - up on this mountain over looking the town below. Chilly enough to keep the mosquitoes grounded as well.
Ran into my friend from Osaka the other day as well. We went to an udon place (supposedly a famous udon restaurant - they hand make the noodles) and got a free lunch. Pretty impressive, especially since it`s right on the henro path, and I`m sure many henros stop there for lunch or dinner. I told him it`s because of me being an American henro. I`ve also been running into a couple other henro quite frequently, and it seems they`ve taken to hiking together.
More tales to tell, but I need to get up to the visitor`s info center and get a hotel before they close. Also find a laundr-o-mat, as my clothes are getting quite rank.
The typhoons actually aren`t that bad, just a lot of rain and wind. As long as you can take cover and wait them out you`re fine. And by the time they reach Shikoku, they`re usually caught up in the jet stream and move out in a day. It`s those indeterminant rains that I hate - just gray all over and no apparent end in site.
Saturday, October 2, 2004
Temples: 1-59, 61-64
Distance: 1100 km
Weight: 69.15 kg
More metric factoids
The typhoon was packing winds of 35 m/s
Gas is Y120 / liter
Highs are getting down into the mid 20`s (Celsius, of course)
Yes, I am in southern Japan. And yes, the typhoon passed pretty much right over us. I hiked about 10 km the day it passed through to get to the nearest town and hunker down in a hotel. The next morning it was sunny and nice out and I started out my hike up to temple #60, which is on a mountain. I passed through a small town which had had its river overflow, and there was mud covering everything. A bridge had been washed out, and there was timber scattered here and there. Further up, the road was blocked off, but a woman indicated that I could continue walking up to the temple. Parts of the road were washed out, there were rock slides covering parts of it, and downed power lines. Eventually, I ran into a couple that told me the road was blocked further up. So back down to I went (I had only made it about 1/3 of the way). I then went on to temples 61-63 to reach the next road up the mountain. There, the calligrapher guy told me all three roads upto #60 were washed out and try again in a week.
So while contemplating my next step, I started talking to another henro. He had just spent five days helping an older couple clean up their garden, and the husband was a tea master. Part of his salary was learning the tea ceremony and he also received a Japanese tea set. So we had a little tea ceremony there at the temple. We then hiked together to temple #64 (I decided to forgo temple #60 for now, and take a day trip from Takamatsu next week) and then ownward a little ways to a town where we found a park to camp at. We met another Japanese guy who was biking around Japan and had camped there as well. We all eventually went to the onsen up the road for a bath and then returned to our little campsite.
Did`t get much distance in that day, but I have enough leeway in my schedule now to have a few blow off days. Typhoon season should be over, so there shouldn`t be too much to delay me from here on. I think it`s about over 8 days to the end from where I am now and I basically have two weeks to make it back to Tokushima. Throw in the day back to #60 and I can relax a little bit. After #65 tomorrow and climbing up to #66 the next day (it`s the highest at almost 1000m) it`ll pretty much be cruising through the Takamatsu urban jungle, with no mountains or real long hikes to worry about.