Back from the End of the World

It's not really the end of the world, but standing on the sunny expanse of Long Point, at the end of Cape Cod, at low tide, seeing the point curve and the ocean curve and the earth curve in the bright brilliant sunshine of a cerulean sky dotted by white Rorschach puffs certainly feels like you're at the end of all things.

We spent a week in one of our favorite places on Earth, Provincetown, MA, 02657, with our friends Greg and Tom. P'Town is a beautiful place, good for the soul and great for the gay soul, as it's the most open and queer welcoming place I've ever been (more so than San Francisco, West Hollywood, or Key West). "As you are," is how Greg put it, and he's right.

There's not much to do without a car in P'Town, other than wander, and eat, and drink and shop and make merry. The beaches are fantastic, and the sunsets on the water spectacular. P'Town is home to some incredible restaurants (we gays do like to eat and drink well). A visit to Zagat will show you what's available and the reviews are pretty much dead-on. They are missing the amazingly good Cafe Heaven, a place that Bob and I have gone to each of the four times we've been to Provincetown in the past twelve years. Unassuming and diner-ish in looks, they've got the best breakfasts I've ever had, anywhere on the planet.

Having nothing to do and doing only what you want in a very friendly environment with great sun and sand and people is really good for the soul. No wonder I can't wait to go back.

Thailand: The Beauties of Koh Phi Phi

So I've mentioned that Phuket, the island, is a bit of a dud as a destination. It's the nearby islands and coastline of the Andaman Coast that are the real draws to the area.

You can't go very far in Phuket without hitting a company or person who will gladly sell you a boat trip out to the islands of Koh Phi Phi or the coastline along Krabi. They're amazing, beautiful, and by turns lush and stark regions of Thailand. The Phi Phi islands are perhaps most famous for appearing in the film "The Beach", and the locals make sure you're aware of that fact by reminding you about it every 5 minutes. It's worthy of adulation, even if it's overdeveloped and you can't go to any cove on any of the islands in the area without there being another 20 boats there with you. It's incredibly beautiful, so it's no wonder that people want to get there. You just have to put up with it.

The water ranges from transparent to deep blue, and there's so much gradation all around these islands, it's a feast for the eyes. There's snorkeling and diving in the area, and saw some of the biggest fan coral and parrot fish I've ever seen (those fish were easily in excess of a foot in length). There's spectacular Moorish angels in the area, along with huge sea urchins with monstrous spikes. The water's warm and beautiful, whether you're snorkeling at 30 feet or floating just off the coast.

Destruction from the 2005 Tsunamis is evident wherever you go. From memorials and shrines above the water to the paths of coral destruction still evident on the sea floor, you get a glimpse of just how bad those three waves really were. It's eery and unsettling to see vast swaths of the ocean floor all destroyed in a single direction near the shoreline. The fish and sea life survive, however, and it's taken no time at all for the islands to rebuild.

The bout of food poisoning I had prevented us from taking two trips out along the Coast. I had wanted to go north a bit and see Krabi and the famous caves along the shore line and the rest of the ruggedly spectacular island formations in the area, but that was not to be thanks to those bad prawns. It gives me a reason to go back, and I hope to. Someday.

Thailand: More Photos

A number of people have asked me if I have any more photos from Thailand, and I do. I've posted the full set of 470+ plus pictures in my .Mac Web gallery. Enjoy!

Thailand: The Disappointments of Phuket

In the minds of most people in the West, Phuket is an indyllic, unspoiled, tropical paradise matched by few places in the world. While it's true that Phuket island is indeed tropical, it's hardly unspoiled or idyllic. I was surprised, actually, at the level of unplanned expansion that covers the island and at how uninteresting the island was itself.

The island is dominated by development from the airport area in the north all the way down the full length of the island, with larger developments around Phuket Town and Patong — one of the major tourist beach areas on the island. You have roads lined endlessly with western-style buildings, rusty shacks, strip malls, and the occasional wat. There is a major mall, lots of Western chains, and, well, a whole lot of development not a whole lot of natural beauty. Given the nature of humidity and the heat, a thick haze hangs over everything, making it difficult to see far from even the higher spots on the island, though there's not much to see.

It was, honestly, a disappointment for all of us.

Now that's just the island and how it's developed. The beaches and the location are an entirely different story.

The beaches in Phuket, though not many, are lovely and the sand soft and white. The waters of the Indian Ocean are warm and inviting. The sunsets at the southern end of Phuket are truly spectacular (though, like most beautiful things in the area, crowded with tourist bus after tourist bus). There's a few high level points on the island that are lush and green parks, which are nice too (though you have to pay to get in to the biggest and nicest of them).

Phuket is also the launching ground for trips to the Adaman Coast, which is where its importance and desirability as a tourist destination really comes to play. I'll blog more about that in another post, but it's the bay and the islands in the bay along the Adaman Coast that really drive people to Phuket.

Thailand: Two Days in Bangkok: The Wats

You can't go very far in Bangkok without passing a wat, or temple. There are many (probably hundreds) in Bangkok, and given our limited time in the city, we only visited a few. They're the big ones, and worth visiting by anyone going to the city.

Wat Phra Keo, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is the major temple in Bangkok, if not all Thailand. Home to a statue of the Buddha made of emerald and the site of some of the holiest Buddhist activities presided over by the Thai royal family, the wat itself is amazing. When you have a monarchy, and lots of natural resources, including lots of gold, this is what you get. It's packed and beautiful and detailed in the most impossible ways. A lot of the photos I took and posted show the details and beauty of this place. Golden and jeweled in a way that most Western castles and churches can only dream of, it's awe inspiring and a bit overwhelming. I'd go back again (and again), just to take in its dazzling detail and beauty.

Wat Po, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is the home of perhaps the most famous image of the Buddha in the world: laying on his side and super huge. About 150 feet long and massive in every way, he's a very impressive guy. His feet are fabulously detailed on the bottom. Most people seemed to just visit him and move on, but the rest of the wat has some really nice shrines, including an image of the Buddha with seven snakes around his head. I don't know why so many people seem to just see the big sight and move on, but I guess that's the nature of tourism.

Wat Arun, or the Temple of the Rising Sun, is across the river from the other two wats, and is more run down than the others. It carries within it, however, a rich beauty, and has some of the most fantastic ceramic work I've ever seen. The exterior is made of ceramic pieces, and it has a lot of beautiful detail. It's extra beautiful as the sun begins to set, in spite of the grime and black mold that has taken over large portions of its exterior. It's also the only wat you can climb, and when you do, you get a really nice view of the Old City in Bangkok.

One thing I noticed: there were few, if any guards, at any of these wats. Theft didn't seem to be much of a concern, especially in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. People were simply respectful and didn't touch what they weren't supposed to. Yes, there were a lot of people around and yes, there were guards (unarmed) nearby. But there was a respect and an understanding that these things were not for touching nor for taking, but simply holy. If these temples were in the United States, they'd be behind inches of glass and roped off and separated in every way from the visitors who came to see them.

Thailand: Photos

I pulled out 70 or so photos from the 500+ photos that we took and have put them in a .Mac Web gallery. Enjoy!

Thailand: Our Friend Jumbo (AKA Puck-Put)

One of the best parts — probably the best part of the trip (at least for Bob) — was meeting Jumbo, or Puck-Put, as Bob called him.

Jumbo is an eleven month-old elephant currently being raised and trained in Phuket. We were sitting at the pool on our first day at the Marriott and I see this young elephant walking by the area. He disappears from sight and returns in a few minutes to the pool area to the delight and amazement of myself, Bob and a number of the other guests. Some guests simply ignored him, which I found utterly baffling.

It turns out that Jumbo (or Puck-Put, as Bob preferred to call him) made daily appearances all around the resort. His mahout (or trainer) lives on the grounds with him and is, in all likelihood, preparing him for an adult life as part of the Phuket Fantasea show, or some other elephant-based entertainment, which are common in Thailand. The hotel, along with a few other high-end hotels in Phuket, provides room and board in return for daily interaction with guests. Given the option of starvation and perhaps begging on the streets with his mahout or appearing in an entertainment or educational entertainment for tourists, I suppose that being properly cared for in exchange for entertaining people is a superior option to starvation.

Jumbo is quite the character. Full of energy and happy to play with people, he did a few obligatory tricks, such as "playing" a harmonica and giving people high-fives with his trunk. Mostly, however, he simply interacted with people and his environment, bringing delight to those of us who spent time with him, or fed him, or gave him water. Although it may be somewhat common in Thailand to interact with elephants so closely, it's certainly not the case in other parts of the world. Young elephants are fiercely guarded by their mothers, and getting close to an eleven month-old elephant is impossible in places like southern Africa. Jumbo was abandoned by his mother at birth, so that may explain he ended up where he did.

Jumbo would also make trips to the ocean each day, and if you happened to be in the right place at the right time, you could take a swim in the ocean with him. He's highly energetic, and very playful, and is just beginning to learn how to bring people up on to his back. In the water, this translated in to rushing around from person to person, practically knocking them over in an attempt to get them on his back. I can't begin to describe how amazing and joyful it was to play with him, and to watch him play with Bob in the shallows of the ocean. He swam and dunked himself in the water, rolled in the sand, and went back for more. His mahout finally had to drag him out of the water and off to his other responsibilities (or maybe just a break from the people).

There are probably only a few hundred people in the world who can say that they've swam in the ocean with a young elephant. I'm glad that I'm one of them.

Thailand: Where We Stayed

We had the incredible good fortune of staying in two excellent hotels while we were in Thailand. I'd heartily recommend them to anyone going to Bangkok or Phuket.

In Bangkok, we stayed at the Old Bangkok Inn, a privately run guesthouse near the Democracy Monument and centrally located between the Old City and the more modern Downtown area (where most Western hotels are located). The Inn is really well decorated, very affordable, very comfortable, and the people who work there were awesome. They'll gladly help you get around the city, tell you where to go, what to avoid, where to eat, and help you really explore Bangkok. It's not a 5-star hotel with all the amenities, but they'll cook you a good breakfast and get you on your way and it won't break the bank. We plan on staying there again when we go back to Bangkok some day, and if you're ever in Bangkok, I can't recommend it enough.

In Phuket, we stayed at the amazingly beautiful JW Marriott Resort and Spa. Isolated towards the northern end of the island, the Marriott resort in impeccably designed, beautifully run, full on the amenities (3 swimming pools, 6 restaurants, the best spa in Southeast Asia), and is therefore really expensive. Fortunately, my parents picked up the rooms for us via their membership in the Marriott Vacation Club. I can't imagine what it would have cost otherwise (well, I can, but it's not pretty), but for those who do pay, it's likely worth it. The service is excellent, and the place is an ideal location to hang out and relax for a week under the South Asian sun. And the beach massages for a measly 400 baht ($12) an hour? Awesome.

Back from Thailand

Bob and I just got back from 12 days on the other side of the world in a beautiful, if homogenously modernized, country named Thailand. It was both of our first time in Asia, and we enjoyed it a great deal. We spent a few days in Bangkok then went off to Phuket, a resort area in southern Thailand, for the majority of our trip. In spite of a nasty bout of food poisoning the first night in Phuket (damn you river prawns!), the whole trip was pretty damn great.

I'll be blogging a bit more about some of the things we did in Thailand in the next couple of days, but here are some highlights:

  • I'd travel half the world again and again to see Wat Phra Keo — the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
  • The reclining buddha at Wat Po is ginormous.
  • The klong river buses are a great way to get across Bangkok, but woe to you if you don't feel comfortable jumping on to a moving boat.
  • There's a kerjillion wats (temples) in Bangkok, and there's something interesting about every one of them.
  • Ride the Chao Phraya river boats at dusk. The city is beautiful by boat.
  • The warm waters of the Indian Ocean are so peaceful.
  • Playing with a young elephant in the ocean is something everyone should do once in their life.
  • You may feel like they're beating you up, but Thai massages are cheap and excellent.
  • Forgo the ugly blandness of Phuket itself and head out to the wonders of the Andaman Coast.

I want to go back some day, and I think Bob does as well. It's a country of incredibly generous and sincere people and incredible and sincere wonders. We didn't make it anywhere north of Bangkok, and there's so much more to see there, so that's a reason in itself to go back again some day.

Awesome Kauai: Queen's Bath

I've been to Kauai a number of times now, and on my most recent trip, I went somewhere I've never been before: Queen's Bath. Queen's Bath is a natural pool carved out of the lava rock along the north coast of the island. To get to it, you have to park next to some houses in Princeville, make your way down a very steep and treacherous-when-wet trail, then across 1/4 mile of lava rock to this very cool pool on the ocean's edge. At low tide, the water is very warm and the snorkeling is great because of all the fish that get trapped in there. It's pretty dangerous in high surf (especially during the winter months), but otherwise a total blast.

As I mentioned, getting there is a little treacherous. When wet, that trail is muddy and evil. Bob fell and gave himself a nice concussion, while other people just got covered in mud. It's a beautiful, amazing spot, however, so if you're ever in Kauai or have been many times but never seen Queen's Bath, it's more than worth the effort.

Pics are available in my .Mac Web Gallery.

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