Bike Tracks bicycle around the world Sat, 05 Feb 2011 04:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bangkok Sun, 03 Dec 2000 02:22:55 +0000 Everything I have ever heard about Bangkok was about how dirty and crowded it was. Shelli and I arrived there in the afternoon, yes it was crowded, but it didn’t seem that dirty. But then of course after some of the places we have been, nothing seems to affect me that way. In China I wore a bandana to save my lungs, but here in Bangkok it didn’t seem that bad. Guess everything is relative.

Our mission in Bangkok was to locate a place that sold really usual but nice clothing, like which we had seen in the airport. ONLY we didn’t want to pay airport prices! Shelli and I asked around but everywhere we were told to go, wasn’t quite right. As a matter of fact we have never been given such a huge run around as we were given in Bangkok.

Bangkok is a tad corrupt. Let me explain.

Our first experience was with a tuk tuk driver who meet us outside of the Jim XXX house. JIm XXX is the guy who put Thailand and silk on the world trade map. Some years ago, after making himself a huge fortune, he disappeared into thin air. Today they have turned his name and former home into a tourist trap. It’s where you go if you want to spend a fortune on really nice silk goods.

We wanted really nice, but we didn’t want the fortune part. So we left. On the way out we met this tuk tuk driver who struck up a conversation with us. He said he knew where to take us and the place we were headed for wasn’t the right place, as a matter of fact it was a parking lot for the police station or something like that.

So we accepted his help and jumped in his little tuk tuk vehicle. Along the way he pulled out a picture of his sister who lives in Nebraska or was it Iowa, I forget. These guys do have the “let’s build report down.” We fell for it.

After a fair distance he pulled up to a tailor shop, but insisted that we go up to the third floor of the building across the street first. He said you need not buy anything, but just go look at the jewelry. By doing this you will help me out, because they give me a free gas coupon.

Needless to say, we were annoyed. Actually pissed! We tried to reason with this guy, but I didn’t like fighting in the street and finally we agreed to go up, walk around and then leave. Which is exactly what we did. While up there we turned the tables on him and asked the sales lady about a silk place. She told us where to go. She also said not to tell the driver, the one we had or any other driver, because when they bring you the price goes up.

No kidding!

We left and went back outside and across the street to the fabulous silk shop he had told us about. It wasn’t fabulous, it was just another custom shop. We wanted ready to wear.

We left, and went back to our driver and basically told him to get lost. We didn’t care for the way he did business.

Now we were in the middle of “I-don’t-know-where-Bangkok” without a ride or a map. We flagged down a cab and asked him to take us to a restaurant. We had no idea where, we just needed to eat. I was getting very grouchy, with low blood sugar and all.

So how many mistakes do you think we can make in a day?

The cab driver took us to a restaurant, sort of. Well there were people eating but there were no walls. They were all sitting about in a parking lot or something. Shelli was ready to be pissed again, I was thinking we need to ditch this cabbie too.

We got out, paid him and I strolled over to look at the menu. As it turned out the restaurant was still a dream of an architect’s rendering, but they were actually serving food. It was a seafood restaurant where you choose you dinner by pointing at the fish you wanted. It was not a bad looking place, sort of up scale even if it didn’t have a roof, walls, doors or anything but plans.

We decided to stay. Our next problem was figuring out how much this affair was going to cost us. I love shrimp but I detest having to clean it myself at the table. The shrimp here was absolutely huge, but they still had the heads on. Gross. I did a quite calculation and determined that the shrimp would cost a small fortune. Apparently they have New York City prices in Bangkok.

Shelli and decided to split a fish and call it a night. It was a good thing, the fish was good, but it was rather expensive. It was in fact a tourist place and of course they probably had to pay our cab driver!

We finished dinner and took off for a mall. The mall was in the International Trade Center. It was a huge multi-storied place with hundreds of stores, but shopping was not our destiny tonight. We didn’t find anything that came even close to what we were looking for.

Shelli had to leave for Bali in the morning and I was tired. We decided to go home to our hotel.

I didn’t climb into my bed until after Shelli had fallen asleep. When I got between the covers I discovered that my bed was dirty. It had bits of grit and sand on the sheets. It was awful. (It felt like something a kid would do to a bed, get in and out without cleaning his feet.) This was supposed to be a new room and the bed had not been changed. I rustled with the decision to go complain or just live with it. I didn’t feel like getting dressed and waking Shelli, so I just stayed there. I figured a little more dirt won’t kill me. It was a very uncomfortable night.

In the morning Shelli left for Bali, leaving me sound asleep in my gross bed. Bye Shelli!

When I woke I decided to pack my bag and go find a decent hotel. It was my last night in a foreign country, I had one more day before I headed home. I wanted it to be spent in a clean bed. Is that too much to ask?

I packed my backpack. All my other massive bags were left at the airport, which was the smartest thing I did on this leg in Thailand. I was free to roam with only one backpack, filled with computer on my back. I was traveling light.

Outside and down the street was a lovely looking hotel. I went in and asked to see the room. In SE Asia as in Japan and China they spend a ton of money on the lobby. You can never tell what a room is going to look like, but looking at the lobby. This hotel was the same. The lobby was very impressive but the room was not.

I knew I was going to have to up my price. The bed with dirty sheets cost us the equivalent of $10 so if I doubled the fee I would still not be paying too much (by American standard) and I would probably get a decent room. That was my plan and that’s how it worked.

I called a hotel in the Lonely Planet, secured a room, then walked there. Actually it was a ways away so I took the “sky train” to a closer point then walked the rest of the way. It got me out of the neighborhood and into a very different area, much closer to the cheap shopping district. Success!

My new hotel was very nice. I checked in and left immediately in search of a tailor. I needed some more clothes, my pack was too light!

Around the block I found an interesting tailor shop run by Indians. That’s India Indians! They had a huge assortment of material and wanted to make me yet another wardrobe. I told them, “oh no! I only need something to wear for a special occasion, like a New Year’s Eve party.” They took my measurements and showed me some wonderful Thai silk, the next thing I know I’m ordering an outfit.

Of course we had to negotiate on the price. I was not in a mood to pay much than what I had set in my mind. At one point I told the guy thanks, but no thanks and started to leave. That worked. I ended up getting it all my way. My suit would be ready that evening, he would have it delivered to my hotel.

I told him, “no way!” I will come try it on to be sure it fits. I wasn’t going to make any mistakes today. He accepted.

Then all day I walked around shopping and looking at all the “bargains”. There is a mall that has vendors that will sell goods to you at wholesale or retail prices. The difference is the quantity. Of course I didn’t need to buy a dozen of anything, but it was fun to see.

I did end up buying a really nice purse made out of stingray. I paid a mere fraction of the price they wanted in the airport!

All the while I was shopping I kept worrying about my new custom suite. If it didn’t fit right I wouldn’t have time to get it fixed. I was leaving on a very early plane. What would I do?

When the time came I went to pick up my suit, first trying it on. All my worrying was for naught, the suit fit like a glove. I was delighted. The store manager wanted to date me! Such salesmen they are!

I left with yet another bag in tow.

I had been in Bangkok 36 hours, I was ready to go home. America is calling me.

Angkor Wat Fri, 01 Dec 2000 03:24:02 +0000 Angkor Wat is the main attraction, it’s name dominates the entire area, even though it is just one temple complex among 50 in the area.

A view of the Angkor Wat TowersA glance through the first entrance leading to the towers of Angkor Wat.

Built in the second half of the 12th century it is a funeral pyre for the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple covers a huge area of .93 miles by .8 miles. It is three levels high and is surrounded by 4 protective walls. The entrance to the temple is a succession of three doorways. Each leading to a vast open space between the next entrance.

Walking to the main temple took what seemed forever! The temple complex was huge, we spent the better part of the day exploring and taking photos. Here are a sample of them:”image

Siem Reap Wed, 29 Nov 2000 02:19:02 +0000 November 28 thru December 3, 2000

I left Singapore with Shelli, early in the morning. We had a flight to Bangkok, Thailand where we laid over for a few hours until we caught a flight on Bangkok Air to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

We were excited to be on the road again after our four hectic and emotional days in Singapore. Siem Reap would be a refreshing and relaxing time for us or so we hoped.

Bangkok AirOur flight from Bangkok was with Bangkok Air and to our delight we had the pleasure of flying on a brand new airplane, it had only been in service a week! The flight was not full so we had plenty of space to stretch out and relax.

Our first sight of Cambodia was from the air, it was wet, almost completely flooded. As I looked out the porthole of the plane all I could see was brown water covering the ground. I was concerned that we were flying into a disaster area, I could not see a landing strip!

Lucky for us the pilot had done this a few times before, within minutes he found the landing field and we were on the ground at the Siem Reap International Airport. And yes there was dry ground, the monsoon season had just ended.

The airport was the smallest international airport I have ever seen. It was very compact and filled with official people selling us visas for $25 (U.S.) and inspecting our bags. It took all of 20 steps to get from the runway, to the visa counter, collect our bags, clear customs and get out the front door.

The temperature was very hot, so hot in fact that we were both very anxious to get in an air conditioned cab and to a cool hotel room. We didn’t have reservations, but we did have our trusty Lonely Planet version of Southeast Asia on a Shoestring book. What more did we need?

I gathered my two tons of luggage while Shelli went to find a telephone. For some reason the telephone idea didn’t work, I think we needed a phone card. So we decided to just grab a cab and go directly to our first choice in hotel.

Getting a cab was easy, the drivers know when the plane arrives so they line up, waiting for customers. The system here is rather interesting too. The cabbie charges a flat fee to take you to town, included in that fee are as many stops as it takes to find you accommodations. Of course the cabbie takes you to his favorite places first, then your choices. Either way, when you finally commit to a hotel, he gets a cut, or a “referral fee”. We learned this is a way of life in Southeast Asia.

Our cabbie was a rookie. Not only did he not speak English he didn’t know how to read it either. Of course this makes sense, but it made our search rather difficult. We showed him the picture of the Green Garden Guest House and he didn’t recognize that either. He kept saying to us, “Yes, I know!” Of course he didn’t know what “Yes, I know!” meant either. He would say it then continue doing whatever. Finally his solution was to drive up and down the main street while we pointed at places to stop.

We had several trial stops, while Shelli and I would go into a hotel to see if we liked it. I must say that the accommodations were plentiful, but they were not quite what we expected for a 5 day retreat. We wanted just a few basic things, clean, air conditioned, quiet and a shower. Is that too much to ask?

The first place we entered had a sign on the wall, “No prostitutes allowed!” We liked the idea they were selective, but worried about why they found it necessary to place a sign on the wall. We decided against this place.

No Taxi Girls AllowedAnother inviting place quietly put a notice on the night table in the room. They alluded to the same end but in a different manner. That sign said, “no taxi girls allowed.” Could that mean us? We didn’t think so.

Our search was rather exasperating. The prices made no sense. Here we were in the poorest country in all of Southeast Asia and they were charging U.S. prices for less than wonderful rooms. Something was wrong.

We continued to look for the Green Garden Guest House. Our friends had told us they really liked the place, even though they opted not to stay there. At the time the U.S. Presidential election was going on and the Guest House did not have CNN. They ended up paying big bucks for another hotel, just so they could watch the election. Too bad they wasted their money…the election wasn’t over for several more weeks!

Our persistence paid off, we finally came across a little side street, on it was our destination and home to be for the next 5 days, the Green Garden Guest House. We loved it the minute we set foot in the courtyard. The price was right, $17 for a double room and for an additional $3 we could have breakfast.

We settled in and within minutes discovered that we weren’t the only Odyssey riders there. In fact the town had at least a dozen of us adventurers around. In our little guest house Joan and Barbara had been there for several days.

So in true Odyssey fashion, Shelli and I picked their brains. They told us how to get a guide and driver and where the best places were to go sightsee and eat. Our agenda filled up quickly, with little effort. The Odyssey Brain Trust works.

Apsara Theatre Restaurant ~ Siem Reap CambodiaOur first night the Odyssey group went to see the Apsara Theatre Restaurant. The Khmer dancers are stunningly beautiful, they are trained at a young age to display unusual grace.

The Odyssey Friends in CambodiaOur Odyssey friends, Shelli, Beth, Al, Joan, Barbara, Steve, Tom and me at the Apsara Theatre.

The next day we spent relaxing and arranging for our tour guide and driver. We were still very tired and exhausted from our journey and were in no rush to start running around again. Besides Shelli had forgot to bring cash to Cambodia, a major no-no. For the most part we have been able to access ATM machines , with a few exceptions.

Cambodia was a big exception. Even though they deal in U.S. currency they do not have easy access to get to it if you are a tourist. The bank even charges a hefty 5% fee to cash a travelers check or get a cash advance on a charge card. Shelli ended up having to do the latter. It was that or going without money for the duration of our stay. That was not an option either, since most places do not take charge cards.

The message here is, “take U.S. currency and plenty of it when visiting Cambodia.”

I think the country is trying to make up for all the war torn years when they had nothing. Now the tourists are arriving and they found that they can charge outrageous fees and the tourists will pay it. As a matter of fact, most don’t even bat an eye lash.

After spending the past 2 plus months in Southeast Asia, we were seasoned travelers and could tell the difference between fair prices and gouging. Just the same, we paid it, because we were here now!

Oh yes! Another interesting fact, the currency is U.S. dollars, but anything less than $1 you will need to use Cambodian riel. The exchange was something ridiculously huge, like 6000 riel for $1.

One night we had a light dinner in the fanciest hotel in town. The bill came to $29.65. We split the tab, paying in U.S. (a currency we hadn’t used in a very long time…) The waiter brought our change in riel, he piled up a stack of 500 riel notes, making it look like a ton of money. Shelli saw this and unthinking exclaimed, “I paid in U.S. dollars, I want U.S. currency back!” I did a quick calculation in my head and told her, “Shelli, that’s 35 cents!”

“Oh!” she said. We dissolved into an embarrassed laughter. Oops!

If you have been paying attention to the prices, I would like to know why we spent $17 on a room for two and $29.65 on two salads and a dessert? Like I said, something is wrong here.

Begging on the street ~ Seim Reap, CambodiaShelli was using the phone, the amputee behind her followed us around town, begging. He was just one of many whose only source of income is to beg. He was smoking a cigarette, a habit that does not collect money from me!

Children living in a treeThis photo caused a fight. As soon as we snapped the picture these two little boys came running up to us for money. I pulled a dollar out of my wallet to give to one and the other threw a fit. I ended up giving them each a dollar, but the original one wanted it all.

This tree was his home. The rest of the family lived right here on the riverbank. It was a very distressing scene. The whole area was home to the poor people of Siem Reap.

Sidewalk cafes in Siem Reap, CambodiaThe streets are lined with “sidewalk cafes”. The women open them up to the locals, feeding them the special of the day, right there in the street. The customers linger over a game of chance, spending hours there.

This photo was taken only a few feet from the boy in the tree hammock.

Cooking dinner in the streets of Seim Reap, CambodiaThe river people preparing a meal of snails sautéed in a fry pan, along the riverbed.

Angkor Thom Wed, 29 Nov 2000 00:15:22 +0000 My trip to Cambodia defies description. All that I have seen and lived through this year hadShelli & Kristal prepared me for my experience here. Had I gone to Cambodia first or in a different stage in my life, I might not have stayed the 5 days I did. It is a very difficult place to accept, like China and Vietnam, the people are very poor. Living conditions are like none I have ever experienced, yet, I loved all these places.

Cambodia distinguished itself in that it has the Angkor Wat area, Angkor is made of a group of monuments different in style, origin and culture. They cover a span in history from the 9th until the 14th century. The monuments are stretched over 142 square miles (or 230 square kilometers).

There is no way a person can see the entire area in a mere 5 days. We decided to see the top few and learn as much about them as possible in our short time.

To do this we hired a government guide, Solin who also happened to be female, theSolin best guide at Angkor Wat youngest guide of all. She was delightful and very knowledgeable. To qualify for the job, she first had to spend two years learning English, than take several very difficult exams about the history and statistics of the Angkor area. She was filled with valuable information.

In addition to our guide, it was necessary to hire a driver too. Apparently it is still somewhat dangerous to travel in Cambodia. There are mines and bandits. The mines are being gathered back up these days. At one time it is said that there were 10 million land mines in the country, one for every man, woman and child in the country.

How nice.

The bandits are known to travel the road at night. It is particularly unsafe to travel then, it addition to the fact that the roads are terrible. Sometimes the bandits like to become pirates, they have been known to board cruise boats headed to and from Phnom Penh and rob, maim and/or kill the passengers.

Siem ReapCambodia reminded me of what the Wild West once was. Instead of stage coaches and trains they have motor scooters and cars. Based on these facts, Shelli and I didn’t have any trouble paying a driver to take care of us and keep us in a safe area.

To enter the Angkor area, tourist must pay $20 a day, or get a 3 day pass for $40. The pass comes complete with your personal photo encased in plastic. I guess they figure to hinder the black market sale of passes by being this formal.

Still I was a little put off by the price, but as I stated before, we were here now. What’s another fee?

We purchased our passes and decided to go to Angkor Thom to hopefully bypass the crowds. Most people go to Angkor Wat in the morning and Thom in the afternoon. It seemed like a good plan.

Bas Reliefs at Anghor ThomAngkor Thom translated means the Great City. The enclosure is a big square area whose sides are 3 kilometers long. The moat surrounding the city is 328 feet (100 meters) wide. The temple was built 1050-1066.

Inside Thom are Hindu temples with huge images of the gods and massive bas-reliefs depicting daily activities. As a tourist, I was amazed that I was allowed to walk around within the temples freely. It is impressive.

The End of Odyssey only 35 days and 1 country short! Sun, 26 Nov 2000 00:48:30 +0000 Sarah and I arrived via bus into Singapore, late in the evening. Of course we didn’t have reservations, but we had a plan. Our plan was to take a cab to the hotel Sarah had picked out in her Lonely Planet. We found a cab in short order, and even managed to get all of our luggage into the cab with us. We used the front seat for our large bag, putting it on end like a sag of potatoes next to the driver. Once inside the cab we were delighted to have the driver ask if we would like to use his cell phone to make sure there was a room available. After about 10 calls we determined the popularity of the Lonely Planet had filled all the “affordable” rooms in Singapore. We went to plan “B”. That was go to the hotel Odyssey would be staying in the next night. We figured we would drop off our massive baggage and then go find a hostel or something. Our reasoning was we didn’t feel safe leaving all of our bags in an insecure hostel. We knew or felt fairly sure the “fancy” Meridian Hotel would hold our bags for a day.

The Meridian Hotel was rather fair away, but it was close to the airport. When we arrived, Sarah immediately went to the front desk and asked for the manager. We were told to have a seat, he would be right out. Within a few minutes, he arrived along with the night manager. We introduced ourselves and they immediately thought we were the owners of Odyssey! Oops! I didn’t want to be mistaken for someone other than myself, so I quickly asserted we were riders and NOT owners.

The manager was a bit confused, but completely polite. Then Sarah enlightened him by asking if we could have the same rate as Odyssey. We didn’t know what that rate was, but we knew Tim would never spend very much to put us up in a nice place, unless he absolutely had too. We were right!

The manager responded with an embarrassed smile. He said that never in the history of the hotel had they ever let their rooms go for such a “low price”. He said Mr. Kneeland negotiated an extremely low price, but we could have it for our stay.


Of course my friend Sarah is relentless, she asked if that price would continue after the Odyssey group left on Sunday. He said he would let us have it for the duration of our stay! But he did ask that we not tell anyone, because there were a few people staying there already and of course they were paying full price, because they hadn’t bothered to ask.

Sarah, you go girl!

We said goodbye to our cab driver and moved into our very cheap room in a very nice hotel. I knew I was going to like Singapore.

Singapore is an oasis in Southeast Asia. After months of living in developing countries of the third world, Singapore was like coming home. It is clean and modern. The population is very proud to live in this city-state and love to tell you about it.

Our first impression came from the cab driver. He was so polite and willing to be of service. At first I thought we ended up with a rookie cab driver who had just started work that day. He was genuinely nice, offering to us full command of his radio, by saying he could put on any type of music we wanted. Then he gave us an oratory on the country telling how safe it was and we needn’t worry about being a victim of crime. Later Sarah told me she read that the cab drivers are trained in customer service and we didn’t just happen to get a nice guy, they are all that way.

The city is very clean. Our cabbie told us there is a huge fine for littering, so people just don’t do it. He also told us that chewing gum is a no-no. Actually, selling gum is illegal, but you can chew it. They just don’t want to catch you spiting it out places where it is considered litter. I of course had gum in my pocket, contraband! I wonder how much a pack of gum goes for on the black market!

The purpose of coming to Singapore early was to arrange for a shipping container to send all my stuff home. I am serious, I had a lot of stuff. At first the idea to get a container was just a joke. I had emailed Larry, jokingly asking him to check into container prices, because I had done too much shopping. He missed the joke because for some reason the email never reached him. But in the meantime, I mentioned it to someone else who said, “do it! That’s a great idea!” So out of a joke a new job was born.

The previous week I looked up a few freight companies on the internet. From that connection, I made plans to meet with someone in Singapore. Sometime in the afternoon I had an appointment with a Chinese gentleman who was to help me get a container for me and a few of my friends.

Once again, I was sailing in unknown territory. I have never shipped anything over seas. I had no idea what it entailed, how much it would cost or what the risks, if any were. I was soon to learn.

Containers are a cheap way to go, if you have enough stuff to fill them. If not, it is an expensive way to ship. I didn’t know at the time how many folks would need to use a container and it was the weekend. I needed to make a commitment to do it soon or not. I began to feel much pressure, almost to the point of saying “forget it”. But I had a list of 2 dozen people and I felt an obligation to proceed, if not for myself, for them.

Over the next couple days I was able, with the help of Kevin (the amazing cycling accountant) and a few other folks to pull this whole thing together. We ended up getting enough people to pay for the container so it didn’t cost me a fortune and enough help to load the thing so I didn’t have to do that all alone either.

We loaded the container with our camping goods and bikes. Many of the folks had already left Singapore for parts unknown, so I was left with the job of loading a lot of stuff. It was like moving out of a house! Of course, I didn’t have to do it all alone. I had more help than was necessary, thanks to the group.

I must say the power of our group was awesome! I will always remember our moments of glory when we would all put our heads together and get out of a situation with ease. For me, organizing the container together was one of those moments. I was struggling by myself to get it done, when others saw I needed help, they just showed up and did what needed to be done.

Thanks guys, my hat is off to you!

Sarah and Lynne for finding bike boxes when Mr. Kneeland once again failed to do as promised.

Kevin Glenn for collecting the cash and balancing it, resulting in not getting any sleep before heading off to trek in Nepal.

Shelli for picking up the slack and teaching Lynne how to email before she left for New Zealand while I completed the mountain of paperwork.

Sarah for putting up with me as a roommate and dealing with all the people coming to the door, night and day. Not to mention the lack of sleep the last night when I got in at 2 and left at 5.

Dick, Marcus, Ron, JT, Marie, Sadie, Diane G., Lisa, Deb, Shelli, Cousin Bob and Barbara H. for taking time to drag all the stuff up 2 stories from the basement into the 100 degree heat and load the container. Didn’t you have something else better to do?

Oh and thank you to everyone for not putting any contraband into the container so I don’t spend the rest of my life in prison for smuggling!We had room for more!

Locked and sealed for securityOur stuff was sent home to America via a Korean ship. I worried each night that the ship would sink. It didn’t. Too my great satisfaction, it arrived safely in the port of Oakland some 3 weeks later. Success!

Thanksgiving came while we were in Singapore. The Odyssey group as a whole didn’t have turkey, but one of the riders arranged for a few of us to have a turkey dinner at the house of one of his distributors. I was blessed to be invited.Lynne, Sean, Dave and Al

Delicious hairy fruitIt was a fun evening, there were about 20 of us riders and about another 10 guests from Singapore. One couple were Canadian ex-patriots living and working for a bank in Singapore. They had lived in Townsville, Australia, before transferring to Singapore. During the course of conversation, to our amazement, Pam was talking about how she and Dave had met the nicest couple when we were in Townsville. The Canadian guest asked politely who that might be. When Pam said the name, she squealed she knew the folks and had in fact worked with them in Townsville. Talk about the world being a small place, Americans and Canadians in Singapore knowing the same people in Australia.

The theory of 6 degrees of separation continues to fulfill itself.

Our dinner was catered, it was turkey and stuffing with rolls and vegetables, all traditional American Thanksgiving food. After dinner we were treated to pie with ice cream. It was quite a feast! I was getting more and more homesick.Thanksgiving feast

Anthony and JenOur guest, as most people in Asia was really into Karaoke. He had an amazing setup in his living room, with a DVD player, stereo speakers and 2 microphones. He kept getting up and singing. He would try to get us up to sing with him, but as shy and reticent as we are, we declined! Actually, I don’t get the attraction to Karaoke, but it is all the craze in Southeast Asia.

Singapore is famous for it’s landmark hotel, the Raffles Hotel. It is a very beautiful, ritzy hotelVeranda at Raffles, Sarah and ShelliRaffles in Singapore that made the drink Singapore Sling famous. Naturally we had to go there to drink. Singapore Slings are very much like “Hurricanes” in New Orleans. They go down easy like fruit punch. You don’t notice you’ve had too many until you try to stand up. Then “oops” it’s too late.

Of course that was just something I observed, by watching others….

As soon as the container was locked, it was time to make plans for the next step. Odyssey was over, but I wasn’t quite ready to go home. I wanted to spend a week winding down before I made a re-entry into my former world. I can’t explain why I felt that way, I was both homesick and tired, but not ready to end my trip of a lifetime. I still wanted more.

Shelli felt pretty much the same way. We had not planned to go home until after the new year, now here we were with a month of free time. I was happy to be able to go home for Christmas, but that was still a few weeks away.

We devised a plan. While I was busy doing container organizing stuff, Shelli had gone to a few “bucket shops”. Bucket shops as I explained to Larry are travel agencies that specialize in finding and selling cheap airline tickets. They are very popular in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. We hoped to find some really cheap tickets to fly to Cambodia and then fly home.

Shelli did all the planning for me, since I didn’t have the time. She arranged for us to go to the travel agency that night to pick up our tickets. After a completely wild day of finalizing and shipping off the container, I was now ready to proceed to the next step. That would be to leave Singapore.

We were in no big hurry to get to the travel agent, since he told us he would probably be there until midnight. He said for us to come at any time. We were so busy and we didn’t’ finally get there until about 9:30 that night. Pishu the Indian travel agent was the owner of the agency, located in a mall downtown. When we arrived he was very busy on his computer and he wasn’t even ready for us. He hadn’t even started the ticket process.

Guess that should have been our first clue, yes we were in Singapore and yes, that is still in Southeast Asia. Time is different here.

Pishu is a very personable guy, he chatted with us, and even offered us scotch for refreshment, while he plucked away at his computer. He was telling us all about his life and how things work in Singapore. Finally sometime after 11, I got a little impatient. I had not eaten since breakfast and was starving. I wanted him to hurry up. After he started to tell us for the third time he was flying to Vietnam to play golf, I asked him what day he was going. He said Saturday. I then told him, he wasn’t going to make it there by Saturday if he didn’t hurry up.

I think he got the point. By 11:30 we had our tickets and were out of there. Geeze! How do you make money when it takes you 2 1/2 hours to do a 5 minute job?

Pishu did have some redeeming qualities. He referred us to a very nice restaurant for dinner. Then after we went there, he showed up and claimed the tab! He then took us to an Indian nightclub for drinks. We asked him why and he said because he wanted us to have nice memories of Singapore and besides he had just made a lot of money on us!

Indian Karaoke dancerGreat. Our bucket shop gouged us, but at least we got dinner!

Fashion Show Sat, 25 Nov 2000 01:07:59 +0000 The night after Thanksgiving at the Meridian Hotel in Singapore, we had our farewell party. ItDr. Rod Jones was the end of the ride for the majority of us who decided for various reasons not to continue on with TK&A. The gathering was one of sadness, joy and compassion. We hated the fact that it was the end and we didn’t like the idea that some were continuing on, but we all respected each other’s decision or at least tried too.

The event featured riders wearing clothing purchased from all over the world. We had suits, dresses both formal and causal along with birthday suits and helmets alone!

Dr. Rod Jones striped down to his dollar bills. The three look a likes, Ben, Charley and Jim bared it all right down to their matching tan lines. Now we know how to tell them apart.02K tattoed on their butts

Helmets not optionalCameras were clicking and the girls were gawking. We had a few last laughs together.

With all the excitement, I forgot to take photos of the “normal” stuff. The choir sung and the girls showed their stuff. I just like the boys better! Sorry. I’m the author, I can be one-sided if I want.

The night ended, the Odyssey riders went to various ends of the earth. We had an awesome experience this year and we shall forever be bonded together because of it.

BUT…My Odyssey continues, on to Cambodia…

[flickr album=72157605884014238 num=10]

Kijal Fri, 24 Nov 2000 01:17:30 +0000 The Lonely Planet Guidebook says the monsoon season in Malaysia is from November toRain coming down in sheets January. It is November, and I must ask, “why am I here?” After riding in both the rain and the sun, I must admit, I prefer riding in the rain.

That is I prefer riding in the rain, up to a point, after about 3 days straight, rain gets pretty old. When we pulled up to the Awana Golf and Beach Resort, I decided to stay. I was done. Done with the heat, done with the rain, done with Odyssey.

I was now counting the days until the adventure was over. I didn’t want it to be ending this way. We had such a good year, but now the divisiveness had split the group. I didn’t like the feeling, I wanted to be removed from it and free to make my own ending a positive one.

The Awana Golf and Beach Resort is located on the China Sea, on the land side, it is surrounded by golf course. The multi story hotel had first class rooms, several restaurants, pools, tennis & volley ball courts and it was cheap. Simply stated, it is heaven.

I made up my mind to stay behind about 2 minutes after I stepped into my room. This was the end of the road for Odyssey, the monsoon had won, I was done.

That night the hotel staff welcomed us to dinner in the most unusual fashion. Dinner was being served on the second level of the hotel, the mezzanine. To get there we walked up a wide expanse of stairs. Tonight the staff of the hotel dressed in native Thai garb stood on each side of the stairs and greeted us like royalty. Gently they threw flower petals as we ascended the steps. Fans waved in the air and I was greeted with many warm hello’s and handshakes. I imagined myself an honored queen, they made me feel so special. I was so thrilled.Marc was welcomed to dinner by the staff

Dancers greeted us with tradtional movesLater in the evening we celebrated Dr. Helen’s birthday by hiding in her room. She was supposed to be distracted by getting a drink at the bar. But the simple feat of getting a drink in this Muslin hotel, turned out to be a very long process. It included filling out an “application” and testifying that the applicant was not of the Muslin faith. Very weird! Eventually Dr. Helen did come back to the room, but only after one of our troops went down to the bar to rescue her and bring her back to the room. Fortunately we had our own supply of wine.

Once a kid, always a kid

The birthday group felt much the same as I about riding in the rain. Someone mentioned the room rate of our hotel and spontaneously the entire room, all bus riders said, “let’s stay another night!” They figured the bus could catch up the following day. Serendipity won again.

Al laying in the sunshineAl loves to ride on the bell boys trolleyHelen’s bus group stayed one extra day. I was lucky enough to have the bus take my bike when they left. I wouldn’t have to see it again until Singapore. Considering how much “stuff” I was now carrying, that was a good thing. My accumulation of goods had grown to a size that was not very manageable, especially when toting a bike. TK&A refused to carry anything for us when we were “off route”, so it was my responsibility to carry everything I owned or else get another rider to take care of it. Since my new wardrobe was rather special to me, I felt obligated to take care of it myself. I was just too big a favor to ask someone else to watch.

I helped the bus folks load the bikes onto their truck in the morning, then as they left I returned to my room. It was still raining sheets, it didn’t look like the rain would ever stop. Later that morning the few riders that had stayed on decided to go for a walk at 11 a.m. They said it didn’t matter if it was raining or not, we were going to get ourselves out of that hotel! I liked the idea. Why should a little wetness matter, I needed a walk.

We planned to rendezvous in the lobby and then walk along the beach to the end, where the jungle began. Since I was waiting for a telephone call, I told them to go ahead, I would catch up later.

Not long later, I was ready to go, I put on my long Chinese poncho. It was a roomy affair with a hood, I should be just fine and fairly dry underneath all that plastic. Outside the rain hadn’t let up. I choose to walk around the swimming pool to the beach. To my surprise the pool was not only full, but beyond full. The water around the pool’s apron was at least a foot deep! I wadded in it, sloshing as I walked!

I felt like a little kid, doing something wrong. Any minute my Mom would appear and yell at me to get out of the water! But no, I’m not a kid, just an alien in a foreign land, enjoying a moment of mild mischief.

The next moment I had a panicking thought, “snakes swim in this water!” I looked towards the landscaping surrounding the pool area, convinced that the snakes would have to come out of their holes. I hate snakes! In that same moment I missed seeing the indentation in the walk, the place where you would normally step into a basin to wash the sand off your feet, before entering the pool. At this critical moment, the few inches of depth caused me to loose my balance. The next thing I knew I was on my knees with the water in my face. So much for the big poncho. It only keeps one dry when standing upright!

My knees got scraped and bloody, but the worse part was my ego. I just knew the entire population of the resort was watching me, the crazy American out walking around in the rain.

I got up as fast as possible and continued my walk to find my friends. I’m tough, I’m an Odyssey rider!

The white sandy beach continued down about a mile or so. At the end the water continued, but the beach was interrupted by the growth of the jungle. Plant life was dense and passage was impossible. I stood and listened to the sounds of the animals and birds. I am always amazed at how loud it can be. You need not see the wildlife, you can hear it.

Later that day Sarah and I made arrangements to take a bus to Singapore. By arrangements, I do mean just that. Nothing is simple in a foreign land. We were lucky to find a travel agent in the hotel who sent his driver to the bus station to purchase our tickets. In fact, we got the last two available seats on the bus.

Resa another rider was upset, because she had not learned of the need to make arrangements. She was left without a way to get to Singapore. Or rather without an economical way, she ended up taking a cab rather than wait for a seat on the night bus.

One more time we learned it is best to enlist the aid of more than one local when determining plans. Initially, we were told it would be no problem to take a bus. It turned out to be no problem except when the bus is sold out, which we learned was common.

Kota Bharu Sat, 18 Nov 2000 01:59:04 +0000 November 17, 2000 Narathiwat to Kota Bharu, Malaysia
Day 322
Our border crossing today was another interesting experience, long, hot and very third world. We waited in line for 90 minutes while the one border patrol person typed in each individual name, hunt and peck style. It was clear to see he was not the least bit familiar with a keyboard. It was actually painful to watch. I guess we should be thankful for the fact that he even had a keyboard to work with, but when you are standing out in the noon day sun, with no shade, no refreshment and very little patience left, it’s hard to be grateful.

Kristal Kraft in Kota BharuWe left the following morning in the mist. My camera lens kept fogging up making this photo look must more misty than it actually was. Guess you can say it’s a little humid here.

One of our riders rode up just as I was finished processing. Instead of getting in the very long line, he hopped on the ferry to cross over into Malaysia. Several of us noticed him in the immigration line behind us and told him he needed to go back and check out of Thailand before he could come to Malaysia. He told us to “hush.” So we did. I processed through that line and proceeded to on to the hotel. Later that day, by at least 2 hours, I saw this rider and asked him if his plan worked. It didn’t. They sent him back on the ferry to “check out” of Thailand, before they would stamp his passport for Malaysia. Nice plan, too bad it didn’t work!

We always have someone trying out a new angle.

Malaysia is absolutely delighted to have us visiting the country. We didn’t know it at the time, but the government sent out a “welcome crew” to meet us at the border. They didn’t realize we were crossing at the ferry and so they were at the highway border crossing, the most popular place. They stood there in mass with cold drinks, cake and entertainment, waiting for us. We never showed up. My former bus took that route and were both sad and happy to see the welcoming committee. It was such a shame the rest of us missed it.

My ride to the hotel was uneventful except for the fact I missed a turn but didn’t realize it. I ended up following signs to Kota Bharu rather than the DRG, it resulted in me arriving at least 15 minutes ahead of the people who were in line at the border in front of me. Go figure! When I got to town I got lucky and spotted a yellow head so I knew I was close to the hotel and back “on route.”

Our hotel The Renaissance was brand new, so new in fact that some of the rooms are not completed yet. I got to ride my bike deep into the garage below the hotel where a bellhop checked my bike, giving me a claim check. After having me sign my name to a list, he addressed me as Ms. Kraft and showed me to the stairway to the hotel. It was a little taste of Wow service. I can get used to that very quickly.

t was a long, long day to Merang. There were a couple things that kept me going, first the thought that tomorrow I had a day off and second the kids who lined the streets greeting us. The kids of Malaysia were out in full force today shouting “hello!” Their beautiful faces were so delightful and full of joy to see us, it really pushed me forward. We were heroes to them.

Malaysian houseThe excitement was contagious. It is absolutely impossible to ride by without acknowledging a hundred shouts of gleeful “hello’s” and waves. I heard little voices shouting from back in the trees, from inside of homes where I suspect they were supposed to be napping, eating or studying. “Hello! Hello! Hello!” It never stopped all day long.

Al enjoying the spreadAt checkpoint the local government set up a huge welcome buffet with coconut milk served “au natural” in the shell, cake, pastry filled with curry and ice cold drinks. All this was under a huge canopy tent with chairs. They are glad to see us and want us to come back.

Kristal Kraft in Selamat DatangThe band played and posed for photos. They loved seeing their pictures in my camera.

YoungThis young Muslim girl was enjoying watching us. She is a perfect little lady with her scarf and manners, most of the women (young and old) in this area dress like this. She let me photograph her, then she got shy and walked away. I later thanked and shared my cookies with her. She was probably 10 years old.

Narathiwat Fri, 17 Nov 2000 02:26:37 +0000 Yala to Narathiwat

Day 321

Hopping off the train, I noticed two other Odyssey riders loading themselves onto the back of a tuk tuk truck. It was quite a site to see because their were 16 people in the back of the tuk tuk. They were crammed in like sardines, they motioned for me to join them. I was happy to pass, motioning to my trusty bicycle and saying I would follow them. I had serious doubts that the tuk tuk could even move with that load in the back, but it did. Slowly they pulled out of the train station, I followed alongside, peddling at a normal speed all the while managing to keep up with them.

tuk tukThe tuk tuk lead me in the right direction out of town, once again I felt very lucky to be able to use my resources (friends) to help find the way. After awhile the tuk tuk pulled ahead of me, leaving me to navigate the distance alone. Considering there was only one road to Narathiwat, I wasn’t worried.

Riding by myself, off route, I was able to enjoy the pleasures of being the only foreign cyclist on the road. In general, I was given some rather curious looks, but eventually welcomed with a warm smile after I smiled first. I was quite an anomaly being a lone female and on a bike no less. Apparently it seems women just don’t travel alone in Thailand and the ones that do are considered to be strange. I am glad I didn’t disappoint them!

Golden BuddhaI am thrilled when I make a discovery of something unexpected. Today I was especially thrilled when I looked off to the right and saw a huge Golden Buddha gracing the side of a hill.

It wasn’t long before I was back on route, riding with several Odyssey people who were on their way to the hotel. I got there ahead of the crowd and the heat. Today the train was a good idea.

Fishing boat in ThailandNarathiwat is the summer home of the Thai King and a fishing community. I was happy to be invited to go with a group of folks to a batik factory and take a tour of the city. We boarded the ever trusty little tuk tuk, paying the driver the total sum of $2 for the entire load of us!

Batik piece in processWe got to visit two batik factories, one being a “cottage industry” in the back of someone’s home. It was an interesting place, but none of the fabrics on sale were colorful enough for me. I wanted something vibrantly colored and they only offered muted pastel colors. Not my style.

The larger factory was a real “sweat shop”. They had more choicesBatik factory, a real sweat shop of colors, but none of them were ready for sale. They were selling batik t-shirts and table clothes for $1.20. Such a deal, if you are in the market for them. I was mostly interested in seeing how the process in done. For the most part I was not impressed of the surroundings, it is hard to believe that a nice finished product could be born in a place like this. It was an open, dirty area full of dust, farm animals and birds.

Yala Thu, 16 Nov 2000 02:44:26 +0000 Hat Yai to Yala

Day 320

My first day back on the bike in awhile and it felt good, except it was raining. I headed for the train station in search of a new adventure in a new country. I had yet to ride a train inThai Stop sign Southeast Asia and it was time. I asked at the front desk where the train station was located. The person didn’t understand what I needed, but did end up giving me a map. I quickly located the train station on the map and asked “which way?” They pointed and off I went. Within a few minutes I was at the ticket window.

Misty morning at the train stationThais have a script of their own. English is not normally understood so when I showed my DRG for a ticket to the next town, I was met with a blank stare. I didn’t read their language, nor they mine. Instead I took out a map of the country and pointed to where I wanted to go. The train didn’t go there, but it came within 25 kilometers. That was good enough for me.

My ticket cost a whopping 73 bath (less than $1.75) and included my bike. Within 90 minutes I was on my way to Yala.

The train was definitely a “no frills” train, the seats were wooden with wooden backs as well, comfort was not a factor. The windows opened to let a breeze come in and to help clear away the cigarette smoke from the passengers. I was happy it was not another steaming hot day.

The train was full of passengers, mostly families with young children. It was a local train, stopping frequently at each little town or village. It seemed as many people boarded as got off, so there were never any extra seats. I just sat watching the scenery go by and studied the faces of the people around me.

We are getting deeper into Muslim territory. More and more women are dressed with scarves covering their hair and either pants or long dresses with long sleeves. Their bodies were totally covered, it made me hot to just look at them.

Initially I felt “under-dressed,” but after awhile my ill at ease feeling subsided. The frowns on the faces I was looking at would turn to a delightful smile, when I smiled first. Once again, I discovered a smile was the easiest thing to give away and the most pleasant to receive. What I felt was a judgmental stare was merely a curiosity of me. As I relaxed, so did those around me. A foreign woman traveling alone on a bicycle no less, dressed in lycra was most unusual, (if not scary!).

My fellow train passengers were also very helpful. After a few stops, it occurred to me that I may not be able to recognize where I needed to get off. My ticket was printed both in English and in Thai, but the station signs weren’t always printed in both languages. (Thai script looks like shorthand, it is very hard for the untrained eye to make a match.) I showed my ticket to the gentleman seated across from me. As luck would have it, he spoke English, he told me that my stop was coming up in two more stops. I was relieved to have found an English speaking helper.

Grass hutFrom the train I watched as rice paddies and rubber plantations passed by the window. Stilted jungle houses jutted out of a very wet terrain. I wondered how families managed to get in and out of their homes when the water was all around them. Some had access by make shift wooden planks, others just walked through the knee deep water to enter the door. It must be a house keeping night mare, not to mention a breeding ground for disease.

I jumped off the train and the baggage claim man handed me my bike. Now I just needed to find the road to the Narathiwat, which I knew was to the southwest.