Ethiopia - Day One

She's over there. I'm going to get her. Two days of airports is worth it. I'm going to Africa. Ethiopia to be precise. I'm not saving the world this time around, I'm leaving that one up to my wife, which could be considered a pattern at this point. She's a third year OB/GYN resident, giving up three weeks of her life to the Gondar University Hospital. I'm joining for the end.

Portland to Newark. Newark to Frankfurt. Frankfurt to Addis Ababa. Addis Ababa to Gondar. Leaving Sunday morning. Getting there Tuesday morning. No problem, except for the massive head cold. I'll be gone for two weeks and I've streamlined the packing. One main backpack (courtesy of Mike). One small over the shoulder (courtesy of Brian). I am seated in a regular isle (not the usual exit I luck into) and the fattest man on the plane is in front of me. Did I mention my runny nose?

Things I wonder on this trip ...
Will Ethiopia blow my mind more than Thailand?
Will I adopt more or less than a dozen children?
Will my surgically repaired knee hold up?
Will the $500 in cash I brought with me make it all the way?
Will my wife notice I lost 15 pounds?
Will Amsterdam steal the show at the end of the trip?

Sit back, relax and ponder while I "enjoy" the flight.

Ethiopia - Day Two

Almost there.

The flights ... While sitting behind the fat man, my ears closed up due to the cold, plus my next flight (Newark to Frankfurt) was cancelled. So things started out poorly. Then, because the universe decided to was crapping on me long enough, things changed. I got the next flight four hours later, a free dinner courtesy of Lufthansa at the airport, exit rows, slept, watched "The Tourist" (not bad), and watched "Burlesque" (not good). The best news, I thought my flight from Frankfurt to Addis Ababa (from now on, just called Addis) was 14 hours. Why did I think this? Because I misread the "total flight time." I was convinced I was getting ready for an insanely long flight, until the pilot announced a six-hour flight. Looking at a map, six hours makes much more sense.

I arrived at the airport and zipped through customs. A driver tells me it will be $12 (U.S.) to the hotel I knew of. Everything I had been told about the country made me think this was extraordinarly high. I scanned my options. There were none. Only one taxi drive. I got him down to $10 and we were off to the Meridian Hotel. Lisa knew someone who had stayed there, and said to was cheaper than her place. She didn't tell me how much though. I arrived yet I saw no name on the hotel. I thought my driver was trying to scam me (something similar happened in Thailand), but then the manager pointed to a regular old piece of paper that had the word "Meridian" printed on it, so I guess I was in the right place. He showed me one room and said $82. It was huge and very old. I explained I didn't need something that size, so he showed me the only other one, $67. Fine, sold. Very odd that everyone is looking at me and talking in U.S. dollars instead of Ethiopian birr. Four hours of terrible sleep. Seeing Lisa in 3.5 hours. Can't wait.

Thailand - Things We Noticed

Lisa and I went to Thailand for 14 days.

Things we noticed:
  • $1 = 30 Baht. 1 Euro = 50 Baht. 1 British Pound = 62 Baht.
  • They love waffles - street vendors sell them like we do hot dogs
  • Heineken is everywhere
  • Coke Zero is more popular than Coke Light (what they call Diet Coke)
  • The Sky Train is better/cleaner than the "L"
  • Moped - perhaps the main mode of transportation, even used as cabs with women getting on the back to go to work.
  • Gas - about the same price
  • Metered cabs - sofa king cheap
  • Dogs - everywhere. They almost all looked like the same bread and mangy as hell. Yet they are well treated.
  • Traffic - it's like an ant colony, with constant merging and signal lights and honking. Everyone is polite and we never saw an accident. No accidents might be the most amazing thing I actually saw.
  • Napkins - insanely small.
  • Italian restaurants are the most popular after Thai and Indian.
  • 7/11's are everywhere.
  • Burger King is more popular than McDonald's and a value meal costs a hint over $2.
  • Favorite color - Gold leaf

Thailand - Before we left

We are done with Chicago. Homeless. Going to Thailand, moving to Portland when we return in two weeks. I am popping my international cherry with this trip. Hawaii was the farthest I had gotten and that was for Honeymoon Part One. This is Part Two, we just didn't know if we could afford it at the time.

Lisa's planned everything. I know what we are doing for four of the 14 days and I haven't seen pictures of any places we are staying/seeing.

We both had jobs, mine was to prepare for Portland, Lisa's was Thailand. But of course her nerves got the best of her and she helped take control of PDX as well. I have no nerves.

I am a 6'6" blond traveling to Thailand and have no clue what to expect.

Just like how I like to go into movies (never seeing a preview) I am getting that same vibe traveling 21 hours to the unknown.

Thailand - Day One

It's almost a dirty word.

I don't really fit well in standard economy seats. I will never afford first class and business class can't be in my near future. The exit row is my only hope. It didn't happen for the American Airlines flight from Chicago to Tokyo. Plus, Lisa and I both thought the leg room was less than usual. Her knees almost hit the seat in front.

Somehow I decided food would help comfort...
Before the flight I ate a bowl of cereal.
At the airport I ate McDonald's breakfast chicken sandwich.
1/4 dark meat with mac and cheese and mashed potatoes and corn bread.
On the flight I ate 1/2 of Lisa's sandwich, a chicken dinner, two ham sandwiches, and a pizza dinner. Somehow, this all made sense at the time.

I watched 2 CSI, "Jumper," "The Fugitive" starring the janitor from "Scrubs," two episodes of "The Office," and "Big Bang."

Finally in Japan - huge airport. It really felt like a Godzilla film come to life. Every technology seemed from the 70s and all the workers were in white suits with masks on. There was graffiti in my stall - can anyone translate "Xtend WFD Atick Snatch Teflon WS."

The only thing that can combat economy is the exit row, well that and free alcohol, and haggendaz ice cream and video on demand - yes, All Nippon Airways kicks American's international ass. Easy flight.

We get to our hostel - Suk 11, which has a king bed, air conditioning, a private bath, good location, and a free breakfast. Not bad for $25. The place only looks like it is outside.

Thailand - Day Two (part one) - Bangkok

It's insane how much we fit into this day.

The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (or Wat Phra Kaew) was our first stop. The Palace is enormous, tons of gold leaf and reflective jewels. Women have to wear skirts past their knees and if they wear sandals, there must be straps in the back. Men also must where pants past their knees. So I had to put a 100 Baht deposit down on some pants. It was 98 degrees and sunny.

After the Grand Palace we headed over to the Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha). As we walked, guys kept telling us it was closed until 1 p.m. Seemed reasonable to me, Lisa felt otherwise. As we approached the temple, there were tons of tourist buses and the place was clearly open. The guys were taxi drivers, trying to get us to join them for a "special tour" or "one day only" sale. Bottom line, Lisa's brilliant, I'm not. The highlight of the area was the reclining Buddha. Just massive.

People are praying at many of the temples and all I can think is this is a movie set. I haven't laid eyes on anything like this in all my life. This was also where we received our first Thai massage, and supposedly this location is where it all began. We got 30 minutes for $7 each. Thai massage is pretty much attacking pressure points. Yes, a little pain is involved. We were lying next to each other.

After the Wat Poh we got caught in a down pour next to this government building where two guards let us wait out the rain. We made our way to another temple known as the Wat Ratchabophit. Alone and silent. This is very rare in Bangkok, a city of 12 million. It is like a spread out Chicago. Tall buildings and people everywhere. I never felt like I was in the quiet part of the city (except for maybe this moment).

Then we walked. Attempting to find restaurants in Bangkok is difficult. We had addresses and names of places that Lisa had gotten recommendations to from either friends or the internet, but people don't read maps in English and even names seem to be pronounced differently. We found ourselves in an alley with four different families coming out to try and point us in the right direction. It took about 20 minutes for someone to realize we were 1.5 blocks away.
The restaurant was called Chote Chitr. It was small (7 tables) and had newspaper clippings of reviews from all over the world (including the NYT) covering the walls. This is the size of a prawn (shrimp). The highlight was the banana leaf salad, which was nothing like salad.

The entire meal was less than $15 and amazing. In general, we always drank bottled water, and stayed away from ice and salad.

Thailand - Day Two (part two) - Bangkok

After lunch we headed to the Golden Mount, another temple, but this time with stairs (300 of them). After climbing up and down, I was getting tired so we took a Tuk Tuk to Khao San or backpacker's street.
No, this is not a safe vehicle, but it's cheap. Typically you can get where you want for 40 - 60 Baht. The green Tuk Tuk is one of the nicer looking ones we saw on our trip.

Backpacker's street is just tons of stores and street vendors and many men trying to sell me a suit. Suits are pretty cheap, with offers like 1 Suit, 2 Pants, 2 Shirts, 2 Ties being about $150. They take your measurements, and make the suit for you in 1-2 days. It's a great deal, but the salespeople are awful. Insanely pushy. I refused them all.

We then head to the river. It's just as large as the Mississippi and constantly used for transportation. Bangkok used to be just like Venice, but then they filled in about 90 percent of their canals. We took a longtail boat tour and once again Lisa proved her brilliance. The price was 1300 Baht each. Within a minute Lisa had us paying 1200 total.
I had no clue it was negotiable. We had our own longtail boat and took a 1.5 hour tour through the canals (known as klongs).

After a shower we head to a corner bar and drink some Chang and Singha beer. They come in single bottles and double bottles. All singles are served with koozies, which we finally realize are worth the slightly extra money since they remain cold the entire time.

Then it's time for Bangkok to screw us over a little bit. We head to Harmonique. A Thai restaurant. We get close taking the Sky Train which is clean, air-conditioned and cheap. We bought the 20-trip pass. Then we walk... and walk, trying to read street signs we think we are very close. We even have a tuk tuk driver say "Harmonique? 40 Baht," so we are convinced we are close, and don't see the point paying this guy $1.20. So we keep walking. Finally exhausted from walking approximately 72 kilometers throughout the day, we get into a tuk tuk. The standard is to negotiate beforehand and we explain where we are going. He says 20 Baht, and acts like he knows the place. We get in and he immediately takes off, I think we must have been really fair away. Lisa thinks we are getting screwed. Lisa wins again. After 10 minutes he takes us to some unknown restaurant with no name and an owner waiting to seat us. We keep saying "Harmonique" they keep saying, "Yes, Thai food." Just awful, plus we have no idea where the hell we are. And no one seems to know English.

At this point a couple is dropped out of a cab. They look confused. Lisa talks to them. Turns out this couple from Australia was in Bangkok last year, and were dropped off at this exact same restaurant. So they knew it took about a 10 minute walk to get back to a main street. The lesson - don't trust drivers in Bangkok.

We finally get to Harmonique and realize we were about a 1/2 block away before the tuk tuk driver got a hold of us. The food turns out to be average.

Thailand - Day Three - Bangkok to Chaing Mai

We take the Sky Train to the weekend market. It is bignormous. Just massive. If I ever wanted jewelry, watches, dogs, converse (that wouldn't fit me) or a leather anything... this is where it would happen. Lisa found one necklace. It started at 250 Baht, but she got the good face discount and it was hers for 150 Baht. The negotiation process is nuts. About half the time there is a sticker price, otherwise they seem to come up with an arbitrary number and you just start going back and forth. With stuff you can't get in the states you just have to decide what you would pay. It's very odd to not have a reference point. If they say 3500 for a watch... you can say 300 and see what happens.

We pass a place that has kitchen stuff and plates for insanely cheap prices. Lisa says, "Don't say it." I ask "What?" She says, "That we should have registered here."

We then go to the 49th floor of a fancy hotel and have amazing Indian food. It costs $55, was a bit pricey and the best Indian food I have ever eaten. Totally worth it. This was Lisa's dish.

After that we got a Thai foot massage. An hour and 250 Baht each. It was S & M for your feet. Pain to pleasure in a second. At times they used a wood instrument and just pushed against the inside of your toes. It was worth the experience and the feet felt totally refreshed afterward, but pain, it hurt.

We head to the train to take a 12-hour ride to a city called Chiang Mai, in the northern part of Thailand. The train was perhaps my only idea for the trip. Before the trip I had two large beers. We encounter a kid from Stockholm (seen in the background) who we talk up a little bit. He introduces himself as McLovin and eventually shows us the the tatoo he has just below his belly button which actually says, "McLovin." He looks 14 even though he says 21.

Then the amazing happens. Lisa says that an Asian girl approaching looks like a fellow med student from UIC by the name of Georgie, but couldn't be since she was traveling with another Asian and Georgie's boyfriend is white. She gets closer and says, "Lisa?" Yup, it's Georgie. Neither knew the other was traveling. So we chatted for a while, McLovin joined in the conversation, then we had to run off for our train. I put the odds at 1 in a billion.

We took a first-class sleeper train. Lisa was told to stay away from the dinner, I only ate the rice and a hint of the cashew chicken.

I drank a few more beers and we watching "Gossip Girl" on the iPod Nano, then it was time for bed.

Once again, Lisa was prepared. The air-conditioning was freezing so we were in pants and long sleeves... That didn't last long.

After being asleep for a couple hours I awoke to the most humid, stagnant air of my life. It was probably close to 100 degrees. The air had gone out and we had about 8 more hours to go. I woke Lisa up as any caring husband would to explain to her how hot it was. She then went to wake up the attendant. He came into the room, tapped on the air, shrugged his shoulders, then left to turn the entire electrical power of all the first-class passengers on and off. No luck. He left. Did I mention there was no English spoken here? At this point the 4 large beers sloshing around in my stomach were a bad idea.

By morning I was a pool of sweat, and we arrived in Chiang Mai 1.5 hours late. There was no hope since the windows are locked shut. So, just to recap, as far as successful ideas for the trip -- Lisa was winning about 47 to 0. Especially once she told me it would have been the same price to fly. Hell on Earth.

Thailand - Day Four - Chaing Mai

Heaven on Earth at the Baan Orapin. No. 101 might quickly become my favorite. That was our hotel room. Beautiful place that quickly made the train feel like a distant thought, much like the rest of my life... only this time it wasn't due to my horrendous memory.

Opas quickly made us feel at home by having our room surprisingly ready at 8:00 a.m. I tried to tip him after he carried all of our luggage to our room, and he told me to save it for the staff... That's when I realized he was the owner.

Speaking of tipping, it's tough. Supposedly it's not customary, and sometimes insultive, yet touristy places know Americans tip. So it's a catch 22, or maybe you're just damned if you do, damned if you don't. We read 20 to 30 Baht is fine for things, if you really want to tip.

We got rid of our stuff, had a hot shower (which was a first, the hostel only had luke warm), and then headed to get breakfast at Libernard Cafe. The are known for their coffee & banana pancakes. Best ever. The pancakes were cooked into the cakes yet somehow the entire thing was cooked to perfection with just a hint of crispness on the outside. At this point I confess my undying love to this city. This was also the first time we had coffee on the trip since it was probably in the high 70s at the time and Bangkok was always in the 90s no matter what time of day.

Then it was off for more walking. Each day we kept talking about how long we felt like we had already been on vacation and I think it was due to the walking. I never felt rushed, but we were always doing something. At this point, it felt like we were already at one week.

The oldest temple in Chiang Mai has a bunch of elephants. Lisa loved it.

Then it was off to the prison to get another massage. Yes, we had heard the women's correctional facility was a great place to get a massage. I will give you a couple of moments to let your mind wander ...

OK, so we arrive, then a guard calls a car over. We get in, a guard is driving, and then we are taken on a 5-minute drive to a completely normal looking spa. In fact, it's the best looking yet. We lay down side-by-side in a row of about 10 mats and have the best massage of the trip. I get laughed at a little because I hang over the mat and when my lady has me sit up, she climbs on my back and twists both of us (to crack the small of your back), she flies off. They aren't used to my size.

Starving and refreshed we eat at Heuan Pen. Cockroaches on the floor, ants on the wall, and the best cheap food of the trip. Pork, chicken and papaya salad are great at the bill comes out to 130 Baht ($4.25). We thought it would be more so I decide to leave 100 Bhat ($3.25) for a tip. As we leave we can she her laughing. No idea if she loved the tip or was making fun of the stupid American.

We got back to the Baan Orapin and went for a swim with a 35 Baht beer from our mini-fridge. It's tough to say whether I appreciated the pool (with small waterfall) or stocked beer.

At the Sunday market - more of a local street vendor thing with arts, crafts and food we got some pad thai for 10 Baht. No good. No flavor. Then we splurged at got pad thai for 20 Baht. Then some spring rolls. Before the trip, Lisa read that Thailand has the best street food in the world. Probably a safe call.

Got back and went for another quick swim in the dark. After a couple minutes, Lisa jumped out of the pool because something was moving. I was hoping it wasn't the largest bug I had ever seen, and it turned out to be a frog, which I then spent 5 minutes trying to "rescue" the thing. Mission accomplished.

Thailand - Day Five - Chiang Mai

Breakfast with Pepsi. French toast, passion fruit juice and coffee. All part of the free breakfast as Baan Orapin. I asked our server his name. He said, "Pepsi," clearly he didn't understand, so I repeated myself. Same response. Then I pointed to myself and said "Jeff," just to make sure he understand. Then he made the drinking motion, said, "Pepsi" then pointed to himself. Once again, the lesson is that I am a stupid American. He sincerely struck me as someone who loves his life and loves serving/helping others. Later, when we needed to make a phone call, he ran to get his cell phone.

Then it was time to fly. Flight of the Gibbons was a zip line course in the rain forest that Lisa has arranged. 3000 Baht each, which included the hour drive, lunch, and a waterfall (huge, long, beautiful), as well as a 15-station zip line course. We met Matt from the UK and Susan/Joanne, sisters from Ireland.

It was a group of the five of us along with two instructors, one named Tiger. Lisa was a pro.

I was a bit dangly.

Supposedly one of the stations was the highest in the country, continent, world, something like that. Seemed likely. The instructors loved Lisa, mainly because they could bounce her along the line and she wouldn't mind. Let me use caps to fully express myself... THIS WAS WELL WORTH THE PRICE AND ABSOLUTELY NEEDS TO BE DONE IF YOU VISIT THE AREA.

After that we got a blind massage. Yup. Blind. The government helps support blind people so they can have a trade. We heard good things. I went with the oil massage, Lisa another Thai. Mine was like lightly rubbing lotion all over your body (awful). Lisa's was crushed. I would look over and every single time she was just wincing, and for obvious reasons, her guy didn't pick up on her discomfort. As we left, Lisa was convinced she would be bruised. She was correct.

That night we ate at Whole Earth. It is now home to the greatest chicken with red curry I have ever eaten in my life (on the right side in the banana leaf). It was actually mashed, so every bite was the same. I couldn't get over the flavor and constantly told Lisa as much.

That night we met up with Joann, Susan and Matt. Good times. We got drinks. Everything was dead that Sunday night due to a Buddhist holiday. Lisa and I finally learned the regular sized bottle is worth the hint of extra money because it is always served in a koozy and it is always cold. We spent most of the night talking about the differences between Americans and Europeans with pop culture. It felt like one of those convos you get into with friends about 80s cartoons. "You watched the British Office? Oh my god, me too! Remember that time..." and so on and so forth.

Thailand - Day Six - Chiang Mai

Eggs for breakfast, a couple cups of coffee and we were ready to go.

The elephant conservatory outside of Chiang Mai is also the only elephant hospital in Southeast Asia. This place is much more humane than the stories we heard of elephant's being prodded until bleeding with other places.

It was only 70 Baht to enter and tour the place. It's close to 3000 Baht to train as a mahout (elephant rider/trainer) for a day, but we decided to spend our money elsewhere. As we show up they are starting a show and we get to see elephants dragging logs, the power of their trunks, a bit of painting (seriously) and then we feed them bananas.

Afterward we walked the grounds and learned about elephant dung paper. They make it on site and I bought a couple of notebooks. Totally orderless, but you can actually see grains of watermelon seed or other things the elephant was eating embedded in the paper.

Then we hung out with some baby elephants and visited the hospital where they were diagnosed with everything from "not producing milk for baby" to "depression." Apparently a healthy elephant swings its tail back and forth five times then flips it over and raising its trunk. If that's not happening, its depressed.

We also took an elephant ride for 30 minutes. It was nice, a bit wobbling and our mahout spoke no English, so at the end of the ride when we went into the lake, we were curious what was going on. I could have touched water. Apparently, the elephant just had something on its ear and he washed it off.

At lunch Lisa had a young coconut. The milk is sugary/sweet inside and supposedly very healthy.

Close by, at a really old temple, Lisa got a hint sick. At this point neither of us had felt ill and had avoided salads, non-bottled water, ice and fruit from street vendors. So she didn't have much inclination to fall in love with the temple, which I loved because it was one of the few that was covered in gold leaf.

Then we hit some factory outlets which were awful, overpriced and pointless. Though we did see a factory where workers were actually making the rings. Not a sweat shop, but in the same ballpark.

In the evening we hit up the Night Bazzar, had a roti (crepe-like thing with chocolate & bananas), and finally bought stuff.

I purchased a cigarette holder and business card case made out of wood. Both are awesome. Lisa decided I got ripped off even though we have no idea how much I should have paid. Price = 200 Baht.

Thailand - Day Seven - Chiang Mai

Time to cook.

Baan Thai Cookery School ... but first I ate French Toast even though many people told me not to bother since I would be having six courses during the cooking classes. Lisa has yogurt and fresh fruit. Pepsi was still doing great.

As we are driving around, picking people up for the class, we meet Ben, who currently lives in Sydney, is originally from Philadelphia and has lived in L.A., Boston, Seattle, London and probably a few other places... needless to say, he had a number of impressive stories. The best probably was Tiger land, outside of Bangkok, where monks raised injured wild animals. He played with full-size tigers and black bears. Lisa and I were tempted to investigate for a second, but the idea of being eaten alive didn't sit well.

We also met Fintan and Mark, two Irish men who were completely and utterly hungover from the night before. They seemed sober after 10 minutes. F-bombs, cigarettes and Irish accents, I couldn't have been happier.

Lisa and I never cooked in the same room because we made different dishes. First we went to a local market and checked out fruits (mangosteen, jackfruit and lychee) and fish, then we cooked. I burned my first dish (just the garlic). Everything but the fish cakes (slightly different than crab cakes) were amazing. Lisa and I made: fresh curry paste, hot and sour prawn (shrimp) soup, green curry with chicken, chiang mai noodle, spring rolls, papaya salad, fried noodle thai style, deep-fried banana and mango with sticky rice. Again, caps -- DO A COOKING CLASS. There are many to choose from and it seems like you can't go wrong.

Then we went back to get a massage from the women's prison. Lisa got a foot, I got an oil massage, but asked for a strong one. Best ever. I was immediately hooked. It was the best of a standard massage plus thai, with none of the pain.

We didn't eat a thing that night.

We met Joann and Susan, along with Fintan and Mark at the UN Irish Pub (cause it was close) and then went out. Drinking beer constantly. We hit up Heaven Beach, sand for a floor and an amazing cover band that probably didn't speak a lick of English, but that didn't stop them from nailing AC/DC, Nirvana, Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand and The Killers. The sound quality of this clip isn't great, but trust me, they were dead-on.

This was the night of Man-U versus Chelsea. Game time - 2:00 a.m. and Mark was a HUGE Manchester fan. I know about soccer because of video games and my friend John, so I wasn't too excited.

Mark went to a bar to make sure he could get in and watch the game. Fintan took the rest of us to a Thai club. We were the only white people. No, I was never worried about anything... except Fintan. At this stage, I should have been done drinking. Fintan goes to the bar and comes back with an entire bottle of whiskey and cokes. I think it cost less than $10. As soon as we start drinking the bar begins to close. We somehow get through half the whiskey, and have to go. Fintan pockets the rest.

We go back to the bar, which appears closed (but that's only on the outside). Mark gets us in and Fintan and I join him at the bar. Lisa and the girls grab a booth. Mark's drinking whiskey and coke from a bucket, an actual bucket. I continue to try and keep up... no logic here. The bartender brings out some sort of tuna thing and potato thing and eat. Fintan is still going strong, telling me Man-U winning is just like the Cubs (he spent a summer in Chicago back in 2005).

Once the game goes into overtime, Lisa is done, and I am done. We say good-bye to Fintan, but not Mark... he's throwing up in the back room.

We get back to our place around 5 a.m. and I watch the shoot-out (Ronaldo's miss, Terry's slip, then the save) on the TV, then fall asleep. It was amazing.

Thailand - Day Eight - Chiang Mai to Phuket


We woke up at 8:30 and ate some breakfast. I only drank coffee and ate some bacon. We packed up getting ready to head to Phuket (beach city on the south side of the country).

At about 10, I realize I wasn't hung over, but still drunk and now I going to be sick. After being "sick" in the toilet, we take a 30 minute ride to the airport.

Once on the airplane, I decided to be "sick" again before we took off. It was rough. After the two hour flight and being in and out of sleep, we caught a one-hour drive to our hotel . The Katathani. It would cost about $400 a night in the states, we were staying for $120 a night. It was beautiful, but I was in no mood to enjoy, so while Lisa was at one of the five pools, I was watching "Casanova," and "Babe." I recovered for the sun set and we ate dinner at Orchid Seafood. Lisa had prawns and garlic, I had a banana shake and a toasted pineapple and cheese sandwich. Lisa ate 80 percent of the food as I was still making the comeback.

Then we watched the insanely depressing "Last Kiss" and slept.

Thailand - Day Nine - Phuket

We ate at Cinnamon, one of the two breakfast places at our resort. Good variety of food and hands down the best apple juice I have ever had, and I'm not normally a fan.

The beach was just over the hill and is considered one of the best in Asia. It was.

There were boobs. Not sure if it was a topless beach, or just this one woman (yes, they were nice), but it was a nice addition. We both applied sunscreen multiple times, but Lisa was going overboard.

The water was perfectly clear, even at six feet deep. Great temperature as well. We spent 200 Baht for recliners with umbrellas and sat, swam and ate for the day. I ordered a burger, no idea what kind of meat or cheese was used, but it was good. Then it was time to surf. We had both done a little in Hawaii on Waikiki Beach. I loved it and felt like I was pretty decent. I caught something like 5.5 out of 7 waves. Here, the waves were much shorter and not as high. But I tried for an hour and felt good about 3 waves.

Then I looked down at my knee (that's a bump five inches below my knee cap). I was planting there every time I got up. Not a great idea.

After a shower we enjoyed the sunset. Lisa had a margarita and me a majito (spelled on the menu, which happened quite a bit during our trip).

Then I finally broke down and went to get a shirt sizing from one of the million suit places. The main reason was Fintan's insistence that I do it after he got a linen suit. Luckily, our guy wasn't too salesy. I picked two patterns, 100 percent cotton, they took my measurements and the shirts would be ready in 24 hours. I left a 1000 Baht deposit for the 2400 total ($80).
Then we hit the Boat House, an high-end restaurant right on the beach. We had a great view and very good meal. Lisa's appetizer was the highlight, my crab cake appetizer was second. The mango and sticky rice was also great.

Thailand - Day Ten - Phuket

The most surprisingly beautiful day of my life.

We had breakfast at the other place at our hotel (not Cinnamon). Fried eggs might have been a mistake. When we were driving an hour to Kayak Phuket Adventures my stomach was sloshing. Feeling nauseous and going sea canoing didn't sound ideal.

First it was a 45-minute boat ride with our group (about 16 people) to a beach. It was fine, but nothing compared to what we had yesterday. After that it was time for lunch, luckily I was feeling OK, and that's how the meal on the boat was... OK. We could see tons of islands in the distance, and were slowly closing in. Lisa thought the islands were amazing, but they didn't really hit me until we were up close. It looked like the islands were trying to escape from the ocean.

Then it was time for our guide to lead us into the lagoon. Mr. Dean sat at the back of our canoe and rows, we sat and enjoyed the incredible views. I had never seen water that was emerald green, and I actually always thought how fake it looked when I saw it in movies. Now I know better. In the center there were crabs and no fish of any substantial size.

The next stop was mangrove cave. Absolutely insane. We had to lie down in our canoe, and then Mr. Dean would get out and partially deflate so we could fit through the caves into the middle of the island. We were doing this during low tide and only then would it have been possible, the caves can't be seen in high tide. At one point I was trying to push Lisa's head against my body to get her lower and Mr. Dean had me move my hand because otherwise it would have scraped the top of the cave. It's the closest to a tomb I have ever been in, and luckily the caves were only about 50 meters long, so it didn't last forever.

Visually, this was the highlight of the entire trip. Mr. Dean was an amazing guide and the trip to Phuket was completely worthwhile based on this alone.

I picked up my custom fit shirts when we got back, and they fit perfect. If anything the sleeves were a hint too long which is a first in my life. For dinner we ate at this tiny place where we were the only customers. Just like Babu, Kata Noi Beer Garden needed more customers. So if you are ever in the neighborhood, go. It's also super cheap. I had a watermelon shake and pineapple & prawns in fried rice. Lisa's green curry was better. And we had more spring rolls.

Then we make a $5 Phuket mistake. Our hotel was having a mango celebration, and so we tried the mango creme brulee. Sounded good in theory, but it came too quickly, which means they probably had one sitting around. The top didn't crack and Lisa was immediately suspect. I realized she wasn't eating much, so I picked up the slack. Then she informed me that I was pretty much eating raw eggs and that was the end of desert.

Thailand - Day Eleven - Phuket to Bangkok

It rained all night. We were very lucky with the very because this was the first rain of Phuket, and it was supposed to be the rainy season.

We watched the Celtics vs Pistons in the morning and then made our way to the airport. It was a quick one hour flight to Bangkok. Here's something nuts... The flight attendant will tell everyone not to get up after landing until the seatbelt sign is turned off. That stops no one. EVERYONE stands up before the sign goes off. Since our luggage was two rows behind we had to play the game. Everyone starts getting up, so Lisa and I make our move, then the brakes are hit and everyone lurches forward and Lisa got tossed into the flight attendant, who luckily caught her.

We staying at the Bossotel, which was recommended to us by Susan from Ireland. The pool was closed, which we were looking forward to, and after some polite complaining, we got an upgrade.

At night we hit the Indian Hut, who's logo looks exactly like Pizza Hut. Quality food, but overpriced.

Then we walked through the most insane mall district I have ever seen. It's what you would imagine Tokyo would be. There were about six giant malls all next to each other and all at least seven stories high.

We decide that we're in the mood for a movie, so we look for something besides "Indiana Jones" which we were saving for when we got back. There were nine theaters within a mile, and unfortunately, we hit all of them. "Indiana Jones" was at 80 percent of the screens. Then there was "Juno" which came out two weeks before, and "Never Back Down" which got released here because of the kick boxing I assume. So, walking to all the theaters turned out to be enough of a time-killers, but then we wrote Lisa's parents that we would be seeing "Indiana" the next day since we had no choice. Since they didn't have to save it, they saw the film immediately after reading the email.

Thailand - Day Twelve - Bangkok

It was a mall day.
After breakfast at the Bossotel (good apple juice), we went up the river to Chinatown. We had heard good things about the market, but really it was just the same stuff that all the other markets had, minus the blue jeans.

Then we went to the flower market, which is best to visit at 3 a.m. Just tons of flowers being sold on the street. We went the one day it was closed, so there was just a hint out. While walking back to the river, I saw a drain that might be part of the cause of the river being so dark.
It was time for another massage, and we both got the oil massage at Ruen-Nuad Massage. I had Wan, a woman in her 40s who posses a surprising amount of strength. She crushed my shoulder in the best possible way. Then I looked over, and Lisa was getting her chest massaged, so all in all, it was a good time, and we made plans to revisit the place the next day. It was the best massage place of our trip, and a hint more expensive.

Then we went to one of the giant malls for lunch at a sushi & hot pot place, where you grab stuff from a conveyor belt and either eat it raw or cook it in a pot at your plate. Pretty cool idea, but the food was just average.

Then we each ate three scoops of gelato, on top of sticky rice, inside a hot dog bun. Lisa had the majority (as seen to the right).

Then we visited the greatest movie theater I have ever seen. You could have seen a movie for about $3, but we went for the Ultra Deluxe screen of Indiana Jones for $16. That's me in the Ultra Deluxe private lounge. And that's Lisa in the theater, complete with pillow, blanket, and electronic recliner. Well worth it, even with the propaganda piece we had to watch (and stand for) about the king and how everyone loves him. And I give "Indiana Jones" a 6 out of 10, mainly for Harrison Ford.

At night we went to the Patong Night Market, which is known for chopsticks, ping pong shows, burning candles ... and this is all in the adult arena. That's all I am going to say about that.

Lisa finally bought a wood-carving thing, that is now hanging in our half bath. The negotiations started at 1500 Baht, and then Lisa finally got it down to 600 Baht. Seemed like a great deal. I was tempted to purchase a Taug watch knock-off, but they said 3500. I immediately walked away as they were shouting "1000." No clue what the proper amount would have been.

We got room service back at the Bossotel and called it a night.

Thailand - Day Thirteen - Bangkok

We considered just hanging out at the mall again. It's not like we were done with the vacation, we just never fell in love with Bangkok compared to Phuket or Chiang Mai.

Instead, we hit up the Thai Creative & Design Center (TCDC) which was a small, free, very cool exhibit hall which highlighted creative products such as the VW Beetle (Hitler's idea) and the walkman. There wasn't much of a Thai connection.

Then we went to Jim Thompson's House & Museum. He reinvented the silk industry that Thailand is now known for after the Vietnam War. He disappeared mysteriously.

Back to Ruen-Nuad Massage where Lisa once again received a massage on the front side (no, she's not a fan). And my butt cheeks received a good amount of attention from Wan, who expects to see me back in a year.

Last night in Bangkok and we went to the Night Bazaar. We ate a plate full of pork (good) and a papaya salad. When the papaya salad was being made, the woman asked Lisa if she wanted spicy. Lisa said, "medium," so the woman only put half the chili pepper in. It didn't take long for Lisa is have a constant stream of tears while eating. She loved/hated the dish. For our last act, we attempted to go to the Sky Bar which is an open bar at the top of a hotel about 60 stories up, but I was in shorts, which is frowned upon. So we were rejected. The End.

Thailand - Day Fourteen

The last thing we saw in Thailand was this sunrise. It was pretty much a blur, because our cab driver was closing in on the speed of light at times. Typical speed for him = 135 kph. Typical speed for other drivers on the road = 85 kph. It was a metered cab and our hotel promised it wouldn't be over 500 Baht, which we had set aside and was the last of our money. It was supposed to be a 45-minute drive. He got us there for 210 Baht and about 25 minutes. We gave him 300.

The flight home turned out to be great as American Airlines gave us an exit row and free drinks because we didn't complain when our personal TVs didn't work. Then an old Japanese couple gave us their exit row seats, so we had working TVs and a 4-year-old girl sat next to me, informing me when a new cartoon would start. Not bad at all.

A final image: Every toilet in Thailand was equipped with a spray nozzle. Most toilets would have a sign explaining that no paper should be flushed. So, after going, you would spray with water. Then you would wipe dry and toss that in the trash. It seems like this is a much more efficient system and perhaps one that I will have in my house one day. It's like a mini-shower for my arse. I have a few friends in mind who could really use one.