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  • hardie karges 10:41 am on December 31, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Starbuck’s Charges Big Bucks for Intellectual Property 

    We Americans are soCopyright infringement?  You decide... spoiled, complaining about paying $2 for 20 ounces of Starbucks coffee, reminiscing about the good old days when coffee was a dime a cup, and if you were on the honor system at the Millsaps College grill, and times were hard, then you could just thump the cup and no one would know the dif. Yeah, those were the gold old days, but the coffee tasted like re-fried Shinola.


    Know what twenty ounces of the black stuff will cost you in Bangkok? About $4.50 USD, and that doesn’t count a tip for the barista, if she (or he) is cute. There are typically six of them to choose from. Those are European prices, in a country where minimum wage is $10 USD per day. At the new Terminal 21 mall on Sukhumvit, there is a waiting line. Somebody’s making a killing, but it’s not high-tech, so we don’t know his name.

    New logo for Starbucks’ nemesis


    A month or two ago, they came down heavy on a local coffee vendor selling his ‘Starbung’ coffee with a logo that looked suspiciously similar to the green lady: lawyers, court hearings, the whole schmear. Now we know why I guess. Coffee is black gold, and so is the ‘coffee experience’ in a country just moving cautiously beyond Nescafe (once in Guatemala I saw that translated as ‘Nescoffee’).


    Starbung’s finally caved, changing his name and logo. Since they’re the corporate heavy, I won’t buy Starbucks if I have a choice, and definitely not at Thailand’s prices, but it sure looks good in some Godforsaken airport with nothing else—or in Europe, where it’s the budget option. I doubt Starbung’s is very good, anyway. I will try his roti, though. He’s closed for the holidays. I’ll be back.

  • hardie karges 12:21 pm on December 30, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    That’s What I Like About the South—Thailand, that is… 

    Historic Hotel in Trang, Thailand

    Historic Hotel in Trang, Thailand

    If southern Thailand is a masala mix of tourism, ex-pats, rebellion, and boredom, then Trang somehow finds itself at the center of it all. And while it has few attractions of its own in the city proper, that in and of itself is one of the attractions. That is a Backpacker Principle: authentic is better, as long as it’s not boring. Trang is not, though I have yet to see a go-go or ‘dark side’ (a la Songkhla) bar, good deal.

    It doesn’t have the old-fashioned and well-defined Sino-Portuguese shop-house district of Songkhla, but that’s an anomaly in Thailand peculiar to Songkhla. At the same time it’s got more than the typical boring layout of 50’s-era Stalinesque architecture, typically defined by a sh*t-stained white exterior that has obviously only been painted once in its stressed-out life.

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  • hardie karges 1:31 pm on December 29, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    New Year with Reindeer in Thailand 


    Happy New Year in Trang, Thailand

    They’re still playing Christmas carols here in Thailand.  Do they just not ‘get it’?  Somehow it seems the two year-end holidays–Christmas and New Year–have gotten melded into one, not too surprising since the Christmas of Christians is strictly a borrowed holiday.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with mixing your metaphors, but do reindeer really have anything to do with the New Year?  I guess black-eyed peas would be asking too much…

  • hardie karges 4:36 am on December 28, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , curries, , , , , sweets, ,   

    In South Thailand They Like it Hot… & Sweet 


    Muslim Food in Trang, Thailand

    The food down south, fierce and fiery, is renowned even amongst Thais for its spiciness. That includes yellow curries, and of course, seafood, a welcome addition for us semi-vegetarians quickly backsliding into ovo-lacto-chicketarianism.

    Then there are the sweets, similar to the rest of Thailand, and heavily based on the use of coconut, or at least the ‘milk’ (not to be confused with the ‘water’). This is native to the south, of course, and likely the point of dissemination toward the north, along with much of ‘Thai’ cuisine, curries originally from Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Indian sub-continent, in my theory, at least.

    Thai southern sweets: Trang, Thiland

    Thai southern sweets: Trang, Thiland

    There is also ‘Muslim food’, which is really not so much different, to be honest, and which I take to be vindication of my theory of southern origins. Still they make a distinction in numerous eateries, mostly in the oldest part of town. You won’t find pork, there, though, that’s for sure, and that’s the main difference.

    BTW be careful with the coconut milk. Over-indulgence can have a constipatory effect, as I found out the hard way years ago during a brief love affair with sticky rice and mango. That’s a triple whammy I don’t want to repeat.


  • hardie karges 12:22 pm on December 26, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Christmas in Thailand, Part 3: Songkhla 

    Fishing village near Songkhla, Thailand

    Fishing village near Songkhla, Thailand

     I haven’t been in Songkhla in a dozen or so years, so jumped at the chance to put it back in the itinerary. After successively postponing and/or canceling trips to Bhutan and Burma, I was left with a hole in my schedule, so this fits the bill nicely. It’s different. Normally when you think of southern Thailand, you think of tourist mega-resorts like upscale Phuket or backpacker havens Koh Samui, Pha Ngan or Tao. Then there are Koh Lanta, Krabi, Phi Phi, and countless others.

    Or if you’re thinking about the dangerous and rebellious Thai Muslim ‘three southern provinces’, then you’re talking Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani, or some other places that’ve made big bad news in the last decade’s separation struggles. Then there are the boring provincial Thai cities of Nakhorn Sri Thamarat, Surat Thani, or others best known as transit points. Songkhla doesn’t fit any of these easy categories. It has tourist interest, but almost no one goes there, Thais included.

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  • hardie karges 12:01 am on December 24, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Virtual Bangkok: Is Prostitution in Thailand on the Way Out? 


    Soi Cowboy, Bangkok, Thailand

    The bar girls barely even seem to notice potential customers now, mostly-western tourists strolling through one of Bangkok’s notorious red-light districts at Patpong, Nana, or Soi Cowboy. They’re even less interested in the northern city of Chiang Mai, just going through the motions, it seems, more interested in playing with their smart-phones than rubbing up against potential customers, offering brief samples of ‘the goods’.


    I guess that’s progress. Tactile sensations are the big losers in the rush to offer virtual computerized thrills that appeal mostly to the eyes and ears. In Chiang Mai, going to a go-go bar almost feels like a renaissance fair, so out-dated does it feel. The number of customers would confirm that. Bangkok probably fares better, but you can only take off so many items of clothing. Once they’re all off, what more can you do? Yeah, I know… but then what? Virtual trafficking, in images? The porn trade would confirm that.

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  • hardie karges 2:51 am on December 21, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , potatoes, smart phone,   


    “Back in the day,” as they say, we used to laugh, smirk and poke fun at those ‘couch potatoes’ defined by their lumpy figures and the TV soaps, sitcoms, and sports that they would rather watch than play. But has anything really changed? If anything, it seems to have gotten worse. The only difference is that now we carry the couch with us wherever we go. Bellies have only gotten bigger over time, and waistlines probably won’t start receding until microbiologists finally find a genetic ‘cure’ for the ‘disease’. TV shows may have gotten better—at least on the non-broadcast channels—but I doubt that’s what most people are watching on their smart-phones and iPads. No, mostly we’re not watching the ‘other’. We’re watching each other, in love with ourselves and our comfort zones, sweet dreams and sweet nothingness.  That’s why I like to travel… with my laptop.   

  • hardie karges 3:52 am on December 19, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    Christmas in Thailand: Waiting for the Big Guy 

    View from My Balcony

    View from the Balcony

    This is first time I’ve been in Chiang Mai in three years and the first time I’ve spent more than a night or two in over ten. It’s changed, some for the better, but not all. It depends on how you count. The sex trade seems diminished, while the tourist trade—fortunately not the same thing—has definitely increased. That means that one of the town’s two main strip clubs has long since closed and the other seems not especially busy, while the pick-up bars that once sprouted up like mushrooms after a fresh rain, have at least stabilized in numbers or perhaps even decreased.

    Meanwhile the number of Thai massage parlors, espresso joints, vegetarian restaurants, hostels and travel agents has increased exponentially. They have pretty much taken over the traditional central business area defined by the moat and the night bazaar, and most of the moated area, too, pushing the locals out into the Nimanhemin area as their main focus of entertainment, not that there is any sharp line dividing the two, Thailand’s main claim to tourist fame. The holy grail of travel—mingling with the locals—is imminently doable in Thailand.

    It’s ironic that I seem to show up here at crucial moments in my life, literally crucial—crossroads—that somehow seem to

    Inside Warorot Market (Kad Luang), Chiang Mai

    Inside Warorot Market (Kad Luang), Chiang Mai

    divide my life into more-or-less-equal twenty-year segments, previously as I was about to turn forty, now as I’m about to turn sixty. Everywhere are remnants of the past, interspersed with glimpses of the future, blended together in some sweet-and-sour hot-and-spicy present—pad prieow wan, tom yam goong, gaeng kari, or maybe pad thai, some of my favorite Thai dishes. Life is like food, I figure, the creation of our taste buds. But this is time travel, not a foodie tour.

    The past is everywhere, Chiang Mai’s and my own. The market where betel-nut was once currency and cash crop 500 years ago is the same market where I once stocked up on fruits and veggies, and a quarter’s worth of sticky rice to last me through the night. Now there are smoothie stalls and English menus, and tattooed nose-ringed groovers in addition to the long-haired bearded ones of yore… and always food, food everywhere, both Eastern and Western. They say that at any given moment, half the country is cooking for the other half, and that sounds about right.

    Wat Jedi Luang

    Wat Jedi Luang

    Thailand is at its most exotic in its Buddhist temples, of which there are dozens—no, hundreds. They’re everywhere, so it’s easy to just happen upon them, scattered like Baptist churches in the southern US, and as individual as the neighborhoods that they reside in. Some are famous, though, like the one up on Doi Suthep, and Jedi Luang, inside the moat on Prapokklao Road. This is a good road to see several, in fact, including some restored to their original gold-studded teak, and more than a few ruins dating back through the city’s 700-year history. Meditate on that.

    No, I wasn’t born here, but I was re-born here, and may yet die here in the womb of someone else’s mother. Thailand is a comfort zone and safe haven for me now. Though I don’t look Thai at all, and used to be jealous of my friends that do, now I rarely get challenged linguistically, and that’s the key to fulfillment. When people switch from English to Thai the attitude changes also, and a different level of politeness kicks in. English is the language of aggression.

    Still I doubt that I could handle Chiang Mai under the full tourist onslaught which has been diminished by the current political problems. At this level of tourism and with wintertime mild temps, it’s really nice. Temps here in ChiangMai drop to 10c/50f and people start breaking out the heavy jackets and standing around fires to keep warm. Given the occasional Christmas song, all you need is some big fat bearded Farang to dress up in red, and you could almost pretend that it’s… naah…

    My main complaints are about the sidewalks, or lack thereof. It’s dangerous out there, in the country with the world’s third-highest road fatalities. And bicycle riders have got it worse. Don’t forget to wear protection—a helmet. And enjoy the light crowds while they last.

  • hardie karges 3:54 am on December 18, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Thailand. Chiang Mai   

    Northern Thai Food: Don’t Forget the Sticky Rice… 


    The best northern Thai food in Chiang Mai…

    Everybody loves Thai food–pad prieow wan, tom yam goong, gaeng kari, or maybe pad thai–but that’s central Thai food, with strong Malay, Chinese, and Indian influences.

    Northern Thailand has its own cuisine, though, also. For most tourists, that means ‘khao soi‘, a curry-and-noodles concoction that is actually Burmese, not Thai at all, and cousin to the biryani-like khao mok gai, both product of the previous long-term Burmese occupation. Food conquers where armies fail.


    For the northern Thai food connoisseur, though, nam prik ong and nam ngieow are standard ‘comfort foods’ (actually nam ngieow is something more like a true Tai ‘khao soi‘ as opposed to the Muslim version it’s more famous for). Then there are numerous versions of larb (lahp), both raw and cooked, pork and chicken, that some people meatier than I find extremely tasty. But there’s more, and my favorite is a little front-yard stall up on Kampaengdin Street in Chiang Mai, where the tuk-tuk drivers eat. Here you can even get fish larb, something I’ve never seen elsewhere, and best eaten with sticky rice. You heard it here first.

  • hardie karges 10:19 am on December 17, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Fish, massage, ,   

    The Latest Massage Trend in Thailand: Let Fish Feast on Your Flesh 


    Fish Massage

    Thai massage is one of the treats of any trip to Thailand, of course, especially that old-fashioned bone-cracking earth-fracking kind where the masseuse basically does yoga to you and the degree of muscular penetration basically depends on her weight and mass.  Want the heavy-duty massage?  Order up a big-ass mama to straddle you and wreak havoc.  

    That’s the original Ayurvedic style as handed down most famously through Wat Po in Bangkok, which has since been augmented by many different styles to stay one step ahead of the competition.  I remember distinctly around 1997 when someone came to town and started teaching reflexology, i.e. ‘foot massage’, and within weeks the signs with foot-map pressure points were springing up all over town.  Now I think it’s also considered a Thai tradition, just like the croaking wooden frogs that I brought over from Vietnam in 1998.  Memories are short. and the nights are long.  

    The latest trendiest new massage technique is ‘fish massage’, and no, I’m not (nod nod wink wink) talking about that rogue fatboy trouser trout that sometimes raises its ugly head in the heat of a solid physical work-over.  No, apparently you sit on a bench and stick your legs and feet into an aquarium below, while hundreds of tiny ‘doctor fish’ nibble your toe-jam, dead skin and body bacteria.  No, I haven’t tried it yet.  I’m waiting for the full immersion… though I guess they’d have to stop short of the armpits, wouldn’t they, just for the tickle factor?  Now there’s an existential conundrum… 

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