Tag Archives: Bike

Cu Chi Tunnels. Saigon by Night. Vietnam.

11 Dec

I made it out of Vietnam! The whole passport/border control gig at the airport was uneventful. So uneventful that they did not check my passport, visa or asked me to undress. Impressive for me. Even more impressive for future terrorists. I’m just happy I’m up in the air in route to Cambodia. That sounds very, very strange to me. I mean, Cambodia???

Before I go any further, I do want to announce that I DID receive my ATM and Credit Card today – Day 5. Ultimately, FedEx did their job. Delivering my cards on time so I can do the American thing – spend more $$$.

Taking in these last few days. I have not had time to journal. But, I do feel compelled to share a little about about Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). It will be brief.

The adventure junket ended in Halong Bay. The three of us returned to Hanoi to catch flights to our next destination. For Tour-burn, it was off to Siem Reap, Cambodia to tour the temples . For me, it was Ho Chi Minh City – for more cycling. No resting for this pelvis.

When I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, I noticed all the signs said Saigon. I was confused. What is the proper name for the largest city in Vietnam?

This is what the locals told me….Saigon’s name was changed to Ho Chi Minh in 1975, after US bolted and Viet Cong ate Southern Vietnam. The folks in S. V-nam haven’t taken to the name – or communism for that matter – and still call their city Saigon. People in Northern Vietnam – taken to communism – call the city Ho Chi Minh. But, when you’re checking luggage at the airport, the AIRLINES call it Saigon.. Yet, the AIRPORT calls the city Ho Chi Minh. We’re back to confused communism, Vietnamese style…

If you ask me, which I’m sure the Vietnamese welcome my opinion, I prefer Saigon. Has nothing to do with communism or the embalmed bearded man. The name Saigon sounds more exotic. Has more energy. Seems eccentric. Fitting for a city with 6 million motor-bikes and 10 million riders. Think about it. Say Ho Chi Minh City and what comes to mind? For me, I picture a desolate, dusty Indian Reservation being corrupted by gambling. Not exactly fitting.

Focus. What did I do in Saigon for 1.5 days? Took to peddling. Wanted to see the city and tour the tunnels. Sam, the bike guide, arrived at the hotel at 8 am. I had the routine down. Grab a helmet. Raise the seat. Pop some pills for pelvis relief. And, start peddling. Our destination was the Cu Chi tunnels, built by Viet Cong to fight their enemy – their South Vietnamese brothers and our troops. Jungle warfare at its finest.

I want to share how V-nam tourists’ materials describe these famous tunnels. Needed some tweaking so I made some edits:

The Cu Chi tunnels are a historic revolutionary vestige and the base for the Viet Cong in the Anti-American resistance during the American War…. Tunnels were used as a place of eating, accommodation, meeting as well as unique battle formation, which took its part in the fight against the enemy for saving our country.

It was also the place where over 20,000+ of our soldiers were killed. Take a look at the pictures below of the tunnels… Small. And, the government expanded the tunnels 40% so tourists could crawl though to experience the full effect. Let’s just say, my H&M black leggings now have holes in the knees. Had to crawl. There were NO tall people in Viet Cong army. Or, fat people for that matter.

Other “must do” tourist attractions at the Cu Chi tunnels included shooting your choice of guns – AK 47, Automatic machine guns, pistols, riffles… Pay the dude $5 and fire away. I opted for that AK 47. My shoulder will never be the same. I hit my target, thanks to taking riflery at summer camp… Only in America, can kids grow up learning to shoot weapons at camp. I digress..

After tunnel crawling and rifle shooting, we jumped back on your bikes. I popped some more Advil. We toured through the country side of Saigon. I noticed group of people gathered in the distance. Sam slowed down. Stopped. He said, “Stop. Try this…” I whipped my leg over the bike seat and missed. Pain again. I limped up to the group of people. Notice furry creatures in cages. Furry creatures were rats. People are lining up to eat rat. Doesn’t get much better than this.

Rice farmers catch the rats in their fields and the women sell them on the side of the road. And, here I was the tall foreigner scared of something they ate. Damn straight. Scared is not the right verb. It’s more like repulsed. And,vomiting was not part of the day’s scheduled activities.

So, here’s this cute woman in her PJs. She’s about 20 or so. Her kids are running around half naked.

Her job is to grab the dead rats in the bucket, and with a pair of scissors in one hand, cut off the legs, tail and head and toss the body into another bucket. The next woman wearing Pjs, grabs a knife. Opens it up. Pierces it with a stick and cooks it on an open fire, on the side of the road.

Now, if you don’t want to eat now, you can always just buy the no extremities rat. The Pjs women plopped the rat in a clear plastic bag. And, off you go on your motor-bike or on foot with a rat in hand. Kodak moment…

Saigon by Night

Sam struck a cord yesterday. He complained how foreigners come to Saigon just to tour the war, talk about the war and leave thinking about the war. They don’t want to see the NEW Saigon. He said, “Saigon is not war. Young people don’t even know about war. Business people don’t care about war. War is old. I want show you Saigon not for tourists.. Tonight…” I’m IN!

So, off we went on his motor-bike to see the NEW Saigon. This NEW Saigon is suburbia.

We’re talking four or five story homes. Lawns with sprinklers. Screened windows. Streets with speed bumps and stop signs. Sidewalks for people. Gate guards. This is NOT your one-party, communist controlled country. It’s Reston, VA. It’s Lake Mary, Florida. It’s reeks of wealth. It reeks of inequality. It reeks of excess.

Sam: “Homes here are $1 million to $2 million US. Pay in cash. We don’t trust Vietnamese dollar. People here invest in gold for years and years. People rich. People here are government workers. Shipping. Textile manufacturing. Work with US…Work with China. Rich…”

Me: “People are sitting on $2 million in cash? No bank loans, home loans, car loans in Vietnam? Not even credit cards?”

Sam: “No. No credit cards either. We save. We don’t understand how you buy on credit card. We know each penny we have and spend everyday. I save between $1,000 and $2,000 US a month. Took me two years, and I bought my house with cash. Saved everyday…”

We zoomed passed homes, town homes and apartments ranging from $250,000 US and $2,000,000 US. Sam continues to be amazed only ONE family lives in a house with four or five rooms and three bathrooms. He screamed into the night, “Look! Only one family… Look! Only one family. This family only have 2 kids. And, four rooms. Have three stories. Only one family! Look! Only one light one. Whole family in one room. Look!”

In Vietnam, they squish a family of four, six or eight – we’re talking grandparents, aunts and uncles and randoms – into a one story house with just two or three rooms. He’s amazed by space.

I was amazed by paying in cash, investing in gold and automatic garage doors. I bet these families have washer machines, dryers and bleach. NO underwear, sheets or Pjs were hanging from these pricey windows. How bad did I want to knock and use their washer machine and dryer…

We cruised on over to his neighborhood. He wanted to show me his new house. San was proud. He bought his home two or three years ago. It has 4 rooms and he rents THREE of them to families. We darted through dark streets. We turned left on a dirt road filed with water. He said, “this is temporary. Govt. building a 20 story apartment building at end of my street. Next to my house. Take 2 years. A lot of flooding now. Putting in new sewage system…water…very good for me.” Yea, not good for me for this nasty sewage is forming a new life on my clean jeans.

By this point, he has proposed. When I said, “We just met…little early?” He changed tactics, “Then, you come and live with me. You single. I single. Same age. It works.” I said, “Oh, is it that easy. You single. I single. Boom, that is it.”

He said, “Yes. Easy. I like you. When you see my house, you will know.” That is a lot of pressure because I can’t insult his home for I feel certain he lacks closet space, kitchen counter-tops and water pressure. We pull up. I see two pad locks on his patio door. Barb wire around the roof. Home sweet home.

He unlocks the first padlock. Then, another one greets us on his front door. I giggle inside. When he show’s me his kitchen, he’s proud it is NOT attached to his house. He said, “Too messy. Too smoky. It’s better out in patio.” Fab.

His house is nice. Clean. One bedroom downstairs. Two working bathrooms. No closet space. Super-small fridge with space for only a twelve pack of Coke Zero. And, a Buddha shrine to boot. The decibel level of the construction site and padlocking the doors would drive me to drink. I just don’t see Sam’s home as my final resting place. Don’t feel it. I tell him as much. He really looks sad. I’m not taking time to analyze this one…. I’m about to land in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The capital.

Last night, over 300 people were killed in Phnom Penh. Trampled. I saw it on CNN this morning. They say too many people were crossing a bridge? I don’t know the details yet but it is bad. Cambodia government said worse crisis since Khomer Rouge. The dude that killed over ¼th of the population. That’s hard to swallow.

Welcome to Cambodia. Two for one. Killing Fields. And, Killing River. I just hope they let me in…

More Trekking and Tribes. Northern Vietnam.

11 Dec

Who knew I was part Vietnamese..

These last few days have been amazing. Besides catching a cold from the Norwegian and loading up on Vietnamese pharmaceuticals, this outdoor adventure trip has exceeded all expectations.

I was not all gung-ho about Vietnam only because I was coming off spa-life in Thailand. The thought of hiking through rice patties, biking up mountains, getting wet in a bacteria filled bay and sleeping on bamboo mats with no shower, was unappealing at best. How my attitude has changed. Loving it. Loving it. Loving it. Love Vietnam. Got to come back.

I’ve entered the trekking portions of the trip and hiking around 7,000+ feet above sea level. Point is I can still breathe. Ang, Tour-Burn and I arrived at a town called Sapa yesterday. I just love how Ang described this town.

He said, “The local people know tourism. The French here in 1905. Then, Japanese… Americans…  Local ethnic people speak many languages – French, English, Chinese, Russian and Vietnamese.  Local people learn fast. They understand tourists.”

Excuse me?  Sapa was an occupied town, not a town for tourist training. The French took over Sapa for they saw it as the strategic center to controlling all North Vietnam and Laos. Ang has missed the boat or thinks we’re no longer listening.

Sapa gave me an amazing gift. It’s called cheap laundry. OMG. Six dollars for 90% of my laundry. Sapa has dryers AND some powder substance they call whitening. We’re talking ALMOST bleach. My white long sleeve t-shirt was no longer yellow, just a warm mayonnaise color. When I picked up my clothes yesterday, I applauded. Little ethnic lady dressed garb just grinned ear to ear showcasing her gold tooth. I wanted to hug her too. Sorry to digress… Back to trekking…

To help the local ethnic people, a representative from the Black H’maon tribe – translation is black flower – must accompany you on your trek.

The Black Flower tour guides earn $5 a day for taking foreigners through their mountains, through their villages, through their rice fields.

Our Black Flower guide’s name is Mae. She is 22. Very shy. Oldest of six in her family. Never went to school, for schools were just being built in her village. Plus, as the oldest, she was required to take care of her siblings starting at age six or so. Her youngest sister is now 4 years old. Her mom was 16 when she got married… Mae thinks her mom will have more babies..

Mae may not know Pythagorean theorem but she knows English. She learned

Trekking thru a rice field...

the language by hassling tourists in the market. As a child, she accompanied her grandmother to Sapa to sell trinkets, thread, purses and key chains to the former occupiers of Sapa – the tourists. She said, she started out as “hello…” Then, progressed to, “what is your name… where are you from…give me money…” Then, it was onto numbers and counting.

Her grandmother had a booth in the market, and this is how she learned to bargain and expand her English. I told her she is 150% smarter than most for her English is excellent, especially since she learned it from the Americans, Australians, English, Germans, Swedes, Russians, Indians, and any other random nationality. She said she had no choice for she was the oldest and had to help her family make money.

Some of Mae’s friends from her tribe are also guides. She said, none of them want to get married to traditional Black Flower men and see themselves as living in limbo-land. Her other friends, with whom she grew up with in the village, have been married since 16 or 18 and already have two or three kids. They work in their fields full time, have babies and do what the man says.

If she were to marry a Black Flower, then she must give up her job, stay home — cook, clean, harvest rice, slaughter pigs and raise babies. She would loose her voice. Her identity. And, having the option to say “no.”

Better cell reception than Orlando...

Her language skills and her job have opened the door to a new world. She can’t go back to the “old, traditional ways.” She is the first in her tribe to have this type of job – with outside foreigners – where she earns a formal salary. All the tour guides from her tribe are female because the boys see working with tourists as “female” work. They equate it to selling goods in the market. Yet, it is the women who make the money.

Her parents are FREAKING out for they are torn. One side, they are proud of their daughter because she is supporting the family. The other side, she is not married. Boys in her tribe don’t want to date or marry her for she is too progressive. Too strong willed. Too motivated. And, she does NOT want them either. She made that clear.

Mae’s is in no man’s land. Rejected by both words. She knows this too. Accepts it. And, says she does not want to get married, unless the boy works in tourism. She is not going to compromise and neither are her friends. She is very candid about this and knows she’s a future example for her tribe.

And, she loves her job. She’s learning more everyday. She told me a story of how last week, she was taking 15 Australians and French folks through the mountains. One woman got to close to the water buffalo. The water buffalo nailed the woman in the leg. Gashed it open. Blood everywhere. Thank goodness there was a French doctor there to control the bleeding. And, thank goodness they have good cell service – unlike Orlando – and tribe men came immediately. They placed the woman on a stretcher and ran her down the mountain on their backs.

Sapa really does not have a hospital – see picture. So they put her in a car and drove her to Hanoi, about 5 hours away.

I asked if this was common? She said, “Yes… and don’t go near the animals. Meant to tell you that earlier.”

Duly noted. I told her not to worry, for I walk around and scream “Rabbis” at the ferrel dogs.Liability nightmare in the making..

When work becomes unbearable, think of her...

Mae lead us for two days through the mountains of Northern Vietnam. The trek itself was awe-inspiring and not as painful as biking. Take a look at the pictures.

They speak louder than my words…

We stayed with another ethnic family. And, it was Mae who cooed, cleaned and cared for their kids. It is not even her ethnic tribe people, but another – the DAY tribe!

She said she enjoys taking care of others. And, she does an amazing job. I will keep her in my prayers.

TANGENT: It’s early AM. I’m writing. In a bamboo hut on stilts. I think the DAY family is slaughtering the pig right now. I hear a pig screaming. I mean SCREAMING. I can’t wake to that… I mean, fresh pig blood. Pig parts. Pig intestines. Just can’t. I hear the fire crackling down stairs. Please tell me its for the coffee.

Guess what? I was right. Came back to bamboo house mid-afternoon, walked into the kitchen and low and behold, what’s hanging in front of me. Pig parts…They are smoking the pig they just killed that morning. Soooo going vegetarianism after this gig…

Below are some pics from the hiking adventure…

Mountaing Biking in Northern Vietnam.

11 Dec

We’re driving down the strenuous stretch. Leaving the village of Bac Ha in our dust. Just yesterday, Tour-burn and I were biking this highway – the strenuous stretch. The driver has to put the van in low gear. It’s that steep. All I can say is, “I can’t believe this…This is crazy.. I’m from Florida..I’m not outdoorsy. This is not right…”

As the van carries us down the mountain, we pass construction zones, where young men and women are breaking rocks with hammers and digging ditches with small shovels. I recognize them. They are my fans – clapping and screaming in Vietnamese – Are YOU out of your mind!!

By the way, I have not seen one other walker, biker or jogger on this highway. Not even a villager is walking the thing. Damn, I really did this? Wait, I think those are my little dirty, naked highway kids. I took their picture, right? The positive is we did not drive up this “stretch” before our ride for there is NO way I could have made it.

Day three of biking was an ALL mountain biking day. We could not ask for better weather. But, I could ask for more Advil. Majority of the ride was downhill, navigating boulders, rocks and water buffalo patties. It was still grueling. My pelvis may have NOT touched the seat, but my legs and backed burned. Imagine sitting in a squat for 2 hours straight, downhill. And, why do people do this?

I know. The scenery. Today was some of the best scenery yet. No one was on this road – did you hear me? No one. When we were in route to remote mountain path, we took a detour and stopped at a market for the red flower ethnic tribe. NO tourists. This is where I had a little dude install a new watch battery. You would have thought he was performing surgery. A whole crowd gathered around him and watched him take out a Chinese battery and put a new one it. He did it. The watch works. I asked him about warranty for the battery. He told Ang, I have one year guarantee. Had to laugh –

Below are some of the pics from the market. Look how they carry their cute babies. Their bright colored clothes. And, look how they sell rice wine. Funnel cups! Also, the rice noodles are a carb-lovers delight.

After the 2 hour mountain bike trek, we loaded up and headed to Sapa to start the trekking to even more remote villages of more remote ethnic people…

Pouring Rice Wine

Strenous Stretch. Painful Pelvis. Northern Vietnam.

11 Dec

Children are no longer an option. Not humanly possible. No way. I’m done.  Out for the count.

It’s late at night. In a hotel room in a random, Northern Vietnam town. And, I’m pondering the word, “Strenuous Stretch?” That’s how the Adventure Travel brochure described today’s ride. “Strenuous Stretch.” Stretch means short distance, right? Not 15 km uphill.   Today is an example of marketing gone wrong.

Let’s make it clear. I’m not a biker. Cyclist. Peddler. My biking days consist of a stationary bike at the YMCA and a yellow Schwinn with baskets at seven. Had a mountain bike at college in Colorado. It was stolen on week two. The cops recovered it. Mountain biked moved to tour-DE-bar hopping bike. Fast forward to Vietnam.

My friend Chris told me if I was visiting Vietnam, then Halong Bay was a must. No matter what. Skip everything else, if need be. But, go to Halong Bay. I goggled it. Beautiful.   But why not experience more than just a bay.  Kick it up a few notches and add some outdoorsy stuff.   Fun, right?

I’m now on Day 2 out of day Day 12 of this outdoorsy adventure. I ask Ang about today’s bike ride.

Ang: “Today. We do uphill.”

Me: “Yes, but downhill too, right?”

Ang: “No. All uphill.”

Me: “What do you mean? It has to go down eventually, no?”

Ang: “No. Not today. We bike 15 km this morning. All uphill. Yesterday, we biked over 45 km. Today, much shorter. Today is good…”

Me: “Hold the phone.  All uphill? I don’t understand…”

I assumed something was lost in translation. We got out of the bus. Ang prepared our bikes, raising my seat for “big” people. I’m wearing the same black leggings from H&M and a JCrew t-shirt. Why change now.   Ang gave us instructions. He sounded serious.

Ag: “Only change gears when your body is at 70%. The mistake is when people change and change gears. Need to change gears gradually. And, uphill means you peddle very fast with little resistance. This is not a race. Go slow…”

Me: “I do go slow. I’m from Florida.  And, I change gears a lot because I’m at 70% within 28 seconds of peddling…”

Ang continues: “Watch out for construction and trucks. Do not stop for the first ¼th of the climb. You will loose momentum. No stopping. Just peddling. Peddle fast and go slow…”

Me: “OMG…Where are we?”

I look up the road. It’s a highway. For big, diesel, semi-trucks and motor-bikes. It’s like biking Interstate I-70 from Denver to Vail. And, why are we biking up this mountain? This highway? Why? Someone please tell me WHY. No answers. We’re off.

I’m only three mins in and want to stop. I tell Ang, “My bike is broke. It does not feel like it is going fast. The break must be on.” He said, “No. Bike is fine.” Implying it’s me.  My legs are heavy and tired from yesterday’s little 45 km jaunt. Lactic acid starts to chip in at minute five. Pelvis pain kicks in at minute six.

Sweet Tour-Burn peddles behind me. He needs to move. Or, else I may hurl a rock at him. I blurt out, “Please pass me or I’m going to hurt you. Don’t wait on me today. I’m super slow and superbly deranged.”

He said, “Are you sure?”

He could tell by my evil look if he does not pass me, I’m going to run him off the road. The pressure of having someone tail this Florida girl for 15 km – up hill – was too much to handle.

I told myself. OK. Bike for 15 mins and then reconsider your options – like air conditioned bus and Coke Zero. I focused. I focused on this 70%. Focused on “peddling fast and going slow” as motor-bikes flew by honking, mac-trucks spewed diesel and half naked street kids ran to the road screaming. This is friggin crazy.

Got 10 mins down and the body has started to adjust to the pain. Lungs started to work. Heart started slowing down. Sweat only dripped, instead of gushed. I looked up for the first time. Looked around. Truly breathtaking. Thank you travel angels. Now, I need your help in carrying me up the mountain. I talked to them the entire time – “Are we at 70%? Am I breathing? Are kids an option?”

I looked up and saw Tour-Burn walking his bike around a bend. My word – he is already walking his bike. I’m screwed. I refused to walk my bike. I’m doing this thing – come hell or high water. I don’t care if I can’t have kids after this. I’m biking it baby – well, at least the first 15 mins.

Guess what? I did it! I biked the first 30 or so mins without stopping. Without walking. Don’t ask me how. The mind is amazing. When I stopped for water, Ang said, “That was the hardest part of the climb. Usually people don’t make it. They walk or van picks them up. I did not think you would make it. Very good.”

Well, with that – I was on a roll. Now, I’m biker-lady. If that was hard, the rest of this is a cinch. Yep, give pride a crack, and he takes over.

I get back on the bike. Start peddling. About thirty minutes in, the pelvis is paralyzed with pain. No gel seat. Gel pants. Or, gel period is going to solve this one. I got off the bike, and walked. It felt good to walk. I saw the van. If van driver could take me 3 km as feeling resumes in my lower extremities, then I could bike the last 4 or 5 km into town. That would work. My pelvis needs a holiday.

I got into the bus. The driver was standing on the side of the road looking down into a valley. He motioned for me to come over. I hobbled across the highway and saw a car at the bottom split into two. Spit into TWO. Others were stopping. I hope this just did not happen and we’re just looking and doing nothing. It turns out, the day earlier, three people were going to fast around the turn – downhill – and flew off the cliff. They all lived. I don’t see how.

They said it was “magic,” I think it was more than mere magic. Van driver said, “Road dangerous. People fast. Cars and mopeds turn off engine to save gas when go down mountain…” He kept on trying to speak English. Too much information for me to absorb right now – I’m not sure what was more troubling….cutting off the engine downhill or me biking uphill.

About two mins up the road, we pass Tour-Burn. I wave. Looks like he’s about to keel over. I stop the bus. He was in the van in a matter of minutes. His body was giving out too and he is Mr. Athletic, Norwegian guy. Made this Florida girl happy.

As the van took us higher, I looked out the window. I was to bike this? And, I AM biking this? Crazy. The van dropped us off. Food and flushing toilets kept my legs moving. We arrived at the restaurant and grabbed a table outside. Both of us were in disbelief that we just biked over 12 km uphill. I sit down. Winced in pain. Food arrived in seconds. We inhaled.

Ang walked over to tells us about our afternoon plans.

Ang: “So we check into hotel. Then, do our afternoon bike ride. Two options long ride around the town and village. Or, short ride through the village.”

Is he crazy? Another bike ride? Wasn’t the strenuous stretch enough? And, am I the only one in pelvis pain? Don’t guys have pelvis pain?

Tour-burn and I looked at each other and shouted SHORT ride please. Back at the hotel, I popped four Advil before setting off – again. The positive was we started out going down hill. The negative, was our short trip turned into mountain biking. This pelvis was not prepared.

We stopped at a family’s house. The mother looked about 25. She had a baby on her back and four other kids surrounding her, barely dressed. She invited us in. She was part of another ethnic tribe – the flower tribe. A lot of colors. Creativity. Passion. Beauty.

Grandmother was seated on the floor picking dry corn kernals off the ears by hand. About eight people lived in the home along with a pig, ducks, chicken, pony and water buffalo. They harvested rice for a living and believe they had 400+ pounds of rice in their home, just for the family…just in case of a bad harvest… Now, I like rice – but come on. They did tell us they fermented and sold rice wine at market. They do the same with corn – ferment and make into wine. So, these folks sell moonshine!

Ten month old tiny tot was was half dressed and cozening up to his eighty year old grandmother. I pulled up a stool next to her and helped her pick corn kernels. Naked tiny tot wanted attention, and sat his naked butt in the bucket of corn. He just giggled. I thought, what happens if he pees? I later found out they are using this corn to make booze, so we’re good if the kid goes pee in the corn. No one will die…

The mom told me how she makes the clothes for her family. It takes about a month to make skirt. She puts one on me. It’s heavy! Over in the corner, sits the husband or grandfather. Sitting in the dark smoking a cig. I wondered if he was around during Vietnam War. I wondered what he thought of these Westerners – French, Americans and the whole lot – seeing his country as a travel destination, not a war zone. And, I wondered where I am right now? Was this a Viet Cong village? Were US forces here? N. Vietnam was THE hot bed. I looked over and just smiled at him. Above him hung a picture of Ho Chi Minh. He’s now their national hero. The liberator. I just took this all in as I’m picking kernels off corn with a naked, dirty baby.

We leave. Waved goodbye. And, jumped on the bikes. I felt good, until I go numb again. We rode for another hour or so through the village, stopping and inhaling the views – rice paddies.

Back at the hotel. I longed for a nice hot shower. But, guess what? There’s no warm water. Not only that, the entire bathroom floor was flooding. Where was the water coming from? Hell, they never installed the tub properly. Water was spilling fast. I just watched. The shower head was removable. I removed it. And, tossed the head in the tub and let the water run for a full 4 mins as I contemplated – what to do. I just couldn’t take a cold shower. Not now. Not today. I wondered if Tour-burn has warm water. This meant knocking on his door asking to take a shower. I just met the kid 2 days ago. I can’t do this to him. I walked back into the mini-flood. Touched the water. It’s lukewarm. Tour-burn was saved from naked, American, bossy girl.

After the shower, I headed downstairs to the lobby and overheard a French tourist asking the Vietnamese receptions for a new room. His rooms has spiders. I thought, be happy. Spiders eat the roaches, ants and mosquito carrying the malaria virus. It could be worse, like rats. The receptionist looked confused.

I passed them, and walked into the dining room with major overhead light issue. I felt like I was in an insane asylum or a mid-western cafeteria. Ugh. We sit. The meal was paid for. The room filled with loud, smoking French tourists within 10 mins. Even better. The French occupied Vietnam. And, now they occupy the dining room. Those damn French occupiers! Midway through dinner all the electricity went off. Pitch black. I could have told them its the overhead lights. Guess dinner’s over.

Tomorrow is day 3 of bike riding. God help me… God help my pelvis…

*Check out more photos in the album to the right of this blog

Bikes. Elephants. Rafting. Orchids. Military. Chiang Mai, Thailand

27 Nov

I had to get out of my hotel room. Out of my head. I’ve been in the glorious Chedi Hotel in Chaing Mai for two days now editing China. It’s consuming. And, I believing biking, white water rafting and elephant riding are in order.

I called  my new BFFers at a local travel agent for Asia. The day prior I scared the shit out of their Chiang Mai office by knocking on their door. That’s right. I went to their physical location. Apparently, people don’t go to the office. They only email. American girl does not email when wanting information about travel and transport in communist countries.

I hired a Tuk Tuk to take me to their offices. Off I went in a Hello Kitty motor-bike with a covered seat. The Tuk Tuk driver dropped me off at someone’s house insisting it was an office. I thought, “fine. I’ll knock.” Got out of Tuk Tuk and she raced off. I knocked on the door. Two young women peered out. I peered at them. Smiled. And, said, “I need travel help…”

Thirty mins later, after my face to face with them, I’m emailing my travel ideas. Looks like the Chiang Mai office is for operations only. Hey, website did NOT say that. I gave them something to talk about for the day… But, they did help me with a day bike trip exploring Chiang Mai.

My tour guide picked me up at 8 am and we’re off. My tour guide’s name is Bae. It is short for a very long Thai name. Bae was on fire. He’s highly irritated with his government, royal family, military, corruption, education, health… you name it, he’s mad.

I told him “Welcome to America… We’re all mad too…” I have not found one Thai who would speak the truth on how they feel about their government. Not one. So, I was surprised at his spewing. Taken back actually. And, I LOVE talking politics and learning about other country’s governments.  It says so much about the energy of the people.  And, his rage was another birthday present. Yes, I’m still celebrating my birthday a month later.

In my opinion – and take this with a grain of salt for I only rested my head in this beautiful country for a few weeks and I’m NO expert – Thailand could implode economically or politically in the forseable future.  I’m not talking Chinese future, like 1,000 years.  I’m talking US future, like 2 to 8 years.

Why? Well you have two old farts running the country. The King and the Military General are in their 80s…  on their last leg.  So, what the Thai people are up against is the elite ruling from a place of fear….  It’s your typical fear — Fear of change.  Fear of their legacy. Fear of being found out.  When one manages and leads from a place of fear, then expect the worst.  And, we all know what that is like for we have had bosses who use fear to motivate, lead and direct their employees.  Not a happy place to spend 8 to 10 hours a day.   So, in my pee-size brain opinion, Thailand is a ticking tomb bomb.

According to Bae, this mess started about six years ago. And, it’s complicated and simple in one breath. The Prime Minister at the time – forgot his name – was from Northern Thailand. Smart man. Business man. Studied in the states. Made a lot of money in Thailand. Owned the largest telecoms business. I believe he brought wireless mobile phones to Thailand.

He ran for Prime Minister. Overwhelming majority. The country was progressing. He invested in infrastructure, education, tourism and business.

Goal was to open up Thailand. And, it was working. More business was coming in. Tourist flooded in. Thailand was moving. Then, the opposition started asking more and more questions about his business dealings. The kick-backs. Bae, my tour guide, went in detail, which I don’t recall now. In essence, the Prime Minister was getting $$ under the table. But, it could not be proven. His supporters do not believe it is true.   He said he would sell his business to avoid future conflict. And, he ended up selling the largest Telecoms/wireless company in Thailand to a S. Korean company or to another government.  Details escape me…

At any rate, the Thai people could not believe that a foreigners owns their Telecoms company. Found this disrespectful. It became a scandal. The opposition and military said they were going to arrest him for corruption.

New elections were held. And, he fled for the new party in control wanted to arrest and try him. His wife is still in Thailand.  Now, the Northern Thailand political contingency and the poor call themselves the RED Shirts. It’s all about the color shirt you wear in Thailand. Either you’re a Red Shirt or a Yellow Shirt. They keep it simple in Thailand.

This was six or so years ago. The new government came to power. Military backing. This new Prime Minister is just a puppet for the military. There was a quote in the Bangkok Post that said he is just a pretty face. The military has grown stronger and stronger. Their goal is to wipe out any opposition and try the old Prime Minister. They want old Prime Minster to go to jail, thinking if they show he’s corrupt – unlike them – then his followers will join their side. Easy Breezy. Cover Girl.

The military has been suppressing freedom of speech and freedom of assembly for the last few years.

The Red Shirts had enough. In 2009, they protested against the military (governments) policy. And, riots broke out. Military came in and with their big, bad guns. CNN aired the riots. So, the world thought these people were hooligans. US State Department posted travel warnings. I read some place that almost 100 people died in the riots and over 2000 were injured. After that, the military went crazy. Shut down everything. They shut down TVs, newspapers, blogs – anything against the government. The World Press Freedom Association downgraded Thailand to 153 on their list, below Democratic Republic of Congo and Palestine. Hello, Houston, we have a problem??? Democracy to military dictatorship in a matter of days. Though, Thailand still calls herself a democracy. Another example of using the wrong word to describe a government. Communism in China. Democracy in Thailand.  Both get the ax in Websters.

Oh, after these riots, the King Bhumibol Adulgadij – longest reigning King in Thai’s history and the world – had a nervous breakdown. Couldn’t deal. Guy is 83+. Broke him that people might be a wee bit upset. He has been in the “hospital” since 2009. When Thai’s say the word “hospital” their voices convey doubt. So, the military, in essence, is running the country.

Let me give you some perspective. Right now, a Thai Editor for a newspaper/blog is facing 70 years in prison for remarks she made about the monarchy. The government claims she breached some computer law and Thailand’s majestic legislation, prohibiting criticism of the royal family. Can you imagine the US pulling that one? What would Glen Beck and Morning Joe talk about? All the advertising dollars lost because NO ONE can speak ill of Obama, Palin, Biden, Bush or Clinton.  Again, raise a glass to our country! Thank GOD we have freedom to rant and rave.

Back to editor. So, I read that ANY Thai can make an accusation of insulting the monarchy and the police MUST investigate. You are guilty until they prove you innocent. When I was in Bangkok, the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon came for a visit. The Army Chief had some fab quotes in the Bangkok Post. He told the “bad people and outlaws” not to rally. Not to embarrass Thailand. See if our local police, or Obama for that matter, could get by with quotes like this…

Army Chief  quoted in the paper…

“Do what civilized people do….They must NOT show up in masses or cause trouble before the eyes of foreigners. I think that is embarrassing.”

“There are two groups of Thai people: the good and the bad, normal people and outlaws. The bad and outlaws must be prosecuted, no matter what they do, and they can later defend themselves by legal means.”

“Young kids should not protest. You should not do that. If you do not know, you can ask your parents.”

“All people, from their grandparents’ generation down have been blessed by the royal institution. From past to present, Thailand has existed thanks to the royal institution. So no matter what the political expression, do not involve the royal institution.”

Bae talked in length about the government corruption. They take bribes. Take the people’s money. Once again, there is no social safety net. The outsiders think Thailand is an nice place. To travel, yes. For freedom. To raise a family, no. Bae was raised on a farm. He was the youngest and was in charge of feeding the water buffalo every morning and harvesting rice. He came from a very poor family. I asked him how he learned English? How he broke out of poverty?

Summary of Bae’s story: “I have three sisters and two brothers. I was the youngest. My father was a farmer. We grew tobacco, rice, corn, vegetables to sell in the market and to feed our family. I did not want to be a farmer. Very hard life. I went to primary school. Did not graduate from high school because my father said we could not afford college. He told me I must become a farmer.

My sister worked in Bangkok. She worked in a bar. Served drinks to foreigners. I went to live with her. I was 16. I learned to make drinks and worked in a bar. I worked all night. My sister said I must learn English to get a better job. There was an English school down the street. She made me go. I was so tired. I worked until 3 am. And, had to be at English school at 8 AM. I would study English until 2:00 pm. And, start work at 4 pm. Other students dropped out. I was the only one that stayed. I studied English for three years. Worked in a bar. And, practiced my English with foreigners. Always practicing.

I worked at the bar for many years. My other sister was working at a travel agency. She helped with reservations. They needed English speaking guides to answer tourists questions. My sister gave me the job. I went to tourism school. You have to be trained and certified to be a guide in Thailand. I took classes for two years. Passed the test and became a guide. I know everything about Thailand. I love my job.

I’m married. Have two daughters. My wife works as an accountant. I have two Labradors. I jog with them everyday. And, very happy that my sister made me learn English. I have a good life. I’m not a farmer…”

Of course, tears welded up in my eyes from the backseat. I love his story – story of perseverance, faith, struggling and overcoming GREAT odds. And, he had the support of his family. Love Bae.

We biked through the countryside. We stopped at a rice house. I really don’t know what they call it, but I’m calling it a rice house. A woman about 70 was cleaning the rice with a machine that costs $4,000 US. It’s old. Rusted. And, amazing.

Farmers bring her their rice. She puts it through the grinder. It takes off the brown stalk. Cleans the little rice, turning it to white, and dumps into a 20 kilo bag.   There is NO bleached or random products applied to turn rice white.  For whatever reason, I thought that was the case.  White rice is natural.  And, there a billion-and-one types of white rice…

Back to rice lady.  She charges $1 to clean (take mini-stalks off each rice grain) one 20 kilo bag of rice. Dumbfounded. She needs to charge MORE. She said, she can’t because the farmers would get mad. Mad, who cares. Again, it gives me a greater appreciation of rice.

Next, we stopped at a random shack. It started to rain, of course. When I was in Thailand, they were experiencing the worst floods in 50+ years. Nice.  A family of six were sitting in their house with no doors cutting up marigold yellow flowers. They were going to sell the pedals in the market. People will buy and make it into tea or  wreaths for the dead or Buddha.

They had a small radio playing Thai music in the background to keep them going. They will make $4 for all their work, if that. The family seemed very joyful. Happy to be together. They offered us tea. Out of dirty glasses.  We drank.  Sat.  Talked.  Even the men joined in the conversation, which was unique for they are the ones that sit back in a corner and stare at foreigners with distrust.  I tried my hand at cutting too.  Didn’t work out so well — Cutting pedals with a dull knife  and bike helmet is HARD work.

As we trekked on, the roads became more and more muddy. Our next stop was the elephant farm. This is a “must do” in Thailand. My elephant was PMSing or something.   She growled.

I did NOT think elephants growled. She got really pissed at the teen who was sitting on her head making her move. He would talk, cluck and them hit her. When he used the stick, she growled. I tapped in the shoulder and waved my finger – “Don’t do that… No hit.” I felt better. We walked a mile, which took a good hour. Very slow. And, it was raining. I was over the elephant ride about 4 mins into it. Check to box on riding an elephant in Thailand…

Next on the docket was white water rafting down a polluted river. I love rafting. Right up my ally. We loaded up and off we went.  I asked what “class” river this was.  And, they did not know.  They said, “fast because of the floods.  A lot of water.  A lot of rocks.  A lot of  fun.”  Got it….

We hit the first rapid and Bae, my guide, flipped out. I mean, flipped out of the boat.  Yea, it’s fast and rough all right.   Bae landed in water that was teaming with sewage and other random particles I learned in chemistry.  Glad it was him, not me. No skin disease today please.

After white water rafting, we biked to an orchid farm. As we biked, he vented more. He was linking military life with monastery life.   According to him, both were the same. Really?

The monastery is for lazy boys or poor kids, according to Bae. People really don’t have a “calling” to be a monk, per se. At least, I did not hear it. If a family can’t support a child or the child is not that motivated, the family sends him to a monastery.

Everything is free for the boy. Free food. Free housing. Free orange robe. Free education. Free. The poor see this is an insurance policy. The boy spends nine years in the monastery. I asked about what the kids learn. I mean, this education is “free” but what are the filling their brains with?

He said 80% is Buddhism. 20% is math, science, Thailand history/culture. And, they are starting to teach them English. That is good. When the boy is around 20, there is a ceremony. He “graduates” into monk-hood. He has learned his 227+ rules. Remember, the plebs or commoners only have 5 rules. Monk have a few more. Their Buddhism they practice is from India – so it is very restricting. Bae said around this time is when the Monks leave to go into the military, go to university, find a job or get married. He said about 95% of kids who graduate from the monastery leave. But, they leave armed with knowledge.

The Thai military is compulsory for all Thai boys. But, there are some rules there too.

You have to be over 160 cm (not short), be built, have good coordination and not be a Lady Boy. What is a Lady Boy? Google it. I beg you. Then, you will understand why Thai Lady Boys are not permitted in the military. The govt has a supply and demand issue. More and more boys are voluntarily enrolling in the military after university or later in life. They see it as job security. Especially, given the Thai economy. So, there is a large chance that you will not have to serve time in the military right after high school or college. In other words, the military is full.

If you do serve time, then your life will ONLY be complete if you also do time at the local monastery. Boys are encouraged to enter into a monastery for 3 months or 15 days to learn more about Buddhism. The story goes, once they do military and monastery time, there life is complete. That is all it takes for a male in Thailand. A little M&M – military and monastery – then you’re good to go.

We ride up to the orchid farm. All I can think about is my stepmother Dewease and my Mom. They would DIE. I mean this is orchid heaven. I took a zillion pictures to share with them when I return. Amazing. The grow and export these babies all over the world.

Bae was a gift. His rants, raves and remarks made me curious. And, opened my eyes to another Thailand. I could tell he was unconformable sharing all of this when we parted. He apologized. I told him I LOVED every minute of it and gave him a nice tip. Thank you Bae for your honesty!

Bangkok by Day. Bangkok by Night.

27 Nov

Arrived in Bangkok. Had three days in this city. Three days is plenty. Sprawling. Polluted. Unruly. Word on the street is there’s over 5,500 7-11s convenience stores in this country…  And, thousands  and thousands more profiting in prostitution.  Heart the 7-11s.  But,  can do without human trafficking and sex crimes.  Yea, three days is plenty.  I’m ready to absorb the brazen seediness of this city. Bring it on baby!

A friend of mine has a friend who’s a driver/tour guide in Bangkok. His name is Kitty. I emailed him prior to my arrival asking for help to pilot this place.. Next thing I know, I have a private guide ushering me around in a big, black car with tinted windows. Well, at least I fit in.

Kitty and I kicked off “Bangkok in one day” at the Grand Palace. The present King Bhumibol Adulyadej – pushing 83 years of age – and his Queen no longer live there. They built another super-sized palace across town. The Grand Palace was the official residence of all the Kings of Thailand starting from 18th century onward.

It houses complex buildings like bodacious Buddhist temples, golden Stuppas, and Kinnon – the mythical golden creature of half bird and half man. All in all, the place is dripping in gold and largeness and scary mythical statues that give kids nightmares.

A quick background on Thailand’s govt to put things in perspective. Sum it up this way. Thailand is considered democracy to the UN and military dictatorship to the people.  They haphazardly borrow from the British style of government – a constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democratic system.

But lucky for its people, the government adds its own special seasoning. Try a strong dose of military might whose special mission is to imprison or kill anyone who speaks against or annoys the Royal monarchy. Yea, it’s in the air. I bet my pair of H&M black leggings this place is gearing up for a rumble. More on that later…

Back to a day in Bangkok. So, I had Kitty-cat and his armored car for the day. As I said, our first stop was the Grand Palace. Yes, it not only houses scary, gold statues but it also entertains the famous Emerald Buddha. I assumed E-Buddha would be large and in charge. Like Jolly Green Giant to sprout. Not the case.

E-Buddha was sprout – about 2 feet on a good day. And, he REALLY was made out of emerald. Rumor has it the Thai people stole him from Cambodia. Sprout was perched high on a stack of gold plates. You can’t take pictures. Was anti-climatic for me. *This is NOT a travel blog, so if you’re interested, google Emerald Buddha and Bangkok for more background on the little green martian.

I was more interested in the monks with shaved heads wearing Orange sheets sitting a mere 4 feet away from us. They look like Hare Krishnas hair at JFK airport. I wanted THEIR story. Kitty gave me the low down while we sat cross-legged, with no shoes in temple-land.

Me: “What’s their deal? The guys in the orange sheets?”

Kitty: “The monks? They come to pray. Everyday. Pray..”

Me: “What type of Buddhism do they practice? Can they marry? What is their life like?”

Kitty: “The Buddhism Thai people follow is called Theravada. But, Thai people have old traditions and beliefs. So, our Buddhism is different Buddhism. We use our traditions, Chinese traditions and mix with Buddhism. Almost 95% of population is Buddhist.

You ask about marry? No marry. No touch woman. No look at woman. No think woman. Can’t eat after noon. Only two meals a day. Pray. Pray to Buddha. Monks have many rules. Over 200 rules to follow. Thai people, not as many rules. Just five rules to be a good Buddhist – no stealing, no lying, no cheating on wife, no gambling, no drinking… Follow these rules, we get good life. Good afterlife. Good Buddhist.”

I never thought Buddhism had rules. Catholic church has the rules. But, Buddhist? Newsflash. Then, my American side came out. I mean, they have to do something productive, right?

Me: “Besides, praying what do they do? Give back to the community? Help the homeless? I mean, they can’t pray and not look at woman all the time…”

Kitty: “No help people. People help them. Our people make food. Honor to give food to monks. Honor to give money to monks. Give to monks, you get merits. Get better life and more blessings. Monks do ceremonies. People pay for ceremonies. Good if your son is monk because you get ceremonies for free…”

Me: “What? What? What do they do with the money then? Pay for upkeep of the temple? Reinvest? 401K plans? Mattresses? Health Insurance? ”

Kitty: “ People don’t know where money goes. People are upset, but can’t ask questions to monks. Be disrespectful. People do talk… Bad to talk about monks. The collect money. But,temple paid for by the government. Monks pay nothing. Being monk is good profession.”

Me: “Wait. They don’t feed the poor? Help children? Feed children? Nothing?”

He starts to laugh out my outrage. And, he is not whispering. He’s enjoying this conversation, yet looks around to make sure no one is listening. What he is saying is blasphemy.

Kitty: “Many monks in my country. Monks get free food. Free education. Everything is free for them. Just like military, no? And, you don’t have to be a monk for life. Get education. Food. House. Clothes. Leave and get married later. Poor families send their boys to be monks. Good investment in son. Good profession…Easier for son to get job later if monk.”

I look over. There is a huge box filled with money. Contributions. This temple is dripping in gold. And, the people outside are starving. Men sabotaging religion in the name of God to better themselves. It’s called “morality by man.” And, its a reoccurring theme in all religion – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism…And, I suspect Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Taoism. Not one religion holds the morality card.

The irony here is man never learns. Each religion has a story of God punishing its people who use His name to self-enrich and promote their individual interests. Old Testament is full of stories. God destroying temples because the Jews were selling goods in holy places. He sent Jesus down to kick some woop ass, then we have the stories in New Testament of man getting annoyed with Jesus for calling them out on their corruption, lies and selfishness. Yet, man does it over and over and over again. Hijacks a religion or a philosophy to personally gain. Man’s pride and cowardice continue to be our downfall.

As I listened to Kitty and through my travels in Buddhist countries, I found Buddhism to be rooted in a philosophy of one gives to get. Give monks money. Prepare monks meals. Feed the poor. Turn a prayer wheel. Raise a prayer flag… With the intention of getting something in return – get more merits, get a good grade, get married or get reincarnated as a super-star instead of a slimy-salamander. Their intention is to give back to personally benefit. There’s a difference between man giving to others to get blessings rather than giving to others to be a blessing. Take a look at the verbs. To Get vs. To Be. Big difference.

I’ve been making a daily effort – though most days I fall short – where I try to be a blessing to others whether it is in the form of a smile, kind words, or just being still. It’s hard because most of the time I think, “if I’m nice, smile and wear lip gloss, passport man will give me a stamp… or the front desk lady will upgrade my room to a plastic shower curtain and two towels…” It is only those times when I’m conscious of being a blessing to others, where I can truly can see a difference. Difference in the people’s acceptance of me. And, a difference in my acceptance of them. It’s like all barriers of communications are shredded. We genuinely connect.

Tangent. Sorry. I’m writing this AFTER being in Bhutan. So, my appreciation and understanding for Buddhism has only increased. Back to Bangkok.

After Kitty-cat took a zillion pictures of me at the Palace – hate pictures of me – we bolted for the tailors. This was HIGH on my list.

Wanted to get some clothes made. No clue what, but why not? Well, three dresses and two suits later, I walked out the door. First of all, don’t wear dresses. I’m a pants gal. The shocking white legs will do it to you. But, since I’ve been wearing only three pairs of pants for the last four months, I’m on a fashion, style mission.

You’ve heard me vow upon my return to the land of the free press, that I’m going to wear styles made for 2011, not 1989.

Tailor people asked me to pick out fabrics, colors and styles. They handed me a 2000 Vogue issue and said, “You pick style. We make.” Well, maternity, wedding and bridesmaid dresses were out. So, I randomly choose three style that MAY work. And, what do I know about fabrics? Silk? Cotton? Wool? No clue. Colors too? I willed for Mom to be there. She knows her fabrics and fashions. It was good fun. They shipped the clothes back to the states. After all of this, let’s hope they fit. If not, it’s going on Ebay.

That night, I signed up for “Bike Bangkok by Moon-Light” with Grasshopper Adventures. The company claims they have bikes for Amazons – aka Tall people. The bike tour started at 6 pm and ended around 10 pm. We were to bike through the bowels of Bangkok while wearing a helmet and bug repellent.

Only three of us signed up for the tour this night. The other two were from Sarasota, Florida. Super buzz kill. They thought the same. Young couple. Early 20’s. Sold their condo and took the year off to travel the world. They are just entering week 4 of their overseas adventure. It took the other Florida gal only 15 mins to start complaining – Thai food was too greasy…hostel was dirty… and surprised by the number of creepy crawly bugs… I smiled. Nod my head and looked at the dude. Yea, this is not going to last. He looked embarrassed.

I would love to know how this little soiree around the world even came up in conversation.

Drunk one night? At a bar in Sarasota with the 65+ crowd. Looked around. Thought there was more to life than this. Both hated their job. One is a teller at a bank. The other answers phones for a bankrupt developer. Thought they must seize the moment. Live life for today…Why not sell everything and travel. Sounds super-cool. Super-fun. Can do it for cheap. Stay in hostels. Eat street food. Go where the wind tells us… Yea, super-cool… And, bamb, here they are in Bangkok. Eating street food. Staying in a bug, infested hostel for whores for $1. And, calling this “fun.” I have to smile. I give it 3 months.

The beginning of the bike trip was to be expected. Many people. Many cars. Many potholes. Much pollution. The city of Bangkok sits on a river. It is divided into two parts. The old city. New city. So, we bounced around on bridges, ferries, sidewalks and roads all covered in dirty water. It started to drizzle about 45 mins into the ride. No matter. We’re all from Florida. We know rain.

We stopped at two temples – forgot their names. Glad we did for there were NO tourists. We had the place to our selves. Taking pictures. Riding around. It was brilliant.

Our tour guide told us the temples were made by Chinese workers. Chinese were the Thai “worker-bees” at one point in history. The Chinese used porcelain from coffee cups and plates to design and build some of the temples. Very ornate. Intricate. Beautiful.

It was at temple-land, when it really started to rain. And, rain, and rain.. And, we thought we knew rain. Our tour guide came prepared and handed us over-sized, see-through garbage bags to protect our clothes. Perfecto. No worries. We’ll just get muddy instead.

Next, we peddled down a muddy road and stopped at a shack that cuts, deep fries, ferments to preserve fruits to be sold in the market and exported to China. Got to see fermenting fruit in action. We’re talking mounds of oil and sugar. Rethinking the whole idea that dried fruit is healthy. But, what do I know…

Two sons at the fruit fermenting shack are tasks with hacking the fruit into small bits using and over-sized, sharp knife.

When we were there, one was humped over on the floor. Wearing dirty socks. Smoking cigs. Unwashed hands. And, you wonder why you need Cipro or antibiotics in these countries. It starts with the sons.

Meanwhile, their mother is sitting fat and happy in the doorway watching her sons and watching the street.

I wish I remember the name of the fruit they were preserving. It was a big word. Take a look at the pictures. Keep me posted.

The rain would not stop. We biked for a little while longer. The riverfront flooded. We waited it out in a random family’s wooden porch. These people package garlic for a living. Try sitting next to a ton of fresh garlic for an hour. In the rain. The family gave us water in bottles that were already open. I politely declined due to future bowel irritations.

We sat. Watched the rain. Watched the flood for a solid hour. It was hitting 10 pm. The rain was not stopping. We’re already wet. We’re from Florida. Why not get soaked. So, off we went. On our bikes. Peddling along the flooded riverfront to the Thai flower market.

This is the main Bangkok market for all flowers to be exported around the world or sold in Thailand. Beautiful. We’re talking about two dozen, long stem roses for less than a $1. Orchids. Lillis. Daisey. Gardenias. Jasmine. Lotus. You name it. It was there.

Everyday, budding flowers come in from all over the country. They refrigerate them. Load them onto shipping containers. And, the flowers are delivered in a day or two or three. Take a look at the pictures. If I were Thai and forced to work in a market, this is my market of choice. Someone else can hack meat, fish and fruit. Give me the pretty flowers please. Scroll for pictures…

The downside in riding in a flood is drainage. I’m in Bangkok. Not known for good infrastructure or a run-off, environmentally sensitive drainage plans. Let’s just say scary floating things were moving beneath me. Stopping was no longer an option.

Our guide wanted to take us the shorter way back for we were approaching midnight. Get ready for the super REAL Bangkok. She led us to the streets of prostitution. These streets were not for the old-Western or Japanese tourists hungry for cheap girl meat. Or, where the Lady Boys dance and exploit their new and improved bodies for hundreds of dollars. These streets are for the low-life. Poor girls and boys with no options. No way out. We are talking about 11 and 14 year olds trolling the streets looking for anything – I mean anything.

My eyes would hold their eyes as I approached. Saturated in black. Hardened. I had to look away for I did not know what to do. I’m an American. I solve problems. I fix things. We’re a fixer country. And, I was embarrassed by my helplessness. I also felt like an oversized fool – biking through their streets in my H&M black leggings, pink hiking boots and blue bike-helmet – as they sell their bodies for a hot meal. I just asked my mind to remember these people. And, they are people with hearts that beat like you and me. Remember them. Never forgot them. Pray for them. Hope for them.

As we motored on, I was shocked to see the street vendors – those selling water, Thailand T-shirts, postcards, or kittens – actually live in their mini-stalls. I mean LIVE. An entire family lives in a tent on the sidewalk. Families gathered around their tiny TVs watching America’s Next Top Model or Thai news. I saw a TV turned to an infomercial where a California blond with a flat stomach was selling some ab-fat reducer. Ab-fat reducer in Thailand? My brain could not take this in. The poverty. The Shock. And, American tacky TV. It’s hard to digest. Because, what am I to do with this information? I don’t know. I’m at a loss. I keep riding on. Looking. Watching. Absorbing.

My mind kept going back to TV and toilets. I asked our guide, “Where do they use the bathroom?” She said, “streets, parks, sidewalks… Anywhere. They shower in the river.” And, to think I buy food and postcards from them. I truly will never look at a street vendor the same. I assumed they had homes – or shacks. Like China, Thailand does not have a social safety net. Monks certainly don’t help these people. The poor are on their own.

We arrived back at Grasshopper Travel around midnight. Wet. Dirty. And, nervous. Biking Bangkok by Night struck an uneasy cord with me. Something was off. The element was out. I felt it. Darkness surrounded me. Not right. I need to get back to my hotel ASAP. I asked my guide to help me get a legit taxi. One with a meter. My intuition told me if I were hailing a cab on my own – at this time of night – a dark ally and not a hotel would be the next stop. The tour guide said of course. I quickly went next door to get some bottled water at the 7-11. I was right. People were staring at me – in a way they want to hurt me. Rob me. Mame me. Saw this look in Honduras. Know it well. Yep, time to get this wet, smelly butt home.

Tour guide hailed the first cab. They exchanged words. He drove off. I asked, “what happened?” She did not answer and smiled. She hailed another cab. Same thing. The third cab, she let me in. She wrote down the cab’s name and identiy number and kept it. He saw her do this, meaning, he is busted if he tried anything. Yea, she felt it too. We both knew but did not say a word. She got a big fat tip.

Taxi driver asked if I knew Tiger Woods. That would be a BIG no. Those were the only words he knew. He did not even know Obama. Just Tiger. Have to laugh. He dropped me off. I ran upstairs to my room and took a hot shower. Thankful I’m home. And, asked God to look after the people living on the street. What else can I do? I just stood in the shower letting the hot water run over me thanking God for my blessings. And, asking Him, “Why not me? Why am I not out there, living on the streets, ogling at America’s Next Top model, bathing in rivers and selling my body? How come I am here? In the hot shower? Safe? Oh, did I say Thank You? If not, THANK YOU. And, please, what do You want me to do to help?