Monday, November 23, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle

We're in Chiang Mai now, the center of northern Thailand and gateway to the madness that is the Golden Triangle jungle. We trundled in a few hours ago on a sleeper train. It smelled strongly of grease and chunked its way relatively slowly over a rough track. Nevertheless, I slept well after walking around Bangkok all of yesterday.

Tomorrow morning, we're going on a three-day jungle trek. Of all the places we've been on this trip, this is the least beaten path. According to those storytelling history bubbles in Lonely Planet, Northern Thailand only became reasonably stable in the 1980s. Before that, it was torn between Burmese, Chinese, and, during the Vietnam War, even CIA influence. It was home to a vicious drug trade, a lot of the world's opium production, and to some colorful personalities like this guy.


That's Khun Sa, the Burmese warlord who got his start with the Kuomintang, amassed a personal army big enough to have territorial feuds with the governments of Thailand and Burma, and trafficked more than 1000 tons of heroin to America. The party, it seems, has since moved to Afghanistan, and the indigenous people now cultivate rice paddies where the poppy fields used to be.

...and now

The plan is to ride some elephants, go bamboo rafting, and hang out with some hill tribes. I'll have some pictures and updates when I come back.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thailand Ahoy's been a pretty intense month. We drove across the outback twice, racking up 8000km of desert. We broke and then (mostly) fixed the array on our solar car, then raced it across Australia--we managed to go coast to coast on just sunshine. Great success! That weather script I posted about a few weeks ago worked great, but was totally unneccesary since the entire race was cloudless and not particularly windy.

Then we went to New Zealand, a land of hippies, awesome hikes, good surf, and more than a hundred million sheep. A land with so much grass and so many timid meaty animals that steak burgers cost less than veggie burgers. It was like Sunday-school picture-book Heaven, with sunshine and rolling green hills and fluffy white lambs.

Now were going the last leg of our trip: Thailand. Here's what I just posted on our travel blog: we spent two relaxing days in the lovely town of Wellington, and are now sitting in the international terminal of its airport. On Saturday night, the All Whites beat Bahrain at "football" and the city filled with load people in white jumpsuits and live music and generally turned into a giant seaside party. The atmosphere of revelry continued well into Sunday, which saw some major streets cordoned off and lined with flag-waving kids for the Santa Day Parade. I said goodbye to Wellington's palatial Burger King, complete with an extravagant neo-Baroque ceiling and an espresso machine, by getting a giant pancake breakfast. Yes, even the fast food here is pretty extreme.

...almost like this

In a few hours, we'll be Down Under again. Next stop: Thailand. I spent this morning reading a bit about that country's history--an elaborate fugue of warlords, farmers, clashing ethnic groups and abortive attempts at democracy. The country has 17 different constitutions since they first tried that sort of thing in 1932. Their most recent PM was kicked out after the Royal Thai Army walked into Bangkok with lots of guns and accused him of having a "conflict of interest" because he was also a host on a TV cooking show. Apparently this sort of thing happens every few years. Thailand is a very peaceful country in spite of everything--it's mostly Buddhist and hasn't had a real war or particularly violent coup since WWII.

Political ridiculosity aside, Thailand sounds like a promised land of teak temples and spicy street food, where a dollar will get you 33 Baht and a couple Baht will get you really good tea. Updates forthcoming!