26 February 2015

Charming Chanthaburi province

Facebook and then a very detailed report on Christian’s blog had drawn my attention to a tourist attraction very popular among thais and looking rather spectacular : Khao Khitchakut in Chantaburi province. So when my boyfriend suggested we could go there, I accepted immediately. 

Khao Khitchakut is technically the name of a district and of a National Park ; its main attraction is located on a mountaintop and is the site of a Buddha footprint, and also offers many rock formations in all shapes. It is open only for two months in the year (grossly from mid January to mid March), so it attracts a lot of people – mainly thai. Moreover it is open day and night, and requires some physical effort.

Going there from Pattaya, logistics were rather easy to arrange : rent a car for two days, reserve a room in downtown Chantaburi and here we are, leaving Pattaya at 3 in the morning (the witching hour …), the boyfriend driving under the shrewd guidance of this sleepy farang. 

Way up towards Buddha footprint on Khao Khitchakut
Up to Buddha footprint
Two hours and a half of rather quiet roads later, we arrive at Wat Pluang, where the pilgrimage begins. In the middle of the mountains, we land in a small village brimming with touts, restaurants, souvenir shops, people going and coming back … business seems to be good there ! We then have to sit on a four-wheeled car, and then another, which climb very steep and bumpy trails where we mostly try to keep seated without pressing our neighbours or falling on the side … great fun, reminding af an amusement park. From then it is still a 1 or 2 km walk along well-maintained stairs, lined with bells, rocks sprinkled with yellow flowers left by pilgrims, and small shrines .. in the morning mist, all this combine to provide a very poetic backdrop. 

We finally reach the holy print, at the food of a huge boulder perched atop the mountain, where we join the huge mass of pilgrims of all ages, chanting, praying, making offerings in the middle of nowhere ; we can only be impressed by an atmosphere tinged with sharing, faith and mystery.

Khao Khitchakut boulder
Masses of pilgrims near Buddha footprint

Some more kilometers of rather slippery trails lead us to Pha Deng, where we write our wishes on a red piece of cloth that we then attach to a tree. And then it is the way back, with the trip down on the 4D pick-ups, still more spectacular in daylight. 

We spend the rest of the day in downtown Chanthaburi, resting in our hotel (World Travel Lodge, excellent), visiting the delightful old town and the massive catholic cathedral, and having a meal along the river where local students like to gather after school.

The following day sees us in the Phliu waterfall wich is another famous attraction for thai tourists, as they love splurging in fresh water and offering food to the fat fishes living in the stream. Finally we come back to Pattaya along the little-known and quiet Chantaburi beaches, not forgetting a seafood meal on Suan Son Beach (Rayong province) where tourists are really few and far between despite the hot sun and nice landscapes. 

Real Thailand (facing Koh Samet)
All in all a worthwhile trip in what some call the real Thailand (an expression that I do not like, is not Soi Sunee real Thailand too ? ), allowing me to log another province on my lifelong mission to sleep – local boy alongside not required - in each one of the 77 thai provinces (now 36 and counting). 

Further information on Christian's blog

22 February 2015

Magic southern islands

Due to work commitments, I never had the chance until now to visit Thailand during the best time of the year, that is January and February. Eighteen years of frustration have at last been compensated by a stay in the southern islands with my boyfriend. I just realise that for the first time in my life I have been able to enjoy a continuous sunny weather for more than three weeks, which never happens in the mountainous part of France where I live.

No gay adventure this time except the strong relation I have been in with my boyfriend since almost eleven years. Southern Thailand being mostly Moslim, no place for adventures, and anyway cute southern boys are not in great numbers – although those who have a nice face are really to die for. No sign of availability either.

Sunrise on Koh Yao Noi
Sunrise on Koh Yao

We spent three nights in the little known Koh Yao Noi island, in Phang Nga province, where the muslim inhabitants could until now maintain a low-profile tourism with few very expansive resorts and many middle-range family operations. You do not go there for the beaches as the water is generally shallow, but for the atmosphere, the simple and tasty seafood, and the landscapes. We took a boat tour to some of the many islands, some of them offering fantastic views, rode mountain bikes along deserted local roads, and spent a lot of time doing nothing, which is really not boring at all in this kind of place.

We had arrived through Phuket airport, and left to Krabi where I had planned a four day stay in Koh Lanta, renting a car from Krabi airport. This stay coinciding with both Valentine's Day and my own birthday, I had chosen to splurge on a rather expensive (by my standards) beachfront bungalow on the quiet Klong Nin beach. Everything went smooth, sunsets were beautiful as promised, and beaches large enough for everyone. If French tourists were a majority in Koh Yao, German ones seemed to prefer Koh Lanta.

In Krabi mainland, we visited some interesting waterfalls, along with the Emerald Pool much appreciated by farang youths escaping the cold season during their winter break. And I was also very proud to see my boyfriend able to climb the 1267 staircases leading to the summit of Wat Tham Sua, from where the view over Krabi town is impressive.

Krabi town from Wat Tham Sua summit
Exhausted boyfriend looking towards Krabi town
That was the touristy part of my trip, which I like almost as much as the fun part. Now back to more carnal pleasures with about two weeks to be shared between Bangkok and the unavoidable Pattaya.

13 February 2015

Free in gay Siem Reap

After my first stay in Siem Reap last June, I felt exactly like after my first visit to Thailand : I must come here again. And I came again, for only four days but that was enough to make me sure that this place had to rank high in the must do list for my next trips to Thailand.

khmer boy riding bicycle near Angkor Wat
Quiet riding near Angkor Wat
Being done with the visits to the temples, and being on my own, I spent some time riding a mountain bike to visit the area. I rode once towards the Thonlesap lake and anothertime towards the temples, which you can approach without buying the rather expansive pass. I especially liked the ride to the West Baray, which is this huge human-built reservoir close to Angkor Wat. Pity I had not brought any repair kit : I did not dare to ride the dirty road rounding the 8x2 km lake, fearing a puncture in the middle of nowhere with very few traffic.

During these rides, I could not help noticing the beautiful boys riding there own bikes on their way to the university and back. I love these khmer boys and their slim body, their white shirts neatly adjusted on their long black trousers … Overtaking these beauties or crossing their path was always a chance to admire their constant smile and their invariably cutes faces. I had rarely the chance to look at so many nice human beings gathered in the same place, since my trip to Luang Prabang.

More intimate meetings with khmer boys were not very difficult, and the massage shops near the Pub Street area were up what I expected. In the middle of huge crowds of international tourists, I was consistently approached by girls offering all kind of massages for 3 to 10 US dollars, and never forgetting to boast « private rooms » ; a short glance to look at the available male staff and if someone was good looking enough, I only had to answer : « OK but only with boy ».

khmer boy at lake
Khmer boy
There are more than half a dozen of places like this in the small street leading to the night market, and more on neighbouring streets. More and more have knocked up individual cubicles, which always lead to the boy offering a special ending. Some have high expectations, other do not ask for a price and seem happy with 25 or 30 US dollars. Every evening there seems to be new cute boys showing up, which would have kept me busy enough if I had staid for a longer time. Some are probably very close to the age limit, especially as khmer always add one year to say how old they are (something to do with the time spent in their mother’s womb, according to my khmer language book).

In some bars, boys work freelance and you can take them to your place ; however one of them told me I had to pay his « boss », but it could have been as well a way to stay in the shop for a possible new customer.

The massage shops, or street trade, are the best way to find friends. Not many boys go to the few gay bars remaining : Linga Bar which is now operating opposite their former location, where they have been replaced by another gay bar named Famous Bar.

09 February 2015

Surprises and disappointments

Bangkok is always my home port when I stay in Thailand, thanks especially to my hotel which accepts to keep my (excessive) luggage when I tour the provinces. But the Big Mango is also an attraction in itself where I like to relax and visit. Staying here in January, something I could not afford to do when I still was in the salt mine, also makes the city much more enjoyable.

Until now, I could only stay for short two-days periods. I used one of my evenings to visit the Hotel Malaysia lobby, where I have so many memories from my first trips to Thailand. Nothing has much changed – including the prices I am said - and the atmosphere is still the same as before : sleaze that you never see but that exudes from everywhere and everyone. A welcome addition to the area are the massage shops on the soi who seem to house some nice and willing cuties, making a further visit mandatory.

Street boy hustler in Bangkok
The good old days in Saranrom area

I also paid a visit to the Saranrom area, which came as a big disappointment : not more than about ten boys, all of them standing along Atsadang Road as if they were fearing police controls. This was on a Monday evening, I hope that the good old days of the Saranrom street hustlers have not gone.

Besides its overpriced gogo bars, Soi Twilight has got some beer bars that I had never taken the time to explore. The most interesting for me is the 1069 Bar just before reaching Classic Boys, also known for its vietnamese boys. And God they are cute ! I had a bad experience before with one of them that I had taken to a neighbouring short-time hotel. As always, I had not negotiated a price before, and was surprised to be strongly demanded 2500 THB when I had thought that a little more than 1500 THB would have been enough. The guy was cute but resolute, so I paid. I understand that the rules are now like these : if the boy is « offable », 500 THB for the bar, 500 THB for the so-called massage room and at least 1500 THB for the boy. This is what I was quoted by two of the guys working there, one of them with a « bad boy » look that I could not resist. I have still to figure whether some would accept to spend the night at my hotel.

After a short stay on my own in Siem Reap (more to come about it), I am now waiting for my boyfriend and a trip in the southern islands. No sex tourism this time (muslim area), but lazying on desert beaches and discovering the local cultures are on the agenda.

02 February 2015

Pattaya still a gay paradise

The news of the demise of Pattaya as a gay paradise are grossly exaggerated, I am pleased to say. During the three days I just spent in the beach resort, I could even find again part of the atmosphere I liked so much five or six years ago.

Pattaya gay beach after the crackdown
It was so at the beach, where I usually spend a lot of time. Especially on saturday, I was happily disturbed by many vendors, some of them ranking very high on the cuteness scale. There were even some boys showing themselves obviously looking for customers … a rare sight from what I understand. As for the new lay-out of the chairs and umbrellas, I found it a little more cramped than before, but at least my favorite operator was still there, with enough seats to choose.

I did not go to many bars, leaving them for a later visit. I liked the atmosphere at De One, which is the new name for the former Yaya Bar, where I chatted for a long time with a boy from Chayaphum who told me he was 27. However he had already worked in Soi Sunee 10 years ago, so when he was 17, in the (in)famous La Copa Bar – the La Copa’s former owner being now the De One new owner, this is a not surprising return to the roots.

The other places visited were Nice Boys, where I found the boys quite ordinary despite being very willing and daring, and of course Sunny Boys because of its new reputation as the place to be in Sunee Plaza. Well, from what I saw of the boys still there at 11.00 pm, I think that coming earlier should be still more interesting …

The beach and soi Sunee reminded of the Pattaya of old …unfortunately the traffic, the neverending construction sites, and huge price increases in some restaurants, brought me quickly back to reality.