beaches, mountains, jungles and the bridge on the river kwai

All this old man needs is a change of scenery from time to time.  After four and a half years here, I have travelled to Japan twice: once on the famous one-day foreigner visa run to Fukuoka, and the second time on a ten day holiday to Osaka and Kyoto.  The only other place I went to was Beijing; this was no mean feat, since the memory of bicycling on the hairy streets of Beijing and the 10 km hike on top of the Simitai section of The Wall is forever etched in my mind. 

But these travels amounted to a little over two weeks in nearly half a decade here in Asia.  Granted, I’ve been to the US three times, but let’s be honest: going home isn’t really a vacation (as Nic is fond of saying), what with the semi-celebrity status incurred by many months away.  I clamber for the beach; I lust for white sand and turquoise water.  I long to be at the top of a mountain.  I seek the mystery and splendor of ancient capitals and the haunting of genocide sites. Well, Nick, haven’t you lounged on Haeundae Beach for two or three days a week in the summer for the last two seasons?  Haven’t you been to most of the major peaks in Busan?  didn’t you write an article about one of the hikes in Busan?  Haven’t you twice been to Korea’s ancient capital of Gyeongju?  Like I said, I need a change of scenery.

I need not leave the beach at all for a week.  I need jungle mountains that are steamy and verdant.  I need a better sense of history than this town has given me.  I need to better understand real suffering and loss; odd that it’s tough to find that in Korea, given its history.

Last night, the Thailand itinerary took a little more shape.  A week on Ko Pha-Ngan’s northern shore with sleeping, swimming, eating, reading, writing, hiking.  That’s sure to revive the body for the remaining 2.5 weeks of breakneck travelling north to Bangkok, then west to Kanchanaburi where thousands of Allied POWs perished while building a railway to Burma’s ports during Japanese occupation of Thailand during WWII; this is also the site of the Bridge on the River Kwai—yes, they made a classic movie with a rather young Alec Guinness.  After a quick return to Bangkok, we’ll head to the ancient Thai capital of Ayuthaya (four hours north of Bangkok) before heading far to the northwest corner for the mountainous province of Chiang Mai, trekking in Pai (pronounced “bye”) and caving in Mae Hong Son.  There may even be time to hit Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon (2565m).

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