Mandala system
Maṇḍala is a Sanskrit word meaning 'circle'. The mandala is a model for describing the patterns of diffuse political power distributed among Mueang or Kedatuan (principalities) in medieval Southeast Asian history, when local power was more important than the central leadership ... the overlord-tributary relationship was not necessarily exclusive. A state in border areas might pay tribute to two or three stronger powers. The tributary ruler could then play the stronger powers against one another to minimize interference by either one, while for the major powers the tributaries served as a buffer zone to prevent direct conflict between them.
Mandala (political model)

On unearned cynicism
Paul Mison arches his eyebrows at this post from Instagram:
Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailandís king and the worldís longest-serving head of state, turns 85 years old today. King Bhumibol, also known as Rama IX, has ruled Thailand for more than 66 years, and is a popular figure throughout the country.
his reply:
Well, yes, I suppose it does look that way, given if you get caught sending text messages that donít approve of the king, you can get twenty years in prison. Still, good to see Instagram covering corrupt regimes. Iím looking forward to their highlights of photos from North Korea and Bahrain.
I'm not a fan of monarchy, but the king is extraordinarily well-loved in Thailand, and implying otherwise is silly. I can't even imagine where the North Korea comparison came from.

Dear Powder Bar Guesthouse, Chiang Mai
Sorry I broke your floor.

The food
a photo of a plate of fried rice

Somebody asked me for travel stories today and I had to throw up my hands. The most adventurous thing I've done so far is the Thai barbeque place I just visited. The buffet of raw meat and vegetables (some meant to be grilled, some not) were like a bunch of "NO!" illustrations for a travel health brochure. But it smelled so good ... the routine would have been familiar to any LA resident who's visited Koreatown. The main difference was that instead of the marinade, it was all about the delicious, chili-rich dipping sauces. Ok, a few random points:

Why it's better here
Find any popular food stall where you can watch your meal get cooked in front of you, and you get:
  • Fresh-cooked food
  • from fresh ingredients
  • from a stall that does just one thing, and well enough to have a following
  • in a country that cares about food.

Khao Soi
It's the new hamburger: tasty, addictive comfort food. Egg noodles, meat, etc, in a curry soup, topped with crunchy noodles. There must be somewhere in LA that has it. This is a perfect letter to Jonathan Gold at the LA Weekly actually: "ah yes, that delicious northern Thai specialty. There are several places in Los Angeles that claim to offer the real thing, but only one ..." etc etc

  • Fried rice doesn't suck.
  • I had the best fried chicken of my life here.
  • Met someone from Taiwan who claims chicken satay is a Malaysian dish.

More photos

Bunch more photos, all out of order.

In Pai
Been hanging out in Pai with a couple guys, one Thai, one Austrian. Pai's a sleepy little town in the northeast corner of Thailand that has somehow become a landlocked hippie beach paradise. There's some kind of fractal landscape of coffee joints, guesthouses and internet cafes, new spots keep appearing between places you've already seen. (And bars, of course, everywhere, not that you can't buy your Beer Chang from any corner store.)

Travellers that are opposed to Westernized, tourist-centric scenes obviously hate it. I find it hard to hate Pai, since it is a truly laid-back place, but it is a little weird - why come this far to get the same music, food and bar scene you do at home?

As I was mentally composing that smug little write-off, sipping beer under a thatched roof at my guesthouse, a track from Peace Orchestra's first album came on ("Mister Petz", a favorite.) The cognitive dissonance almost split my head open, that was exactly the song I wanted to hear.

A few photos
These are going to slowly trickle in ...

Extract from correspondence
"... Bangkok has some really cool stuff, but it's also a giant smoggy city that's difficult to get around. Lots and lots of walking on blistered feet, lots of dodging of minibikes, and a moderate amount of dying of heatstroke. That said, I've had the best massage of my life, best chicken satay and roast pork ever, and now that I've visited the Grand Palace I know where all shiny things come from. Oh and yeah, the waffle (stuffed with chocolate) was pretty damn good.

Next up is Ayuthaya, to the north, and after that Lopburi, both ancient cities with lots of ruins, Lopburi apparently now ruled by a bunch of monkeys. Wish me luck ..."

Welcome to the land of smiles, also home to the world's sleepiest security guards
Based on a secondhand recommendation, I moved from the super-populated backpacker ghetto near Khao San Road to a guesthouse in a sleepy neighborhood in the middle of Bangkok. Feeling sorta smug about cutting my lodging bill in half, to less than $7.
Met up with a couple of other tourists, a nurse from Spain and a Canadian expat living in Taiwan. The Canadian had been hit on by a teenaged monk earlier that day who'd told her he loved her and more or less lunged at her chest. The three of us hit up one of the seedy go-go bars everyone's supposed to visit, and argued our way out of the bullshit $33 per person cover charge they try to tack onto everyone's bill on their way out.
Today: well it's not over, but I spent an hour or two in Chinatown, easily the most overwhelming part of the trip so far. Between the stores and the stalls, the sidewalk was about one person wide. The whole population of Bangkok managed to squeeze through this corridor in two opposing streams. The overwhelming part though was the variety and intensity of aromas, sounds and sights coming from the different stalls. Then I glimpsed a bunch of Chinese lanterns hanging at the end of a passageway and ended up in a huge temple complex in the middle of the city, built by a Thai king in Chinese style, and all I could smell was incense.

Day 1
Wandering around Bangkok in a jetlagged, smoggy haze. I am not short of friends: many tuk-tuk drivers are eager to talk to me. Drinking with a student from Maniz whose trip was ending, I decided I need a plan, so while I'm waiting for Stephen and Mary to pass through in a couple of days, I'm going to eat my way through the city.

What I know about Thailand
... can be contained in this blog entry.



Chiang Mai

  • Ko Kut (had enough tourist ghettos to last me a lifetime...)

Mae Hong Son Province

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