Thailand -> Malaysia -> Indonesia. Part 1 of 3

Rainy Yogyakarta

I’m in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. It’s my first time on the island of Java, and my second time to Indonesia. It’s been raining here almost every day. After an ill advised night of drinking tequila with some backpackers, and a day lost thanks to it, I now find myself enjoying the thundering rain happily thinking about what to write to catch up. I have three countries to get through here, so this post will be in three parts, I think.

How I Got Here

A quick getaway to Koh Mak, Bangkok’s alluring grip not relinquishing control, and cheap Air Asia flights pushed the journey this way. Thailand to Indonesia by way of Malaysia (and a new country stamped in my passport).

Being a city kid, far removed from my suburban Iowa upbringing, I now find myself more comfortable in big cities. It’s true, when I left for this trip I thought I would find myself more in remote towns, immersing myself in nature. However, each time the journey leads to the promise of peace and quiet, a city beckons with promises of great street food, live music, and activity. But, first the quiet.

Koh Lipe

Bangkok is difficult to leave. However, after spending nearly the first month of the trip in that amazing city it was decided that islands and snorkeling were in need. Bangkok to Hat Yai via Air Asia was the start to Koh Lipe, where the promise of limited traffic, and crystal clear waters awaited.

The clear blue water of Koh Lipe

Quiet the island is on it’s far reaching beaches, however, the center, where you find most of the bars and restaurants, is awash with throngs of tourists and the incessant drone of motorbike engines, and incessant honking, as pedestrians certainly do not get the right of way with the islanders riding to wherever they are off to in a hurry. Sadly, I was informed that just five years ago this traffic was non existent, and only a few motorbikes were on the island.

Not to diminish the beauty of the island, the sand stretches on, and some coral still lives despite a lot of boat traffic. Clownfish in Sea Anenomies, and a whole host of other fish I can’t identify are easily spotted in the gentle waves. Journeying to the less inhabited side of the island also provided for relaxing days spent reading in beach chairs with fresh fruit juices in hand. Staying all day rewards the traveler with amazing sunsets.

Koh Lipe Sunset

Five nights in a hut on the beach covered by a mosquito net, fan circulating the still air, thin “mattress” leading to uncomfortable sleep and bruised hips, and an amazing sea view from the room. Empty passport pages called out, and it was time to move on. But not before I watched the Super Bowl in a crowded bar full of expats at 6:30AM local time.

Next stop Malaysia…

Back to Bangkok

Two years after my last visit, I find myself back at the Swan Hotel off of Charoen Krung Road near the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok. Coming back to this city for the 4th time, as a jumping off point for further travel to Indonesia, Malaysia, and parts unknown as of yet, I’m struck by how different this city is from my first visit nearly 7 years ago. Steel and glass high rises have replaced many of the low rise concrete buildings. In place of small soi’s (side streets) filled with bustling restaurants and mini-marts are now bigger plazas catering to western tastes.

It would be easy to write a commentary on gentrification, and commercializations as a vehicle to drive out the working class (especially feeling that pinch in Chicago, and the USA right now), but in Bangkok, you’ll still find the two in harmony in much of the city – for now. I’m happy to just be in the midst of a global community, seeing the new mixed in with the old, and so many people wandering, exploring, and smiling at the wonder that is Bangkok, and the promise of adventure in travel.

What seems like minimal baggage on departure.

We arrived late Thursday, January 12th after a 13 hour flight to Tokyo, followed by a 5 hour flight to Bangkok. Immediately upon exiting the plane one is hit with the sticky humidity that becomes a part of life in Southeast Asia. Warmer layers piled on in Chicago, and during the flight are quickly shed and stuffed into carry-on baggage.

Our first stop was an Air BnB off of the Phra Khanong sky train stop.

 

We booked more out of curiosity of expat Bangkok high-rise living more than out of a necessity for western comforts (the dated 60/70’s style Bangkok hotels you find everywhere, like the Swan, are just fine). However, it was nice to have a full apartment, kitchen, refrigerator, and washing machine at our disposal for the first five days.

Talking to a local Thai chef, Ying, the next evening we learned that many of these high-rises are about 70% empty, which is why it’s easy to rent for Air BnB.

Rooftop views Sukhumvit Soi 71

One amazing thing about travel is that you still run into people you know from all over the world. Our first full night here included drinks with Ryan Wizniak, the drummer for Elephant Gun (and just played with 5 days before my trip) Sky Train Jazz Bar, at a great little place near Victory Monmument. Sangsom flows, the music is good, and Ultraman watches you pee.

Bathroom views at Sky Train Jazz Bar

The first weekend was filled with that Bangkok right of passage, Chatuchak (known as JJ) market. A labyrinth of stalls selling everything from clay Buddha amulets to massive pieces of furniture, as well as any piece of clothing you could ever buy (need a fur coat in 90 degree heat, they’ve got you covered!).

Long days of walking, buying, and sweating lead to early nights of sleeping and trying to shed the jet lag, which holds on a little tighter every year that passes.

Now, sitting poolside at the Swan, we contemplate our next move, whether Myanmar, or an island, before heading south so I can collect memories, photos, and visas not yet obtained.

More updates soon, and some saxophone trouble is sure to follow.

Michelin Man Cowboys

BKK Low Rise

BKK High Rise Plaza

Why do I travel? This overused Mark Twain Quote sums it up quite nicely:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

 

 

Travel Sick

Sunset in Kampot

Sunset in Kampot

It happens, minding your own business, maybe walking down a beach, maybe swimming in a pool, or even worse, on a night train hurtling down the rickety tracks equipped with only a dirty, wet squat toilet and no toilet paper. Stomach seizing up, you feel that urgency through the whole of your body. It’s not pleasant, but it’s a reality of travel for most.

I’ve experience all of the scenarios above, and this time I was somewhat lucky that I wasn’t in a dire “run for the hills” sort of emergency. I knew it was coming. It always does, for me, at least once, every time I travel to this part of the world.

Day 3 in Sihanoukville, Cambodia was wrapping up. We booked our minibus to the provincial town of Kampot that afternoon headed toward the boarder with Vietnam. On our last night Suzanne and I headed out to an English pub across the street from our Chinese hotel for some food and a beer. Meeting new friends, the night carried on a bit, but we cut ourselves off and headed home.

Upon waking up I should have known something more was amiss. Too groggy, and queasy for what I had drank I dismissed it as a simple hangover, waking up only when Suzanne had told me she was headed to breakfast.

What followed isn’t suitable for readers stomach’s. Just know, I was in pain, terrible pain, and what I hoped was just a hangover was certainly something much much worse. It might have been in the food. It might have been in the beer. It might have been the ice. I wish I knew.

A two hour bus ride to Kampot followed. With my uncanny luck, I was given a backwards facing seat on a minibus with a tall French man sitting opposite me. Even better, the minibus didn’t have space behind the last seat for baggage, so it all was piled behind me, leaving my seat at an 85 degree angle. Super comfortable! The next two hours was an exercise in willpower. Head down, sweating profusely, thoughts on the wind through the window rather than every bump in the road. I spent my time wishing for a flat tire, or a bridge out. I wanted out.

We finally arrived in Kampot, and delirious with whatever ailment I had, agreed to a windowless room with a fan, and copious amounts of black mold. I just needed to lay down. So, Suzanne left to see the town I made a point to visit on this trip (I missed out on five years ago) while I lay in bed, sweating, under blankets, running to the bathroom every five minutes.

French colonial ruins, fresh pepper and fish, dusty backroads and a slow moving river. Not for me.

image

The next day I swore I was better, but a joyful trip to breakfast to eat some food proved otherwise. I hadn’t made it halfway across the street from the guesthouse before I was running back. But, I soldiered on, determined to see the town, the sun, and get on with my days. Punctuated by a move to a guesthouse with a window, and two long naps, I survived. However, eating only a baguette and some water in the span of two days leaves you with very little energy. I managed to survive a two hour sunset boat cruise, an exercise in body control and willpower, only to fall asleep at 8:30.

The following day I decided bed was the best place to be until I could manage 30 minutes without a toilet.

Kampot, I wanted to love you, but saw you only in a short burst, and in photos from my girlfriend.

I’ve managed to eat in the last day, and resume somewhat normal body functions, albeit, still extremely tired.

You take the good with the bad on the road, and soldier on. Self deprecating posts aside, I’m sad I’m closing in on the halfway point of my trip. Now in the small coastal retreat of Kep, Vietnam awaits!

An Artists Life

Part of the goal of this website is to let you get to know me a little bit better, from my music to other things.  I plan on categorizing everything a bit differently in the future, but for now, here are my active projects, and links to what I do:

My active projects:

Pink Monkey – www.pinkmonkeyband.com

– My avant-garde jazz trio.

Four Star Brass Band – www.fourstarbrassband.com

– New Orleans style brass band.

Band Called Catch – www.bandcalledcatch.com

– Folk/Pop. You’ll catch us in Chicago, New York, or on MTV.

Previous Projects (or, bands on hiatus):The New Balance – https://www.facebook.com/thenewbalance

-The best Soul music in Chicago.

Harris and The Mood – https://www.facebook.com/harrisandthemood

– I had the great privileged of hanging/sitting in with these guys at the end of 2013.

Heisenberg Uncertainty Players – http://huplayers.com/

– I was privileged enough to be a founding member of this band.  While I’m no longer with them, I go see them as often as I can, and so should you.

Countless other projects/sessions/sit-ins that I could list, but those are the main ones for now.  I’ll get a calendar up here shortly.

 

Let’s try something new!

Hi everybody, welcome to timkoelling.com! This site is going to be the portal for all I do, from upcoming gigs and performances, to insights into songwriting, writing, travel, and anything TK. I’ll be adding content and tweaking things a lot over the upcoming months, so check in every once in a while. I’m excited to see where this goes!