We’re now in Ko Samui, a very popular beach destination in Thailand. From some descriptions we had read we were worried it would be totally overrun with tourists, but so far it’s not been bad at all. We’ve only had one day here so far and it was raining most of the day, though. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

This phase of the trip is sort of the ‘cool down’ like when you walk for awhile after running, and there will probably be more time to reflect on the trip. So, in that spirit… Thoughts on Chiang Mai.

After our three nights in Bangkok, we flew up north to Chiang Mai. A few people we had talked to were glad we were taking some time to see parts of Thailand other than the ever-popular beaches so I was pretty excited to experience it. We stayed at a pretty swanky hotel called D2Hotel with all modern decor and style. Chiang Mai has apparently been developing its tourism market very quickly over the past several years and newer hotels like D2 have come out of that. It’s pretty reasonably priced for how nice it is, too… a definite change from Bangkok. It’s also very centrally located right near the popular night market.

Chiang Mai

The Chiang Mai night market is centered around a large warehouse-like building with three levels of vendor booths selling all kinds of merchandise from cheap tourist junk to pretty nice cloth items to high-end antiques (though it’s very definitely slanted towards the former end). Additional smaller booths line the sidewalks for several blocks as well as some parking lot areas, too. It is a great place to pick up souvenirs, but most of the fun is just experiencing the energy of it all. It’s even more amazing when you think about the fact that they do it every single night. One morning we went walking down the sidewalk and noticed how much more open and wide the street felt without all the vendor carts… and then it made us start wondering what they do with all the carts at the end of night. It must take a lot of space to store them all!

On our first day in Chiang Mai Vida and Elise learned how to cook some classic Thai dishes with the Thai Farm Cooking School. Sage, Riley, and I came along to hang out and eat the food, too. It was the best Thai food we’ve had since we’ve been here!

Ingredients for Thai Soup

The next day we went to an elephant training camp for a quick elephant ride, and to see them paint a few pictures.

Painting Elephants

This is now our fourth full day in Thailand and Vida and I have taken over 500 photos already. We’ve had easy access to Internet but not much time to use it. The heat here is pretty draining on us so we mostly use our free time to rest. Gallant adventurers we are not… yet.

The bustling Chao Phraya river in Bangkok

We spent our first three nights at the historic Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, and it definitely met expectations. The service was very friendly and warm and the food was good, too. Somehow we got upgraded for free to deluxe river-view rooms which was certainly enjoyed. The Chao Phraya river that runs through Bangkok is pretty amazing and is a unique aspect of the city. There’s a steady stream all day long of ferries, river cruise boats, shuttle boats, tug boats pulling huge loads of who knows what, and the noisy water taxis. They crisscross paths frequently and it’s fun to watch them narrowly avoid collision time after time. At night, the river cruise boats are lit with colorful light scenes and decorations. The King’s 80th birthday is being celebrated and most of them seem to have something to do with that at the moment. On our first evening we went out on a river cruise dinner, and it was neat to seem them passing by. Many of Bangkok’s historic attractions along the river are nicely lit at night as well.

Chrao Phraya Express ferry

The roads of Bangkok are packed bumper to bumper with cars, tuk tuks, and scooters basically all the time so the frequent river ferries are a very nice way to get around, as well. The locals keep the boats pretty full and tourists squeeze to fill in the remaining gaps. Bangkok is definitely a city of hustle and bustle, and an amazing mix of old and new, side by side. The Skytrain public transit system is quite modern, clean, and efficient, for instance. We used it to we got around on our first day and it was downright pleasant compared to the next day’s combination of ferries and taxis.

Bangkok Skytrain

Bangkok’s air pollution is very noticeable, especially when stuck in traffic on the roads. It’s not quite as bad as my memories of Mumbai, but it is still a major problem for the city. It’s less noticeable up on the Skytrain, which is heavily used by everyone. I can only imagine what the traffic and air would be like without it.

While in Bangkok we visited the Jim Thompson house (this Jim Thompson guy was entirely unknown to me before coming here, but he’s all over the place…), the Grand palace with it’s Wot Phraw Kaew, Wot Arun across the river, and the Vimanmek Teak Mansion.

Who goes there?

I played around with the Rhapsody music service on my TiVo tonight, and it’s actually kinda cool. It can’t hold a candle to my Sonos, but it still seems like a pretty nice way to get Rhapsody music straight onto your TV and home stereo. Once you login you can browse your through existing library of music, browse the entire Rhapsody library or search for artists, albums or songs. One nifty feature is a screen saver that comes up after you’ve been listening for awhile that cycles through the cover art of albums you have in your Rhapsody library. It’s not as cool as the Apple TV screensaver, but it’s still a whole lot better than a black screen!

In my experience, TiVo’s applications like this one that add functionality on top of the DVR are a bit of a mixed bag. While most of them do seem to work crashes and glitches are common. The Rhapsody application crashed once on me in the half an hour or so I played with it. That’s not any indication that it would be unstable with regular use, of course.

Here’s one annoying thing I noticed… If you leave the Rhapsody music paused for more than something like 5 minutes it automatically boots you back out to watching TV. When you come back into the Rhapsody application you start out with an empty music queue again so you have to start over from scratch. I think that’s due to a limitation in how TiVo applications work, but it could be pretty annoying in regular use.

I went to a Suicidal Tendencies show at Slim’s in San Francisco last week. The place only holds maybe 400 people so it’s a pretty tiny place for a band as well-known as them. They haven’t released an album for several years and have been out of the bit of spotlight they did have as a result. They’re by no means a huge band but there’s a good chance anyone who’s ever been into metal, hardcore punk, or other loud, fast music has listened to them at some point.

Suicidal Tendencies’ 1990 album, “Lights, Camera, Revolution”, is on my “Top 10 Metal Albums of All Time” list (which I have not yet actually published) and I hold them in very high regard overall. I also knew that the crowd would be pretty insane in a place that small and it should be a fun show all around. We made our way up to the very front left of the stage between the first band and the second band, Municipal Waste, and planted ourselves there for the rest of the evening. Municipal Waste was previously unknown to me and was a pretty good show. They reminded me a bit of M.O.D. and Exodus at different moments and I noticed some Slayer influence at times as well.

After Municipal Waste was finished our beers were empty but there was no way we were going to give up our spots so we had to go thirsty. Sad, I know. Suicidal Tendencies first came on without Mike Muir and began to make a lot of guitar sounds for a few minutes until he came out and the crowd went wild. The guitar sounds eventually turned into an epic version of “You Can’t Bring Me Down” and it took me all the way back to those early highschool years when that song was one of my anthems. It’s a song based firmly in the themes of teen angst, like most Metal songs, but it also has a very strong sense of empowerment. It’s not a song about aggression, but instead about standing up for yourself and your beliefs. That may sound a bit trite now, but when I was 15 it did a lot for me.

Overall, it was a great show and the crowd energy level rarely dropped below a dull roar. I frequently found myself shouting along with the crowd to classic songs like “War Inside My Head”, “Send Me Your Money”, and “How Can I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today”. Goooood times.

I’ve heard some rumors that S.T. is coming out with a new album next year and I don’t know for sure if they played any songs from it or not. I don’t know every single song of theirs but I did recognize almost all of them. It’s hard to say if a band with as much history as Suicial Tendencies will actually produce a must-hear new album, but their live shows are still an experience anyone with any inclination shouldn’t pass up.

The Oregon Trail

If you attended school in the United States in the 80s or 90s there’s a pretty good chance you played The Oregon Trail video game at some point. The game was simple by today’s standards but it was still much better than class! You had to help a group of settlers through the Oregon Trail hunting, dealing with disease, and dealing with other problems that would come up.

A company called MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium) was the original developer of the game. It was started by the state of Minnesota and originally the game was only available to schools there. Eventually they branched out and offered it to schools nation-wide. The history of the company from the early 1970s on is pretty interesting and worth a read (it’s pretty short) if you have any pangs of nostalgia over The Oregon Trail.

Until recently I had generally followed the Apple/iTunes/Steve Jobs party line and thought of subscription music services as dumb and useless. Apple describes it as ‘renting music’, which surely does sound bad. When I thought about it a little more, though, it started seeming more like cable television. Do you think of cable as ‘renting TV’? Do you expect to be able to keep watching it after you stop paying? You’re essentially just paying for access to content and it’s up to you to decide if its worth it to you to continue paying to maintain that access or not. You’re free to buy last season of Smallville on DVD and own it if you want, and likewise you can still buy CDs even if you also pay for a music subscription.

Rhapsody (and other music services) one up cable tv, though. They provide on-demand access to a pretty large library of all music. Wouldn’t it be great to have on-demand access to any episode of any television show from the last 20 years? That might actually be worth the extortion fees I pay for cable television now!

The Rhapsody library doesn’t have everything but I’ve been impressed with the selection. There’s only been a couple of things I’ve looked for and not found, the most notable being Metallica (of course). There’s likely other notable gaps in the offering as well but there’s enough to keep me interested for now.

They’ve done a pretty good job of organizing the catalog to make it easier to find new music you might like. They have a pretty good two level genre categorization (main genres and subgrenes) with key artists for each level giving you an overview of what’s in there. They also have charts (top tracks, top albums, top artists) for each genre and artist so you can see what other people are listening to. That’s handy for artists or genres you’re not very familiar with. There’s also ‘radio’ stations for each artist that plays you a mix of music their system considers similar to the artist. I don’t know yet if it’s only based on genre categories or if there’s something more advanced going on behind the scenes. I also don’t know if they track which songs you skip to tailor it more to your own tastes or not. It seems likely they’re at least thinking about features like that if they’re not in there now. There’s a lot of potential.

I’m just finishing up a 30 day free trial and I think I’m going to sign up. It costs about the same as Netflix and though I like watching movies, I listen to music pretty much all the time. I’ll get way more value out of this.