1- The bulky Lonely Planet Guide that I lug about and yearn to huck into a river or a garbage can, or better yet, prosthletize in front of a wat until I have every copy in every language thrown into a giant pile and have an enormous burning (what better place to burn anything? Thailand- Land of Smiles and Land of Burning Piles) is really useful in the sense of security it gives me in picking a place to stay. I can phone ahead or use the internet to contact a place and the maps provided are not too far off. I am sure they leave a shit ton of places off, good places probably, but it saves time and headache. But the restaurants? They review five places in Sukhothai, where I am presently. I bet if you throw in all the street vendors there easily 500 or so places to eat here. Beyond the most basic, giant, famous hotel type places, and those places who chase the tourist dollar and print their menus in English, the guide is like a lead weight dragging one towards the least authentic experience. If you can actually navigate to the supposed location (rare), you are sure to be met by a tidy hoard of idiots looking remarkably like yourself, each thumbing his or her copy of the Thailand guide.. Fortunately I did not cave into taking this security blanket tonight and wandered deep into the non-touristy section of town. There a wonderful Thai couple saw me ogling an ancient crone's servings. They talked with me about what I liked and had a discussion with her based on that, and thus helped me procure without a doubt one of the best meals I have had in my six months here- a beautifully cooked fresh fish with peppers and greens. It tasted even better since it involved the kind of leap of faith (not that big really- more a "hop" of faith - all I did was look for a place packed with locals - duh), language struggle, and cultural exploration What traveling is SUPPOSED to be about. And nowhere- NOWHERE! could be easier or better than Thailand for this. Today on the bus I was looking at the dried fruit the woman passenger in front of me was eating. Okay. It helped that she happened to be extremely beautiful as well. Anyhoo, when she caught my eye, rather than give me the "Oh my god I caught the old creeper behind me staring at my food." She offered me first one, throwing in one of those billion dollar Thai smiles, and then when I liked it, the entire rest of her bag, merrily continuing her non-stop conversation with her ancient mother sitting next to her. It was one of those moments of Thai generosity that leaves me feeling stunned with gratitude to the point of embarrassment. Like when I complimented a director on his Thai shirt and he bought all the volunteers one the following week.. So yeah, I won't throw out my Lonely Planet, but the damn thing makes me blush for needing it.
2. What is it about optical shops in Thailand? Every city has almost as many as they have 7-11's. They are the Dunkin Donuts of Thailand. They are identical in being clean, chic, stocked with Ray Bans costing between 7K and 12K BHT, and manned by teams of (inevitably bored) super cute young Thai women wearing crisp uniforms with a look somewhere between a 60's stewardess and a 90's neurosurgeon. They are also identical in that I have NEVER and I do not exaggerate, never seen a single customer in a single store. Secret government agents? Aliens? As the young people said not long ago, heck I don't know, maybe they still do, WTF.