The Liver is Evil and it must be Punished – T-shirt Slogan
As many of you know, I really, really like good beer. And, when we travel, I will research ahead of time to find interesting local beer hangouts, often dragging us far out of our way to try a new or unique pint. As we planned our trip to Thailand, I saw little to no information on beer and had to assume that while travelling the beer we drank would, well… suck! However, much to my surprise, on our first full day in Bangkok, we went to a grocery store near my niece’s place and found a surprisingly good selection of imported beer including Erdinger Dunkel and Hoegarden (both of which we bought to assist in acclimatizing to the heat). During our first few days in Thailand we enjoyed drinking these quality beers but the price tag on these imported delights was a serious deterrent. Since we are trying to travel on a budget, spending 250 baht or more on a pint of Hoegarden vs 100 or less for a pint of locally brewed Chang just did not make sense. So we have switched to drinking local beer, our favourite being Chang, which is a lager that has a slight sweetness to it and tastes similar to a Belgian-style beer. It is a strong beer at 6.4% alcohol and comes a large 640 ml bottle (good for sharing) or in the more traditional 330ml bottle.
Throughout trip, we have enjoyed a lot Chang and especially enjoyed the freedom to drink it almost anywhere because, unlike in Canada, you can buy alcohol at the Seven-Elevens (which are everywhere) and drink it in public places. This freedom allows for many different drinking opportunities such as on the beach, at small street food vendor stalls, wandering the streets, or sitting at a VW van converted into a street side bar. For example, when we arrived at the ferry station in Krabi, all hot and sticky from carrying our overloaded backpacks (we still need to learn the art of packing light), we saw a couple waiting for ferry with ice-cold beers in hand. Without hesitation, I struck up a conversation to find out where he purchased the beer. True to our well-established roles after 17 years of marriage, (I, being the “hunter and gatherer” and Carol, being the “stay with stuffer”) I left Carol with the backpacks and successfully hunted up 2 large Chang for us to cool us while we waited for the ferry. We, of course, toasted with the man who pointed the way and had a pleasant conversation with him and his girlfriend while we drank. We learned they were from Sweden and, once we told them we were from Toronto, Matt Sundin and hockey became the topic of the day. Once the ferry came, we went our separate ways as travellers do, Carol and I excited about exploring Ko Phi Phi.
Three days and many Chang later, Carol and I went out to enjoy our last night on Ko Phi Phi at a friendly seaside place, called Carlito’s Bar; a popular hangout where we enjoyed Shisha, beer and a fire show. The servers’ T-shirts had “the liver is evil and it must be punished” written on the back and I knew I wanted to borrow it as the title for this blog post. To our surprise, while further punishing our livers and lungs with more Chang and Shisha and waiting for the fire show start, we heard someone yell out “Canada”. We both looked over to see a man holding up a Chang, smiling and saying again “Canada”. It took a minute for us to place him as our fellow Sundin and NHL fan from the ferry dock. We invited them to join us and together we shared stories of our travels, our lives at home and many more Chang while watching the often amazing and sometimes just plain scary fire show. At the end of the night, we went our separate ways with promises of keeping in touch. Hopefully we do.
On our trip to the Similan Islands on a liveaboard boat, we met a lovely Austrian couple, a couple from Norway, a Dutch couple as well as a couple from China. Only the Austrians and Norwegians shared the boat with us overnight and, as such, we toasted the quiet evening of chatting and game-playing with Chang. The tour of these protected islands was well worth the money with plenty of snorkelling during the day and the opportunity to enjoy both the sunset and sunrise in the sheltered bay. Sadly, we learned that our “waterproof” camera is no longer up to the task so our photo evidence of the snorkelling isn’t the greatest quality. We will hope that the Chinese couple we befriended will send us their pictures as they were much better equipped and had the snorkel guide taking close-ups of creatures for them. (We later met up with this same couple a few times in Chiang Mai – it really is the “banana pancake trail”!)
When we finally left the island life, we flew back to Bangkok and got to celebrate the beginning of Laura’s school holidays. For this celebration, Laura took us to a German Beer Garden for dinner and then a cool Thai bar for drinks afterwards. It was quite the juxtaposition to go from a quiet garden with German beer and schnitzel, Christmas lights and Christmas music to being surrounded by Thais listening to a live Thai band who sang Western pop songs with Thai lyrics! They ended their set with English lyrics for our sake (we were the only farangs in the place). Since Laura had been very sick with a cold when we first arrived, it was great to have a night out with a healthy Laura instead!
During the next leg of our trip, in Chiang Mai, we celebrated Christmas Eve with a friendly couple from New York, toasting our amazing, though not so traditional, Christmas dinner of roast duck breast with cranberry wine sauce, roasted potatoes and veggies, with bottles of Erdinger Dunkel. Later that evening, two of the servers with whom we had joked and chatted throughout the evening, invited us to join them at their local Thai hangout for a few beers after their shift. We all squeezed into a Tuk-Tuk and went to a tiny Thai hole-in-the-wall sort of place where we tried Thai food that seemed even too spicy for our new friends and drank Singha with ice (it keeps the beer cold) while sitting on little plastic stools and hearing their lives described in their well-spoken broken English and wishing we had learned more Thai (by this point in our trip, we had mastered properly saying hello and thank you and were working on learning Merry Christmas and Happy New Year). Our Christmas Eve was quite an experience!
Christmas day, we ended up at a nice little bar after touring temples and struck up a conversation with an Englishman who had lived in Toronto in the past and is currently building a business selling fair-trade tea grown by Hmong tribes in North Thailand. He hopes that his venture will bring employment and better lives to the tea farmers he works with. After a lively chat over beers, John generously gave us samples of his tea as well as a teapot to enjoy it. It was a lovely gift and his insights into living as a farang in Thai culture and his travel stories made for an enjoyable way to celebrate Christmas!
So I guess the moral of this story is the experiences we have had and the people we have had them with make for much more interesting stories for our blog than type of beer we drank. We expect that, as we continue our adventure and with New Year’s Eve right around the corner, we will have many more interesting experiences and encounters with both travellers and locals that will include punishing our evil livers again and again with cheap, fresh local brews. That being said, I will always be on the hunt for new and unique beers while Carol guards the backpacks! Cheers!!!