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رمضان مبارك

     The month of Ramadan is considered to be the most sacred lunar month of the Islamic calendar, and according to one of the Five Pillars of Islam, Muslims are obliged to fast during its 29-30 days each year. From sunlight to sundown they must refrain from consuming any food and drink as well as from smoking, and it is not until the call for the evening prayer that a ceremonious iftar can be consumed to break the fast. In Jordan, it is in fact illegal to eat or drink in public during daylight hours. Although tourists are often excused from these rules, I tried to abide by them during my stay in Jordan out of respect for those fasting. As you can imagine, this can make it incredibly difficult to travel... No water in 40 degree heat? I spent many lunch hours in bathroom stalls, scarfing down granola bars and other snacks, or gulping down entire liters of water to quench my continuous thirst.. I came across a few tourists who strove to follow the fast themselves, but for me the amount of physical exertion that comes along with travel and sightseeing coupled with the outrageous heat was too much to handle without any nourishment (or you could maybe say my faith is simply not strong enough?). After all, the laws of Ramadan supposedly exempt those who are travelling, right? Nor am I Muslim in the first place, but mad respect for anyone who fasts during the Ramadan.
Meal at Hashem Restaurant in Amman
     However, if you're in Amman during Ramadan and you're hungry for a solid meal despite the Ramadan - don't worry, not everyone in Jordan manages to fast, anyway, - there is a joint called Cairo Restaurant, at which the waiters hush you up to the 3rd floor if you are looking to dine in so that the cops don't catch them serving food. Otherwise, there are many locales open at which you can buy food for take-out, or grocery stores to buy fruit or snacks. At night, restaurants open up but if you're looking for falafel, keep in mind that it is considered to be a breakfast food and is therefore rarely served during the month of Ramadan. Nevertheless, Hashem Restaurant in Amman fries up what is considered the best falafel in town for the best price. For a couple dinar you can get a large pita on a napkin of a plate, along with an assortment of bean dips and a tomato salad, which is enough to keep you stuffed for hours.

from eilat to aqaba, & the valley of the moon

"Mushroom," Wadi Rum
     We'd arrived in Jordan just in time for the last week of Ramadan. From the main bus station in Jerusalem, we took a bus to Eilat and asked the driver to let us off near the border crossing. The journey took about five hours, and from the bus stop we proceeded to walk 1 or 2 km in the scorching heat to the border crossing, where we gobbled down our sandwiches (with respect to the Ramadan on the other side of the border) and were let through without much hassle. We had previously read on the internet about the so-called "taxi mafia" that exists on the Jordanian side, but found that as the prices for the rides to Aqaba are listed on a board, there was no such scam. Nevertheless, we teamed up with a Spaniard we met crossing the border and split the cab. Booking.com had a deal for a double room at Ahla Thla Hotel, where we spent the night before heading up to Wadi Ramm. The hotel is grubby, but the staff is helpful and cheerful, albeit not speaking English too well (but then again, what do you expect?). If you are expecting wifi access, don't count on it as the signal is weak and only works in certain corners of the hotel, and if you move your device a few centimeters it ceases to work. However, there is a 24h internet cafe on the bottom floor of the building if you are in dire need of connection.
Border crossing

skip down for more on Wadi Rum

kudos to all my sisters in the struggle

     Some things that a man will never be able to understand are the limitations that come with being a woman travelling solo. That being said, I'm not trying to imply anything other than the fact that travelling alone as a female comes with a set of struggles particular to our sex, as cautious as we may be. The other day I set out for Hat Thung Wa Laen from Chumphon, hoping to camp there for two nights and then return for my Thai friends' wedding on the 6th. Along the way, I stopped at a roadside shop after a big uphill for a soda. Boys from the nearby Technical College happened to be on their lunch break, and throngs of them were stopping to grab some snacks as well. A couple of them were brave enough to approach me, and soon enough I had a circle of boys sitting around me, trying to communicate with me in Thai. I told them I was headed for Thung Wa Laen Beach, not knowing how small the place was, and one of them offered to meet me there as I was his first farang friend. Of course, it's propositions like these that require me to trust my gut and decide whether a situation is safe or if there is the slightest possibility of danger. As innocent as the request seemed at first, he kept insisting that he come along despite my constant refusals. Listening to my intuition and feeling a little uncomfortable, I laughed him off and said he'd better get back to class instead.
Hat Thung Wa Laen
     Arriving at Thung Wa Laen, I was surprised to see the array of beachfront resorts and of restaurants advertising "western food," etc. Although one of the farang I met there raved about how quiet and remote the place is compared to the rest of Thailand, for me it was the one of the most touristic places I've been so far this month! Even the price of a bag of sticky rice, usually 5 baht, was quadrupled. Despite the beautiful seaside and the soft, white sands, I felt a little defeated. I looked around for a place to set up camp and a hotel owner kindly offered for me to put my tent up within the area of her bungalows. I think she was worried that I'd end up camping on the beach, which is never a good idea for reasons concerning both safety and sandflies. I met a nice Frenchman and Thai woman living in the room next to my tent who invited me for a chat over beers on their patio, after which I headed off to bed. Sometime between 10 and 11PM I heard a car roll up right next to my tent, the slamming of doors, and male voices calling "hey! hey! You!" right outside my tent.

ranong: updating the visa run situation

     I'm not going to waste any time writing this post because I think it's important to inform all you (us) travelers in Thailand about the current situation regarding doing visa runs to Myanmar from Ranong. Summed up, here are the main points. Keep in mind: I received a visa on arrival of 29 days - having entered by plane - for Thailand on my Canadian passport, and I require(d) an extension of at least 8 days before I fly out of the country.
  1. It is not possible to renew your visa by taking a boat over to Myanmar for a few minutes and coming back into Thailand
  2. You must pay 1,900 baht to receive a 7 day extension (no more) on your VOA (if you have a different type of visa, you may receive 1 month) 
  3. You may obtain this visa, like I did, at Ranong Immigration - not at the pier, - more details below.
  4. There is supposedly an Immigration office in Chumphon - open regularly, albeit hard to find; this is not the one at Tesco Lotus -, so you are not required to travel all the way to Ranong like I did (dammit).
  5. If you take the minibus to Ranong bus terminal for 120 baht from beside Farang Bar in Chumphon, you don't have to pay the extra 100 baht for it to take you to the pier - take a pickup for 15 baht instead. Or just get your visa done in Chumphon instead.
I'll recount my experience today and include some more details below.