Thailand travelogue!

Relaxation Achieved: Fun and Food in Patong, Phuket

In 2004 at Christmas I was visiting my aunt and uncle in California with my parents and grandmother. We spent a good chunk of boxing day watching the horrifying videos of the tsunami coming in at various places in this region of the Indian Ocean. Now, having been here (this beach being one of the hard hit places in Thailand) it’s even easier to imagine how scary it must have been. Rewatching one video obviously taken not terribly far from my hotel you can just see that relentless rising tide slamming everything and everyone out of its way into the front line of buildings. You can see how many people believe the death toll would have been much worse even a few hours later here as the christmas revellers woke from their hangovers and headed to the beach. Now of course Thailand has its fancy new warning system and whatnot but it’s still sobering to think about as you walk down past the “Tsunami Evac Zone” signs to the beachfront.

Today Patong is an odd place. It’s massively developed by thai standards (more or less the entire bay is filled beachfront to hills) but to us Canadians more used to the Mexico and the Carribean it seems less so. For starters there are few hotels directly on the beach and indeed few businesses directly on the beach. The latter is apparently because of another thai government crackdown that comes and goes but it’s certainly nice to be able to find shady spots at the top of a beach not covered in some hotel’s deck chairs. The actual beachfront in Patong town proper is more akin to a European resort area or say the area along the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta (though that is pretty Spain itself.) A few small hotels and guest houses, not many over 3 stories high mixed with souvenir shops and restaurants and all seperated from the beach area by a busy road. There is a thin strip of land mostly devoid of businesses between the road and beach some of which looks as though it is remnants of pre tsunami decorations (paths that are worn away/dead end for example.) The larger hotels tend to be a couple streets back from the seaside and none are particularly huge. There are a few taller towers in the town center area but none seem particularly new. Fancier hotel with older guests wise the new trend seems to be building out on the cliffs north of town where there is a smaller beach and a cab into town proper is definitely needed for most non-resort nightlife.

The beach is wide and sandy with a mix of swimming areas and (illegal but clearly tolerated) jetski landings. It’s not uncommon to see one or two large cruise ships offshore, rarely close enough to see the livery but I’m guessing Star Cruises or the like based on the groups I saw ashore. The water is ridiculously bathwater warm and shallow for ages… another reason the tsunami must have come out of nowhere for people as I don’t think I saw a cresting wave that didn’t come from a boat wake the entire time I was on the beach. I imagine that’s different in monsoon season of course but the Andaman has been endlessly gentle during my stay.

The town itself is… I don’t want to say sleazy but, yeah kinda sleazy. The core of the town has a very “downtown vegas before they cleaned it up” vibe. The previously mentioned fancy shopping center seems to serve as a sort of central cluster then most of the streets leading away from there are lined with bars and restaurants, all the sidewalks jammed with sweaty tourists and line after like of tuk-tuk and taxi arriving with people staying at the other beaches coming in to party. Bangla Road is the epicenter of the more intense nightlife (go-go bars, prostitution and frat boy bars abound) and is at least quasi pedestrian only but most of the surrounding streets have late night bars/restaurants and other diversions as well. Russians are everywhere, particularly of the musclebound gangster image cultivating type and indeed other than some backpacker aged folk from NA/Australia most of the tourists are european in general during my visit. After one visit for curiousity’s sake I mostly stayed a bit further from this area at night as there’s only so many times I really need a drunken russian woman stumbling into me and spilling her drink or some random tout badgering me about “you want ticket to fuck show? cheap price!” I did stumble into a couple different places a bit further out from that area that had a band playing and grabbed a drink or two at those several times. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that all of Phuket is like this. It’s a subsection of this one beachtown and most of other towns have very different vibes (even the other portions of Patong do) but be aware this is why a subset of people come to Patong specifically. Or this may be totally your scene and sound great, I’m definitely here more for the sights and sounds of the country and not the party scene though.

My nighttime photo didn’t turn out but this gives you the general idea of the scene.

One super frustrating thing I will rant about though is the abundance of massage parlors. I have literally no idea how they all exist in Patong or indeed in any of the tourist zones where every fourth business seems to be a massage parlor of either super legitimate or sleazy variety (or of course the ultra sleazy variety that are pointedly missing the “no happy ending/no sex signs that most of the middleground ones seem to have.) I mean more power to them if they are making a living and I know good thai massage is supposed to be phenomenal (maybe I will partake before I leave.) BUT, the annoying versions of these will have 4 or 5 women out front, often dressed in some garish outfit who will super aggressively bother you about a massage. Whatever, I can ignore touts, but the gross part to me is the last one in the line will always try and reach out to gently caress my arm as I pass by as a last ditch attempt and ugh… I do not like being randomly touched by strangers and I particularly don’t like it when I’m feeling hot and sweaty and gross and just want to get back to the hotel to clean up. I get that I’m a guy in his 30s travelling along so probably a prime target for you but ugh, back off.

As mentioned in the last post though this was always intended to be my destress portion of the trip. Most of you are aware that due to some bullshit with my employer I had my holidays cancelled on me last year so this is my first real holiday in two years. (I did snag a week at the lake with my parents last summer then proceeded to get a ridiculous summer cold/flu for most of it so it doesn’t really count.) So yeah… my day usually consisted of sleeping in until I felt like waking up, going for a brief swim in the hotel pool, having a shower eating a croissant then heading down to the beach for most of the day then watching the sunset before grabbing a ridiculously cheap dinner somewhere, maybe hitting the bar for a bit then walking back to the hotel for another shower and another great night in that massive king sized bed. Rejuvenating is an understatement.

Most days I ended up in the same cluster of odd fruit trees (I have no idea what the cluster pod fruits were though one landed very close to me one day and I started sitting a bit further away) for a bit of shade at the top of the beach. Daytime temps were hovering around 32-35 most days without a cloud in the sky. This appeared to be where many of the locals sat be they Thai or (more commonly) the somewhat tragic collection of ancient euro expats and their muuuuuuuuch younger thai girlfriends/wives (and some boyfriends.) Sitting amongst them one couldn’t help but wonder about inevitable forthcoming estate battles with family’s back home. Mostly I peoplewatched and swam, read from my eBook and thought about what I should have for dinner.

I’ve already covered food to some extent in this travelogue but you must understand that I LOVE thai food. The cheapness of thai meals here (even in this most touristy of touristy locations in Thailand) is astounding. Lunch is mostly a quick noodle, curry or soup from a roadside stand or mini kitchen. Chicken Pad Thai is of course a tourist food but also generally delicious and ludicrously cheap for decent portions. Pad See Ew or Khao Soi or various other things are usually not much more expensive. Or if it’s so ludicrously hot that I can’t face anything warm I might just get a papaya or mango salad, usually nice and spicy and super refreshing. Rarely are these meals more than $3-4cad all in.

Dinner I’ve been splurging a little bit more as there are some nice places here, but usually just to try more dishes rather than spending massively more in general. Not far from the hotel in an absolutely terrible spot right by the main road in and out of town is a really gorgeous little restaurant that really deserves a quieter beachfront spot (but then it would be double the price.) Here I ordered an appetizer of thai sausage and cashew shrimp wrapped in spring roll dough then deep fried, a som tam with papaya, a noodle dish I can’t remember and a small bowl of tom kha gai. Add on a pineapple smoothie and a bottle of water and I dropped a whole $15 on this meal (though since I had a kitchenette I took home the leftovers and actually got a lunch out of it too.) Honestly it’s necessary to splurge once in a while. One of the main downfalls of being a solo traveler is not getting to sample what your travelling companion is eating when dining out.

The Sausage, Cashew and Shrimp appetizer thing

Overall my time in Patong has been relaxing, but I’m definitely ready to move on and see some of the other sights in this ridiculously welcoming country. I’ve decided to transfer to Koh Lanta to the south in hopes of easing back in to some diving/finding a mellower beach vibe then I’ll have to make a decision about either heading back north in preparation for heading to Chang Mai or whether I want to do any further island hopping in the south.



Bangkok to Phuket… lazytimes beckon.

Wow, seems like ages since I’ve written one of these (I’ve merely been posting things I’ve previously written the past while.) Part of that is lack of noteworthy things to say, part is that this section of the vacation was always planned to be the lazytown frolics portion…

That said herein lies the first miscalculation of my trip. I’d read a couple places to just fly from Bangkok to Phuket or take the direct bus, but I wanted to make sure I took at least one train in Thailand and the sleeper train+bus combo seemed like a good plan even though it took a bit longer. Oops.

pool at New Siam II

I got a late lie in at my guest house in Bangkok before getting up, packing and checking out. (And as I write this I realize I was never charged for my last, extra night) Storage of my bag was free so I set off for one last spin around old bangkok and a quick curry before heading to the train station a slightly paranoid amount early. Just as well I did as with my first trip away from the Khao San area by taxi I got hit with multiple folks trying to scam me by booking without their meter. (They were asking me for 200Baht, about 8 bucks, when I knew even with crazy traffic it wouldn’t be more than 100, in the end if was 72 I think) Still, I didn’t mind being there early. I love train stations, particularly foreign ones. The grand old central stations built when the train was the hub of transport for everyone are always a blast and Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong was no exception. I’d actually already been here almost every day of the trip already as it was the western end of the subway and the easiest point to get to for a cab back to home base.

Hua Lamphong is a cavernous building, especially by Bangkok standards and has something like 12 lines running into it. Certainly not at the crazy level of some places but pretty hectic in a city like this where many of them are commuter trains. I need to take a moment here to complain about what seems to be an asian thing in general so far. Complete lack of public clocks in transport hubs. I mean, one can sort of tell what time it is based on the departed trains disappearing off the board but I ran into the same thing in Hong Kong international during my layover. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue but right before I left I realized my watch was dead so clock checking means getting out my not particularly hefty batteried travel phone or keeping my bedside clock in my pocket.

In any case, train stations. I enjoy the romance of them. Seeing people whisking off to various places, people watching and trying to determine who’s off to do what. All the romance some people bizarrely associate with airports is actually here (for starters very few people board a train stressed from security or shoving to the front of the line because they have six pieces of carryon for some reason.) People still get to walk with their loved ones right to boarding and wave as the horn sounds and the carriage pulls out of the station. I guess in my ideal world trains and ocean liners would still be the norm.

Hua Lamphong

Unfortunately for me the romance ended when I boarded and I was sitting opposite a young buddhist monk. I know in general one is not supposed to sit next to them on public transport but this was a second class sleeper car and this was my one assigned seat so awkward times ensued as he asked the porter if he could sit elsewhere and I’m guessing was told the train was full. Also frustratingly the train left about 15 minutes late and stopped several times on the way out of the city so that by the time we were even near the suburbs it was completely dark outside. Still while I could see I was kind of shocked by some of the sights rolling through the city. In all the places I’ve ridden a train in my travels (be it commuter or intercity) I’ve never seen so many people consistently living so close to the tracks. For most of the stretch out of Bangkok were so close to shop houses and shacks that I literally could have reached out and grabbed clothing hanging out window sills. I had a horrifying vision of what would happen with even a minor derailment along those sections and was thankful the train seemed to be travelling at a sane pace. In that sense it was almost a relief when darkness arrived.

So much for scenery, but I had no idea as at all of 7:30 the porter started coming through the car slamming the bunks into place. I guess in some ways it wasn’t bad as I was able to stretch out my longer western legs without bothering anyone. Unfortunately I also ended up slotted into the wrong bunk… I’m still not sure if my Monk friend had been swapped seats with one of the American mother daughter combo across the way (monks have stringent no touching women policies apparently) or she’d somehow conned him into giving up his bottom bunk for her but he ended up in my top bunk. This wouldn’t be a huge issue as I was just across the way but had I not set my alarm I easily could have missed my stop as the Porter was just waking people by bed number not actually calling out stations.

The bed itself was surprisingly not terrible and spacious enough for a six foot and a bit person. My father would definitely have needed the lower bunk though. Even a small window for the upper berth would have been nice though, but at least I’d snagged an A/C bunk. Apparently the newer trains are better but as this is a less tourist used one they use the older second class cars. One of the potties was even a squatty, the first one I’d seen so far in Thailand. Understandably as it was only 8 by the time all the beds were down people were far from quiet, but I threw on my new sleep headphones and managed to get to sleep after writing and reading for a while knowing I had to be up to be off the train by 6. The most frustrating thing about sleep in the end turned out to be the cabin lights not being dimmed at all and the upper berth curtain not quite covering the top of the hole. (If you’re on a sleeper car in Thailand being a sleep mask!)

in the cocoon (seriously dim the lights at least a little geez)

I woke at five to be safe and was up and rough washed soon thereafter, knowing that depending of if we’d made up the delays I’d be looking at anything from 5:40-6:30? for arrival at Surat Thani. People started waking more and more not long after (not helped by a food hawker coming through and screaming 3 times before six.) Not so shockingly it turned out to be 6:30 off the train for me, my bus further on was then another half hour late so it was more like 8am as we set out for Phuket arriving about 11:30 at Phuket Town bus terminal. In future I’d probably just fly or at least take the straight bus, though I did find out there was a sleeper departing a couple hours later that might have gotten an hour or two of daylight sightseeing before arriving.

Before this trip I didn’t know much about Phuket other than that it was an island on the Andaman Coast of thailand and it had been pummelled by the boxing day tsunami of 2004. Turns out it’s a really huge island and since it’s just across a tiny bridge it’s not even really treated as such by the locals anymore (none of them call it Ko Phuket for instance.) My reason for going to Phuket was that my father had kindly found an exchange for some of their timeshare points to give me four free nights at a condo in Patong Beach on the west coast of the island. I now knew that Phuket was big enough that it was strewn with multiple towns/beach resorts of which Patong was the biggest and uh… let’s go with showiest for a word here.

Unfortunately from the bus station I immediately ran into the curse of Phuket, cab drivers. Non-negotiable rates, unmetered and more than a little skeevy. Apparently they were even worse before the last military takeover as the authorities have now clamped down on them a bit… I don’t really see it. In the end I gritted my teeth, payed the guy enough for a Bangkok airport transfer and proceeded to watch him stumble his way to the condo/hotel complex. Truth be told, I can’t really blame him for that. The complex was fairly new and up a road that didn’t look as if it had anything but decrepit old gyms and run down houses then zigzagged through what were essentially back lanes and tuk tuk parking lots. My cabbie tried very hard to drop me off at an abandoned hotel (one that looked like it had been abandoned years before at 90% built, or perhaps most reno’d after the tsunami when money ran out.) In the end I spotted a distinctive wall from the picture rising up the hill and prodded him onward.

The resort (not really, but it’s part apartment building, part condo, part hotel so let’s just call it that) was quite gorgeous if really out of place. A beautiful gym and small but pretty infinity pool overlooked another abandoned construction site and a vacant lot where the neighbourhood kids seemed to hang out. It also had somewhat gloriously a cold jacuzzi end just the thing for sore muscles when you wouldn’t want a hot one given temps under 30c were rare as heck. My room was gorgeous as well, small but useful kitchenette, giant king size bed, balcony (overlooking someone’s jungle-ish garden so not much of a view) and bathroom with glorious waterfall shower that got used basically the moment the door was closed (followed by a swim, followed by another shower.)

They also had a shuttlebus into town that was nowhere near big enough for the number of people that often wanted to use it, including me that first night. Despite the glowing recommendation above there were definitely some issues with this place, some of which I think may just be growing pains but I really couldn’t believe (especially after the winding path in) that they didn’t have some form of rough town map with the location of the hotel on it. In the end I took a cartoony tourist map, blotted on where I thought the hotel was (the front desk clerk being no help) and took a photo of the intersection when I reached the bottom of the hill. Eventually I found the mall that the shuttle bus went to, manage to snag a new camera card reader and hit the grocery store for some breakfast fixings/drinks/snacks. Massively overpaid for some old english cheddar and some croissants because as much as I like thai food I had been jonesing for some cheese.

Phuket Traffic, up and to the left is hotel

Getting back was as awkward as expected especially as night had fallen and the party vibe of the place was getting going. Sidewalks were crowded and the traffic was absolutely mental. Even at 8 it was around 33 and massively humid out so I was sweaty and starving. I found a small quiet place on the way back, had a giant bowl of curry soup and dumplings w/ a beer for the grand total of $5, so great. By the time I stumbled back up the dark lane past the muay thai gym and whatnot it was latish and all I had the energy for was another shower followed by some wacky television and a piece of cheese. Properly exploring Patong would have to wait for tomorrow.

Astroboy! (@ the mall)

A show with everything but Yul Brynner

Odeon Circle Gate to Chinatown

According to a book I was reading the old way of greeting people upon meeting them out was thai for “have you had rice yet?” Really appropriate given Thai folks are a snacking and grazing people. Everywhere you look in Bangkok there are people eating noodles, grabbing something on a stick from a cart or chowing down on a bag of fresh mango chunks. Needless to say I’ve been diving into this culture headlong but as a longtime devotee of Thai cuisine I wanted to take at least one cooking class while I was here as well and this, my last (for now at least) full day in Bangkok was the day.

View from Golden Mount temple

What a beast of a day too. Heavy humid skies, hazy with smog just radiated heat in punishing waves. I didn’t want to waste the day just waiting around for my evening cooking class to start though so I set out with an extra shirt and water bottle to check out the golden mount. It’s a buddhist shrine built into a hill formed out of a collapsed construction project from centuries ago. The appeal was mostly in the view from the top though part of me really wished I’d chosen a cooler day.

Golden Mount

Part of the problem with being a tourist here is that the old town is more or less completely cut off from the modern transit systems. The two skytrain lines completely ignore old Bangkok and most of the west side of the river and the metro covers much of the same area though does at least sort of reach chinatown at the main train station. Unfortunately that leaves you either cabbing it in the old town or trying to make sense of the bus schedule which requires some sort of rosetta stone. Thankfully cabs are cheap and good as long as you can communicate where you want to go.

The “cheap ass backpacker” in me still refuses to use a cab even when it makes sense though… like say when it’s +35 and smoggy and you have issues with heat stroke? Idiot. In the end I ended up wandering about 5 or 6kms through the heat randomly sightseeing and waiting for an appropriate time to head over to the cooking class. I’d been warned to watch out for the rush hour traffic even though it was sunday and sure enough (though I wasn’t stuck in a cab) I could see the streets were as full of traffic as ever… despite 90% of the businesses I was passing being closed in the downtown area.

In the end I sat down in the subway station with a cool drink and was pretty quickly shivering since Thai public transport pretty much always has the AC turned up to near sub zero temps. Still probably should have hopped a cab at some point earlier.

Truth be told though, in the end I’d have had to walk the last bit either way. The directions were entirely set up to walk there from the nearest BTS station and involved a bunch of “turn left at X, follow alley Y” type maneuvres. It turned out to be situated in a narrow house on the narrowest of lots in a weird residential area surrounded on all sides by high rises. It was also clearly run by a cat lady as all the decorations were cat themed, cats roamed the grounds outside and could be heard meowing as we worked (and I suspect got the leftovers.) Even the lockers provided for our stuff had keys attached to big stuffed cats.

Unfortunately getting a slot in an evening class meant that I missed the “trip to the market” portion of the cooking class (though we also got a discount to make up for it) but our instructor Joo laid out all the ingredients and talked about flavours well enough to make up for it in my mind. My group consisted of yours truly, a spanish couple named Andreas and Kathie and another couple one from France one from Macao named Romeo and Vanessa. We started out in a small classroom with some material to read while the others arrived but once ready we were whisked into a seperate room where all of the ingredients for the night were laid out beautifully.

As most of you know I’ve done my share of thai cooking but it was amazing to get to see all these ingredients fresh. For less than the price of a good thai meal back home we got to make/eat a five course meal with the freshest ingredients. On this day the menu was:

-Tom Yam Soup w/ Shrimp
-Pat Thai w/ Shrimp
-Som Tam (Spicy Papaya and Carrot salad)
-Massaman/Matsuman Curry w/ rice (A personal fave and one I make already but now I learned how to make the paste from scratch)
-Mango Sticky Rice

Everything was phenomenal. We each either helped with prep (making the coconut cream/milk and curry paste communally) or prepped our own items for a recipe on our personal cutting boards. Once the mise en place was all set we’d head out onto the balcony to a row of woks and make our personal serving. As each course was finished Joo would send us into the eating room and we’d all devour every bite before moving on to the next step. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far.

Romeo, Vanessa and I being the younger folks (and those who spoke English better) definitely hit it off and I wish I’d been staying closer to them so we could have gotten a drink but they were leaving the next day and so was I so I said goodbye and hopped a cab…

Have you ever had a scary cab ride? One of those “this guy is a maniac, I’m glad the seatbelt works” moments? Maybe in Mexico? Cuba?

I got Steve McQueen from Bullitt, or Jean Reno in Ronin. Bangkok is a pretty much entirely flat city but this guy got air a couple times including all four wheels in the air off the bump of a canal bridge. At one point I saw a sign flashing 30 urgently for his attention and checked his speedo to see it firmly at 80. Every cabbie in Bangkok seems to feel lanes are only a suggestion but this guy would dive into all four lanes on a street at times to get around the tiniest obstruction (yes, including both oncoming lanes.) Since I hadn’t just robbed a bank it seemed somewhat excessive.

But hey, it was a cheap ride!


Up Next: Phuket…



Never Pizza in Asia

The Chao Phraya river winds through most of the oldest parts of Bangkok and has a variety of different boats running on it that one can take. Not only did this seem like an interesting way to see an older side of the city but it was also the quickest way to get back over to where I’d been the day before and join up with the more modern transport system.

One of the old canals that hasn’t been filled in/converted to street/rail line

The nearest dock was only about a five minute walk from the guest house and boarding the packed passenger ferry was an experience in itself as a small horde of locals and tourists clambered into a space that was already what most people (and safety officers) would call full. The journey along the river was definitely a different side of the city. Once upon a time Bangkok was apparently the “Venice of the East” due to canals everywhere, people living in stilt houses, floating markets (most remaining ones are just tourist attractions.) Most of the canals in Bangkok proper have been filled in, or paved over and turned into roads or in some cases are seemingly the foundation of the modern sky train. On the river proper there are still a few hints of that past as there are a few canal boats puttering about. More common are the various small commercial boats puttering around or the narrow long tail boats running commuter or charter routes around the city.

Longtail Boat

Along the way to my destination were a couple of great old buildings including the old customs house which is apparently due to be restored after having been let decay really sadly and the legendary Mandarin hotel. The crush of folks on and off at every station and the ear cutting whistle of the dockhand signalling to the driver made it not exactly the most relaxing ride. It was definitely worth trying once but if I was doing it again at the busy time of day (and going to a dock it serviced) I would probably spring for the astronimcal 3x the price commuter boat ticket for less crowds (a whole $1.50.) Not long after that we reached the central pier and I was able to transfer over to the sky train to head to my destination of the weekend market at Chatuchak park.

This market is absolutely insane (and is apparently the world’s largest) with stall after stall after stall as far as the eye can see. I thought Bangkok’s chinatown was overwhelming but this reached an astonishing new level of crazy. Every terrible t-shirt from Khao San, every sort of food you can imagine and all sorts of other nonsense. Sadly it’s also a center for endangered wildlife trading but apparently the worst of that has been pushed underground a bit more.

Paella man at Weekend Market

After poking around in the market for a couple hours and probably seeing at best 20% of it I ended up in the park nearby for a check in with the parents and some Pad Thai. Even pounding back a lot of water the heat was taking a ton out of me so before it got much later I headed back to the big train station via the subway to book my train/bus combo ticket south to Phuket for a few days later.

Old Bangkok is bizarre on so many levels, particularly the complete personality shift between night and day. Leave your hotel and walk around during the day and you’ll find large chunks of the sidewalk taken up by vendors be it of cooked food, fruit, drinks or even clothes. Come back a few hours later and they’ll all have packed up and many of the vacant looking storefronts they were obscuring are now open and have revealed quirky little bars, noodle shops or elegant little restaurants. So much is hidden where you least expect it. Walk down an alley barely wide enough to squeeze through and at the end you might find a cluster of shops or a hotel that looks nice enough one wonders how they survive being so impossible to find. Honestly it’s fascinating.

I was (gasp) ready for a non-thai meal for dinner that night and asked in the lobby if anything nearby was recommended. The one lobby person who spoke quite good english said woodfired pizza at a place around the corner. While I was upstairs having a shower i took a quick look online and the reviews were pretty decent as well…
…What a mistake. The reviews must have all been from Australians. Rubbery cheese (which I can forgive to a point since good cheese is expensive in Asia) goops of super bland sauce and toppings done as basically a teaspoon sized scoop in the center of every slice. Also I’m not sure they really understand the point of a woodfired oven as the crust tasted as though they were keeping the temp all wrong. Never pizza in asia, should have known better.

Still good things came out of it as I went back via a different alley and found an interesting cocktail van! then ended up checking out a board game cafe I stumbled across and played a couple rounds of King of Tokyo with a very weird welsh couple before heading back and crashing for the night.

Murray Head was right!

The real day one in Bangkok started with a thunderstorm of all things, seriously pounding thunder and lashing rain (at least what could reach my window.) Seemed like a good bet to start things off checking in back home and doing some planning for my days in this wild city. After a while I transfered down to the restaurant and ordered a pineapple pancake with honey, something that became a bit of a tradition (though I did try the stereotypical banana pancake for which the backpacker trail is nicknamed here as well once.)

Sitting in the restaurant overlooking the raindrops falling into the small pool I ate my pancake and tried to plan my day. As I understood it it was rare for rain to last very long as this time of year so I more or less believed the forecast that called for it to clear off within the hour. Much as the birds and flowers seemed to be enjoying it I wanted to take advantage of the slightly cooler weather while I could. For those who haven’t been/don’t know Bangkok is one of the world’s hottest capitals and is rarely less than 32 degrees other than a couple weeks in December apparently.

Truth be told I’d booked this place mostly on the friend recommendation and knowing it was near backpacker central for a cheap start to the trip, but thankfully it was also quite close to some of the sites I was most eager to see. The old city/grand palace area and Wat Pho, the temple with a massive reclining Buddha were all top of my list and I decided to cross them off early not knowing when/if I’d be back at this end of the city in my travels.

First, a world on bangkok traffic: Crazy!

Did you know they drove on the left in Thailand? Somehow I did not until I noticed the cars on the expressway while my plane was landing. Traffic lights? Totally a suggestion. Right turn on red? Sure. Left turn on red? Sure. Barrel straight ahead because you’re on a motorcycle and clearly no laws apply to you? Sure. Oh god the motorcycles. Rare to see anyone in a helmet, people sitting side saddle on the back, infants lightly harnessed to a parent as they swerve in and amongst the traffic in search of a 1 second head start at the next traffic light. Shudder. I’ve been in some crazy traffic cities but Bangkok is definitely the new top of that list.

I was still in the process of discovering that that morning though as I snaked my way through the campus of a technical university on the waterfront knowing vaguely that the old palace was somewhere in that direction and figuring correctly that it would stick out rather obviously. Along the way however I passed the tiniest of alleys filled with tons of old men circulating looking at tables and binders. It wasn’t until later that I realized that this was Bangkok’s “amulet market” a place for people from varying professions to buy talismans to bring them luck or protection. Apparently they can range in price from almost nothing to megabucks for rarer antique ones.

The Grand Palace

Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace comprise some of the original areas settled when Bangkok was founded. It’s a massive complex of buildings surrounded by a wall and filled with about 8 billion chinese tourists. I’m sure I’m now in the background of thousands of selfie stick taken photos. It’s a pretty expensive admission ($20CAD) by Thailand standards but you get to tour the temple complex as well as the old royal palace (apparently now only slightly used by the King for ceremonial tasks.) The architecture was astounding throughout the temple district with a pretty wide range of styles even to my western eye though the central “Boht” holding the Emerald buddha was probably the highlight.

Almost next door to the complex is another religious complex called Wat Pho. This one most definitely has more of the feeling of a working temple though it also houses a thai massage school due to the cultural protection of the practice. The highlight of the complex is the truly massive reclining golden buddha statue measuring something like 50m long.

Also there were temple kitties everywhere:

In between the two complexes someone asked me for directions (I guess because I looked like I spoke english) thankfully asking me for the one thing I knew how to find.

Once I finished at the temples I still had some energy so I started exploring further east, at first somewhat randomly but then realizing I was close to Bangkok’s chinatown I headed there and began exploring the warren of tunnel like alleys that make up the sizable chunk of town. Stall after stall of textiles, clothes, shoes, aliexpress random stuff mixed in with some pretty incredible street food. In the end I didn’t partake because I had something else in mind for dinner but I may when back in Bangkok. At this point though 85% humidity and 34C were catching up to me so after checking out the train station on the edge of Chinatown for some info on future bookings I hopped a cab back to the guest house for a swim and a shower.

Not going to lie, between the 50 odd degree temp swap in a couple days, lack of sleep and all the walking I gave in an had a brief nap, but I also had the name Hemlock in my head. After stirring and watching some godawful british game show on my flickery tv I found it in my guidebook. A tasty relatively inexpensive thai place with an extensive menu of things you wouldn’t find everywhere, and the reason it was stuck in my head was that it was all of 50 feet down the street. Seemed like an excellent day to end day one.

A different but delicious green curry, some Lahb and some shrimp rolls later I was done from top to bottom.I managed to sit down at a bar nearby and have a Singha as a decent local played some guitar but after about another hour it was all I could do to stagger back to the hotel, grab a couple water bottles for my mini fridge then stumble into bed.

…it’s been how long since your last holiday?

Arriving for an 8:45 departure to a mostly empty Richardson Airport and being able to leisurely go through security at my own pace was one of the last civilized things about the outbound leg of the journey actually that’s probably a bit strong, the first leg (YWG to YVR) wasn’t bad as I had a 2 person side of a row to myself. However, the next leg was the big hop… a twelve hour bounce from Vancouver to Hong Kong that I was happy I’d managed to snag on Cathay Pacific vs. an inferior airline…

…truth be told, it was still better than it could have been. The entertainment options were decent, the legroom adequate by modern airline standards and the plane itself on the newer side and not quite as noisy as the beat up old Air Canada plane I took on my last overseas trip back from rome. Unfortunately I’d been assigned a spot more or less at the back of the plane (only one row between me and the washrooms/kitchen prep area) on the outer aisle with the world’s most annoying seatmate in the middle. I got a bad vibe almost immediately from him as he simply stood next to me wanting to get in without even a gesture, and when I stood to let him in he immediately threw all of his junk on my seat and took roughly five minutes to get settled in as I kept having to dodge the flight attendants. Sadly things didn’t get any better when I sat down.

Now I get that I’m no one’s ideal seat neighbour on a plane. Though most of my ample frame fits in an airline seat well enough my shoulders are definitely too wide for more or less any compact seating arrangement (as anyone that’s sat next to me at GSAC can attest.) As a result I was at first quite happy that a relatively small asian man was next to me. That initial bad vibe was pretty immediately backed up though as my new friend dropped his tray table pre-taxi in order to spread out and read every newspaper he’d been able to grab from the front of the plane. He did not do as most people do on an aircraft and fold the paper so as to be able to read it within the confines of his seat but instead spread it out with his full wingspan so that if it had been in English I could have done the crossword. Eventually the flight attendant managed to get him to settle down a bit for takeoff but that behaviour was only a harbinger of things to come.

I have trouble sleeping on planes to begin with. I have to be very tired to begin with and even then mostly drop off only to wake up quickly again after a minute or two. I’d really prepped for this one though. The flight was late (taking off around 2am home time) and I’d purposely not slept in at all that day in hopes of being just zonked when I got on the plane. Mission accomplished on that, but I didn’t plan for Mr. Middleseat. We’d just finished the dinner they rather bizarrely served on reaching cruising altitude (at everyone’s relative 1:30am or later time?) which I’d eaten mostly for not knowing how long it would be til more food and most people were settling in to try and grab some sleep. We both stood to let the window seat woman out for a pee (and in the end we all went) before settling back in for what I hoped was a few hours of peace. Not so much, he took off the preposterously heavy jacket he was wearing and jammed it down between us rather than putting it under the seat or in the surprisingly empty overhead bin then proceeded to turn up his video system to the brightest possible level and volume and watch a kung fu movie with so many random flashing action scenes it was a good thing we didn’t have epileptics behind us. He snorted about every five minutes until I just knew I was going to get sick(er as I was already recovering from a cold.) I’m not sure where he was from especially as he was a wizened older dude but though he clearly read the cantonese on the menu as he’d point to things but then yelled at the attendants seemingly not understanding them so I’m guessing it was not his first language.

He jammed his elbows into me at every opportunity, had his foot down inside the well of the seat in front of me for a good half hour until I finally “accidentally” kick him hard enough he got the message. I’d recoiled enough from him that unfortunately it just meant that every time a flight attendant or bathroom person came by they’d bump hard into my shoulder and wake me up. Not that it really mattered in any case as he felt absolutely no shame in stretching and just random shoving his shoulder hard into my personal space (or the window lady as he once knocked her glasses clean off.) My only moment of hope came about 4 hours into the flight, his movie had ended and he was scrolling through the options for another before seemingly giving up and was facing enough in the other direction that his spasms were mostly missing me. I managed to fall asleep for about fifteen minutes (based on the songs that had gone on my soft playlist on the noise cancelling headphones) when suddenly I was smacked by a flight attendant yelling NOODLES! Yes folks apparently Cathay Pacific randomly serves hot chicken noodles on the plane, which is cool and all but honest to god it’s the middle of the night, can’t we save the hot food a bit longer and just gently toss people some pretzels or cookies if they have middle of the night munchies? I did not partake being still full from late night dinner but MiddleMan did of course, with as little courtesy as before, his elbows flying out so far that if I’d gotten noodles on my tray they would have been on my lap or the cabin floor.

He decided to up the ante after his snack and pulled out an ipad (full brightness of course) on which he proceeded to watch what I think was the previous movie in the series that he watched on the in flight entertainment system while still leaving the other screen on in full brightness as well. I had a movie on in low brightness mode which was easily the equal of most tvs in picture quality in the darkened cabin so there was no reason for it but alas. Sleep efforts were further hampered about an hour later by a woman bringing her screaming toddler to the back of the plane presumably so she could walk him around and wake up everyone back there rather than her husband in the equally uncramped midplane potty area.

Suffice it to say by the time we finally landed in a rainy/foggy Hong Kong both of us wanted to kill the man. I let him out of the row ahead of me to leave and window seat woman and I shared the weariest expression, but no words. At this point I’d probably managed about an hour’s sleep mostly in five minute increments over the previous 29ish hours and my head was feeling about as foggy as the view outside. Unfortunately of course I was only in Hong Kong and had a layover/flight left to go. Hong Kong International helpfully puts a giant “immigration paper” desk right next to the transfer doorway so there was a giant cloud of us buzzing around for a while before making it through the renewed security checkpoint (I don’t really understand why I need to be metal detected again.) Once into the terminal I was honestly very worried about sleeping through the flight so I plonked myself down right at the gate and didn’t move. As usual in a multiflight itinerary where you have ample layover time built in both the previous flights had arrived slightly early to extend the layover then the final flight departed and arrived late because otherwise it would be convenient.

Bangkok airport arrivals were further confusing though to be fair that might have been sleepybrain talking. You are pointed to “visa on arrival” which requires filling out a form and paying money etc. Now academically I knew Canadians didn’t require a visa for a shorter stay but there was no sign making it clear where to go otherwise. Thankfully while I was standing there trying to find my pen a nice airport official came up and directed me to standard immigration/customs. Thankfully the rest was a breeze, relatively quick customs line, easy baggage retrieval and a quick pick up of a sim card later I was on the freeway in a cab heading for my guest house and getting my first taste of the insanity of Bangkok traffic (much more to come on that.)

The guest house itself was recommended as cheap/clean/quiet by my friend Jodi (and Chris) and was as advertised, thankfully they were ready for me to check in and after a quick shower and a bottle of water I was snug in bed at 2pm for a solid solid nap before waking up for a quickie bite in the restaurant/walk and back to bed for a good twelve hours of sleep. I’ll save the initial impressions of this wild city for the next post.


So last night’s megastorm managed to hit just late enough into my baseball game that we didn’t get to play much but were too far along to fit in another show before our planned late night outings. Oh well, at least I got noodles!


Girl’s End: Zombie Apocalypse- Venue #6

It’s unfinished. That much is obvious even without reading about it being a work in progress. The last 1/3 of an already pretty short (~40m) show feels flimsy and the ending is at best tacked on.  Despite this I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know who likes goofy musical theatre because the songs are great and the spunky performance from one woman powerhouse Jenna Warriner makes it totally worth it. Bring it back as a finish product please folks.



Fruit Flies Like a Banana – Venue #10

The unclassifiable genre for this one is pretty accurate. Music, Dance, Performance Art? Whatever you want to call it, these three multitalented performers from Boston spend an hour barrelling their way through one heck of a show. As a recovering Bass Trombone player myself I had a soft spot for the day in the life of a bass trombone bit, but most bits were great and everything was at the very least interesting. I thought it was hilarious that they pulled out an old radio free vestibule bit that I was pretty sure only my high school friend and I had ever heard of.

4.5/5 (admittedly probably not to the taste of people not into music)


Happiness – Venue #8

This didn’t do as much for me as it seems to for some people. It’s a tale of two self-help product pushers facing the biggest launch of their lives just as their facade of self confidence begins to crumble. The performances were great but something about it didn’t quite grab me, thinking back now though I’m willing to admit I may just not have been in the right headspace for it at that moment.

3/5 (others feel differently)


Gossamer Obsessions: Wilt -Venue #2

This one on the other hand I was in perfect headspace for.  Fractured parables for life (and death?) A mysterious (and evil?) apple. Pretty much indescribable but delightfully weird and funny. Not much more can be said without spoiling things. Like “an Iron Maiden made of pillows… the punishment is DECADENCE.” I can get behind that.



In Search of Cruise Control – Venue #1

I was never able to get in to see James Gangl’s previous show ‘Sex, Religion and other Hang-ups’ but I heard pretty great things. His followup is a weird and emotionally charged beast. The story of his transition from guilty catholic teen to giving his nephew the proper sex talk he never got is an entertaining one before a sharp sharp turn into a revelation that shatters (purposefully) the easy ryhtym of the show and suddenly gives new meaning to some of the earlier passages. It’s a testament to Gangl’s skill as a storyteller that he takes the audiences shock and weaves it back into the previous narrative to bring us full circle. It’s one heck of an accomplishment in my opinion and I hope it’s as cathartic a show as it seems to be for him.



DND Improv – Revisit

My cousin has been a fan in previous years and since this was the only night he could hit fringe we checked in for another installment. I stand by my earlier comments about possible staleness (I really do hope they take a year off while the GSAC redev is going on) but this episode was much much better.


Dr. Caligari’s Cabaret of Bullshit

For those who have never attended, the cabaret is a fundraiser traditionally held at midnight and involving a swathe of performers from across the fringe. It’s heavy on the out of town performers and (at least as was explained to me years ago by a performer) is meant as a thank you to the city. This year it was organized by Tara Travis/Penny Ashton and other mainstays. Lighting is provided by audience members using flashlights and a good chunk of the audience is performers who may or may not be on stage at some point. Bits are esoteric and numerous. Last night’s show included mashups of shows, a ‘who’s had the worst fringe’ faceoff between accident victim Fraz and review assassinated Jon Bennett in a bunny costume, rants from TJ Dawe and Jem Rolls, Cameryn Moore and Tonya Miller getting into a feminist sex call faceoff and an opera performance! Honestly you never know what you’re going to see.

Thoughtfully always held at a licensed venue too! If you’ve never been make plans for next year (and don’t do as I did and try to go to work the next day)


Sadly we’re now into the last few days of fringe and the masochist in me  won’t let himself skip tonight’s inevitable blue bomber shellacking by the Stampeders so it’s going to be one lunchtime show for me today. Also sleep because I got home from the cabaret just before 2 and couldn’t fall asleep until 3… then had a staff meeting first thing.

Plans for the weekend include catching up on a few fun sounding shows I’ve missed, checking out a few people who impressed me at the cabaret and attending the final (ever?) performance of the current lineup of Outside Joke and indeed probably the final performance of Outside Joke in their current improvised musical format as it’s Leif who is committing more fully to his new life in Edmonton (boo.)

Hope to see you fringing!



How high is my laundry pile?

There has been more concrete rumblings about the sad state of Fringe reviewing in the city this year. Due to recent choices by the freep CBC has become the defacto Review importance champ but they are either not reviewing EVERYTHING or doing what they’re doing extremely slowly, having the Metro as a print partner is a nice choice though. And while the Winnipeg Free Press IS reviewing every show this year, they are maintaining their infuriating pay wall. That said, at least they have mechanisms to sort and filter reviews whereas CBC is one long “press to load more” page of nonsense. The CBC actually used to have a pretty great fringe site but either by lack of budget or non-flexibility of their CMS (most likely both imo) they now have a garbage web experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the Freep feels the need for a paywall as they struggle in this day and age, but they need to make an exception. As our only ‘good’ newspaper it would be really nice to see them make this SPECIAL section a free feature of the website. Not only would this make them relevant again (right now people are only mentioning the WFP reviews if they got a bad CBC one,) it would be better for out of town visitors and might be a good showpiece on why locals (young people in particular) might want to subscribe for their arts coverage.

In terms of general fringe health, attendance was down a fair bit for the first few days but that’s likely at least partly a product of pretty changeable weather for chunks of the weekend. Things definitely won’t be setting a new record but seem healthy at least.


Everybody Dies In December – Venue #11

The new show from Nancy Kenny creator of ‘Roller Derby Saved My Soul’ and the documentary ‘On The Fringe.’ It’s a very different show than Roller Derby and I think that might be what made her reviews a bit less than stellar. We join Claire the Mortician as she bares her soul while preparing her clients for their last visit with the living and enjoys a last conversation with them as well. It’s a slower paced, darker comedy and one I quite enjoyed, though I can see why it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea.



Curious Contagious – Venue #1

My second shadow puppetry extravaganza of the fringe. I’m ashamed to say I dozed off at one point. That’s mostly on me and my somewhat ragged state sleep-wise. That said, as gifted as these two women are at the various techniques they use in their unicorn tale I felt as if certain sequences went on a bit too long. Again that may be on me as this definitely shaded more towards the dance side rather than the story/comedy side of Space Hippo. Still, I really enjoyed it and the music was great too.



Falling Awake – Venue #2

Two gifted performers delighting the packed audience with a show that’s all physical comedy with elements of magic, mime and mystery. What’s more they survived a near catastrophic set collapse with grace and a lot of laughs. I hope we see them again next year.



President Bear – Venue #8

Their 2 star review might have been a bit harsh but it was also pretty on the nose. There’s a lot of potential here, particularly amongst the female cast members, but not a lot of polish. Most of the sketches outstayed their welcome to some degree and could have benefited from either more ruthless self editing or a workshop with an outside writer. Three or four more quality sketches and probably around 25% cut from the existing ones and they’d be looking at a 4-5 star review. Their filmed interstitials were great but you can’t rely on those too much. If they take their experience at this festival and learn from it we might have another great sketchcom group on our hands.



As for that laundry pile… let’s just say if you don’t hear from me after the Fringe it probably became sentient and ate me.

Another Fringe, a lot less time…

So we’re on day six of the 2016 Winnipeg Fringe Festival and I haven’t posted any reviews here yet, what gives?

Truth be told I’ve just been too busy at work and combined with a late start (thanks so much to the CFL for scheduling two bomber home games this week) I just haven’t had time other than a few twitter musings. Still, I’m a bunch of shows in at this point so let’s do a rundown with some very very quick reviews.

One Woman Sex and the City – Venue 4

Super energetic performer, non stop energy. As someone who hasn’t seen SATC after season 2 except for the occasional ep I didn’t get as much out of it as a lot of the audience but the script and performance won me over anyway.



Jupiter Rebellion with Zach Zultana – Venue 7

Even four days later this is still the standout of the fringe for me so far. Jeff Leard paints a vivid picture and does his best to create his sci-fi epic right inside your head. The fact that he does this as one man on a tiny spare stage with a minimum of lighting and great physicality makes it a must see.



5-Step Guide to being German 2 – Venue 1

I’d heard good things about Paco Erhard’s previous effort and it was indeed an enjoyable time. Nothing too groundbreaking just a pleasant standup routine based on national perceptions. Is either being nice or at least overly generous with his credit on Canadian geography skills though (sadly.)



The Beguiling Buffoonery of Jim Chiminey – Venue 26 (the place with the stairs)

God I hate this venue, the stairs are one thing but it’s more the reaching the top and finding yourself standing there on the steps in an area with no a/c or even airflow. It’s a throwback to the bad old days of fringe (die forever Ragpickers upstairs venue) but then you get into the venue proper and the A/C chills you to the bone. Luckily everyone’s favourite Shelby  Bond is there with an adorable physical clown show to lift your spirits to the rafters. There really isn’t any describing it, just go and smile.



One Man Dark Knight – Venue 1

Actually the Dark Knight trilogy. if you’ve seen a Charles Ross show before you know what to expect. Rapid fire, great impressions, great parody and asides. Being as I’m only really a fan of the middle film of this trilogy I enjoyed it less than his previous efforts but he’s still a gifted performer. That said, have to knock off some points for the sound, the combination of a lot of very whispery impressions and the less than stellar acoustics of the 3/4 closed off Mainstage made chunks of the show inaudible. This one would have been better suited for Warehouse I think.



Peter N’ Chris – Here Lies Chris – Venue 16

What at first seems like a departure from their norm into more of a standard sketch show is quickly revealed to have an overall narrative as well.  I more or less stumbled into seeing these guys for the first time during the overnight fringe years back and haven’t missed a show since. This one is probably my favourite since the first. Their incredible physicality and seemingly effortless charisma makes this show just fly by.



Papa Squat – Venue 13

The sequel show to the fantastic Ain’t True & Uncle False brings us a touching love story folk tale from the trailer park down by the Pea Punching plant. It’s an indescribable mix of story, song and feelings dragged down by a venue I despise. I get that the fringe is hurting for venues this year with Alloway Hall shut down and Planetarium Auditorium not being used (not sure why? is the construction affecting it as well?) but putting official shows out off this far in an incredibly cold hall with threadbare broken spring seats is just sad (this made worse by the fact I saw three shows in a row there.) This is the kind of venue you use for a BYOV so that they can schedule a few shows to maximum effect not for a main venue. Of course now that I say that I realize I’m just assuming it’s NOT a BYOV.



Burn Job – Venue 13

It’s TJ Dawe’s latest, what more do you need?   Ok, well if you need a bit more I’ll just say it’s a bit more of a return to a broader story and less focused on his personal involvement with new age personality stuff (though that comes up a bit as well.)



Best Picture – Venue 13

I’m finding it hard to say anything here. It was perfectly enjoyable and the cast certainly gave it their all but…  I’ve seen Tara Travis and Jon Patterson be so incredibly great in other stuff that I found this somewhat disappointing. It might just be that it seems to have been a last minute replacement for the show that was supposed to be in this slot (The Paladin) and I believe Tara was only filling in for someone else. Between this and Fraz apparently being injured and unable to appear in 2-Hander it’s not a great festival for RibbitRepublic.



SiddiqiJones – Venue 11

These guys tried hard it was a weirdly dead audience even by sunday afternoon show and they were getting absolutely no energy back. I’ve heard from multiple people that they’re talented but it just wasn’t working on this occasion. I really don’t think this a great venue for improv either which doesn’t help. Would see them again but this particular performance was solidly meh.



Space Hippo – Venue 8

Last year I saw these two present the very weird but very neat show ONI a very very japanese shadow puppetry extravaganza. I thought it was great but needed some work on pacing/production. They’ve put in that work and this show is pretty darned fantastic. In fact I hesitate to even call it shadow puppetry because that doesn’t really do it justice/might scare people off. If that fantastic poster hasn’t convinced you to give it a shot then listen to me and try it out (and if you love the poster they have pristine ones available for a donation.)



Outside Joke – Venue 18

Brilliant as always. Jane Testar’s ridiculous expression as she presented then played the maracas made my day. Seriously see them this year as it’s the last time (officially) that Leif will be doing the music.



DnDImprov – Venue 18

It pains me to say it, but I really wasn’t feeling it this year, we’ll see if that changes next performance I go to. Part of that is a few of the die hards, one woman in particular yelling out crap pretty constantly like ‘FIGHT’  or commenting on a scene. We didn’t come here to listen to youDefinitely wasn’t helped by multiple people going to the bathroom or leaving via the front of the stage and letting the big door slam either.  Performance wise it wasn’t cutting it for me either as people I consider the strength of the show didn’t seem to be given enough to do. I think they’re really missing Fraz Wiest too as his characters are always great at bringing the anarchy to the show.

I’m sort of torn on whether the multimedia stuff is really great either, the Windows 10 reminder was a pretty good unintentional laugh however.


Overall it’s been a good fringe so far but it has definitely felt ‘down’ attendance wise (sporadic intense rain can do that) so get out and see some shows! More to come!

The post-mortem

The Mystery of Krumhorn Castle – Kiss the Giraffe – Venue #1

I have been hot and cold on Joseph Aragon musicals over the years. Some of them are brilliant productions produced to perfection and featuring stellar casts, others have really let me down and been merely ok. I’m happy to say that he knocked this one out of the park, both in terms of creating a fun, family friendly story with catchy hummable tunes and in casting a group of actors who can project on a large stage, sing ensemble parts with power and flair (see my review of Chess for the counterpoint here.) This show is basically a 14 year old’s idea of a great monster/horror movie with kung fu orphans, weird monsters, a mad scientist and a portal to another world. As mentioned the singing is great, the choreography has the cast using the entire stage and clever multi use set dressing keeps everything looking great on a budget. Kudos to everyone involved.


Big Stupid Improv Show – Venue #21

The BSIS is always a fun time but definitely varies in style and tone based on the cast for any particular show. Since the cast is also entirely dependent on who happens to be free/wants to perform your mileage may vary.  On this occasion we got both guys from Crumbs (Steve from Crumbs runs the thing,) a parking lots guy, a guy named Mike who I feel I should know but can’t remember, Caity Curtis from Steven’s scripted play and Toby and Robyn from Outside Joke. As usual they played director’s cut long form improv and produced a great show for us.


Hot Thespian Action:Back in Black – GSAC

After taking a summer off (boo) and losing a member to her solo career (double boo) HTA is back with a completely new show. Near as I can tell there were absolutely zero sequel sketches in this one which was nice to see. These folks remain the gold standard of Winnipeg sketchcom, here’s hoping Jacquie comes back once in a while for a show though.


D&D Improv 8 finale – GSAC

The annual bloodbath episode. The story is concluded, the special effects are used up (though I feel like the blood bottles were underused or simply not used when they should have been this year), most everyone dies and the cast takes their final bows. Toby Hughes’ quizmaster death was the highlight for me when (as he succumbed to the mind flayer) he goaded his killer into eating his brains only to reveal in his death monologue that the flayer would have to speak in rhyming verse from then on. Unfortunately that was somewhat early on in the show and I personally think Toby is one of their best stage fighters. Still a great time though with an energetic audience that the cast obviously adores. The finale is going to keep selling out earlier and earlier each year.  Good news for fans though, they’ll be doing a fall show again this year as part of an Outside Joke season of yuks performance.


Overheard in line: “I just saw the most amazing show… 10 guitars.” TEN? I guess Chase Padgett really needs to step up his game for next fringe.

Highlight: Has to be the D&D finale for its total wild and crazy bloodbath nature but this was a great day.



For the last day of fringe I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d get out or not. The last day is always so sad as the crews start ripping everything down the instant the last show starts. Combined with that was the fact that there were no best of fests this year, often the last day is where I make an effort to see one best of fest show that I’ve missed earlier in the week and between the line/show I’m usually done after that one show. With the super pass this year though I wasn’t going to pass up a few more free shows. In the end I decided the best way to mitigate the sadness was to skip old market square and finally catch some things at MTYP @ the forks. I really hope the artists out at the Forks make enough to make their outlays worthwhile. When Gemma Wilcox is only half full it makes me somewhat curious re: attendance numbers at these venues. I don’t know why but the Forks seems so remote from the rest of the fest even though PTE/U of W aren’t that much closer and GSAC is farther but it definitely is the case for myself and others I spoke to.


Magical Mystery Detour – Gemma Wilcox – Venue #21

Gemma Wilcox is a serious fringe star and this show represents the final chapter in the trilogy of her one woman shows (though they are all stand-alone as well.) While I personally didn’t like this one quite as much as her previous offerings, her energetic portrayal of a myriad of characters still won me over.


Barely Living – Shelby Bond (& friends) – Venue #21

Shelby genuinely seems like a great guy. Everyone I know who is friends with him seems to reiterate this. I always really enjoyed him in his Sound and Fury days (along with Vinnie,) I really enjoyed his solo show and his One Man Back to the Future.  This show, while it had its moments, was not of the same class. The acting was far from even (prep underdone perhaps?) the writing could probably have used another pass (a few of the jokes were far far too obvious) and the addition of a makeup artist to transform an audience member into the undead girl of Shelby’s dreams was fun but really not enough of a gimmick to make the rest work flawlessly. Still fun and worth a freebie but I hope he comes back with something better next year.


Big Stupid Improv Show – Venue #21

Since I was over here anyway I decided to pack in another BSIS in hopes that a bunch of performers might come out to say goodbye to the festival. Seems like they were over doing karaoke instead as we had only 5 people. Steve and Caity again of course joined by Fraz Wiest, Mike from the previous show and someone else I’m completely spacing on. While I liked the stories this time round I think they probably should have either gone with three directors and longer cuts or used a completely different structure as (at least in my mind) five people is too few for directors cut as everyone pretty much has to be in every scene all the time. There’s no quick creativity recharge breaks in the wings.



Sadly that marks the end of probably my favourite fringe ever. Even though I didn’t get to see as many shows with friends as I would have liked, I did get to see a new record number (46, of which some reviews are missing up here) and a quality level that was simply amazing. I know that my lack of stinkers was partially due to scheduling pretty much everything and never having a window where I’ve been turned away from a sellout and choose something at random; Yet it still seems remarkable that I haven’t seen anything this year that I would ‘un-see’ if given the opportunity.

Fringe is, by far, my favourite time of year in this city. The exchange is so alive with people nearly every hour of the day. I can skip out of work and take in a show on my lunch hour and get back to my desk with something from a food truck. I can more or less live down here for the entire festival. And now? It’s back to the real world I suppose. Back to paying attention to the terrible Bombers, back to home reno work, back to actually eating a bit healthier instead of enjoying yet another taco or pizza or butter chicken in the beer tent. Yet at the same time I take inspiration from this time of year. Once the house is shaped up a bit I may finally get around to taking that improv class to get my theatre chops back. I may even start writing that thing I always wanted to write (yes vague but whatever! Secret!)

To the staff and volunteers, thank you. To CBC Manitoba for the super pass, super thank you. But above all to the writers and performers: Thank you for the entertainment, the energy, the eye opening inspiration. You make everything come alive, in the words of this year’s slogan. We are ALL fringefamily here!

See you in 2016!