Published: September 1st 2009August 31st 2009
Okay, you all know (especially Dad) what it's like to write something on the computer and then have it disappear before your eyes. That just happened and it's irritating! lol, anyway, here we go.
From my journal today: Restaruant in Ko Tau
"Lost and Found Item of the Week: this journal, at a clothing shop in Hat Rin. Retrieved two days later.
Broken Item of the Week: my glasses. I stepped on them in the bathroom in Bottle Beach.
"Let me start with an apology for the paucity of pictures. I was a bit too paranoid about theft when I got to Thailand and I kept the camera hidden away for too much of the early-going.
"I'm now sitting in a restaurant in Ko Tau. I'm sitting maybe 5 or 6 meters from the water on a deck above the beach. The sky is dark for 5:30 pm. It isn't raining now but it was on the boat ride up here from Ko Phangan. I remember this approaching wall of menacing cloud, the drop in temperature and the sudden rainfall as the squall forced everyone below deck. Now I'm facing the water, listening to the
waves crash ashore as I write this. And it's windy. And I mean wind-chill goose-bump producing wind. I'm feeling spacey-headed so I rehydrate on a coconut shake.
"I've just signed up for diving at one of the MANY dive shops on Ko Tao (this is the reason to come here). It's a four day PADI course, about $300, and the certificate allows you to dive anywhere in the world. "An investment," I told a friend. She laughed. I wasn't expecting that. And, well, ya, how often will I go diving. Not to mention I'm terrified of the water. When I swim in the ocean, I stay close to shore. There's sharks, there's drowning, and there's weird fish in the water. But I decided I NEEDED to this while I was on the beach in Ko Phangan. So, here I am. KhaoSan
"Let's go back a week to Bangkok. I stayed in an area called Banglamphu, the area surrounding Khao San Road. My guesthouse, Baan Sabai, had the ridiculously cheap rate of 170 Baht (about $5-6). For that price you get a bed. And a fan. Your room is slightly larger than the bed. Your walls are paper
Back to Khao San
A bar/restaurant I fancied in Banglamphu, near Khao San
thin. Your bathroom is shared and down the hall. The signs on the walls say "Do not leave valuables in your room. We are not responsible for them. You can use the safety deposit boxes." Lonely Planet warns of credit cards unlocking these boxes from inside and then going on shopping sprees. No wonder I was paranoid about theft. Baan Sabai was clean, however. And that, I've learned, is the most important thing.
"I spent two days wandering around Khao San and Banglamphu and settling in. I'll admit it. I didn't leave the neighbourhood. At all. It was too comfortable. For the first day I was just.. happy. Yes, Khao San is dirty, loud, obnoxious and cliched. But not for me. I liked the laid back atmosphere, the "decompression chamber" as LP calls it, the endless backpackers, the cheap no frills lodging, the bars playing American movies, the hawkers selling what every backpacker wants: souvenirs, clothes, music, books, gear, transport tickets, etc. The place is a pit stop to everywhere in Southeast Asia, a retreat to re-stock and plan. The pirate town for backpackers. And that's cool.
"I spent a good amount of time with the Frenchman I
In the restaurant, writing.
mentioned in the last post 'Alive in Khao San...'. He remarked, on my first day here, that he found Thais to be unfriendly, [insert heavy French accent] 'constantly' focused on business. He found that even a friendly start, like asking about your home country was just a clever way to get you comfortable before starting the pitch. I understand what he's saying. The ever-constant "hello, where you going" can get grating. After a while, you just tune it out. But after a week here in Thailand, I can comfortabley say that I strongly disagree. Once you get past the business, everyone just chills out. People are happy enough to talk, to joke around, to ask questions and to answer yours, often with a smile. I remember walking down the street in Banglamphu, as a taxi driver starts the usual "hello, my friend, where you going". I barely hear him as I walk past. "100 Baht!" I hear from over my shoulder. The guy has started bidding even though I haven't given him a destination or any inclination to get in his taxi. "50 Baht!" I'm still not really listening. Like I said, you try to shut it out. "1 Baht!"
Dogs at Play
There are dogs everywhere in Thailand. All seem to live outdoors and many look diseased. These looked better looked after. The dog on the right went into the sea after the ball.
I turn around and he's smiling. I laugh and continue on my way. Another time, I'm looking at buying something from a street vendor. In truth, I'd avoided browsing too much in general because the salespeople invariably make every situation high-pressure. But this time I know I want to buy. So I'm taking my time, looking for somethign I like. The Thai saleswoman is helpful, if a little pushy. An older white (I don't remember the accent now) man comes strolling by. "How much for this?" he gestures towards some shirts. "400 Baht," she says. That's expensive. I almost sympathize with him until he says something like "that's too much, hunny" and tries to pinch her cheek. She recoils and the guy quickly moves on. Ugh. Restaurant in Ko Tao
"Mmmm... red curry has arrived! Followed by beer! Mmmmm.... I need a job when I get back. I can't help but start thinking about it. The first thing that comes to me is working in a bar. Why? Because it would symbolize the continuation of my trip. It would allow me to continue the adventure of putting myself in uncoventional situations (and I mean, unconventional specifically for me). It
doesn't have to be a bar, but it has to be the Toronto equivalent of teaching English in Korea - something you are doing for a little living cash and to broaden your experiences. With the bar job at nights, just to make money, then what? Try to get coffee for a journalist at a magazine? Find a non-profit to get my feet wet in? Rescue children that fall down wells? I don't know. A dog just calmly braved waves bigger than he is to get a ball out of the sea. I'm not sure the owner noticed. From Bangkok to Ko Phangnan
"Just like the recent diving decision, I knew I NEEDED to go the beaches from Bangkok. I booked the night train from Bangkok. The train was late of course. I waited on the platform, sitting on my rucksack. Half the passengers on this popoular tourist route were foreigners. I started chatting with a German woman beside me. She was surprised to learn this was my first trip. It felt good to be mistaken for a long-time traveller. The train was rattier than I expected - cockroaches, crowding, a dilapidated "lived-in" feel. The second-class set up consists
of a central walkway with small bunk-beds lining each side. The upper berths don't get window access and pay a little less. That's where I was. The 11 hour trip was consistently unpleasant. I passed the time by reading "the Beach", following the protagonists from their rat-hole in Khao San, on the same train, to Ko Phangan, and finally, to a secret island - all in search of a little paradise, a place untouched by 7-11 and hordes of drunken tourists. I had trouble sleeping that night. Stupid germans, drinking and smoking.
"The train is followed by a bus ride, and finally, by a ferry ride. The boat is just as crowded. Half the people, including myself, have chosen to take the ride above deck. I listen to Ali Farka, matching the mood perfectly. Dozing bodies cover every inch of deck space. I was one of the last to get on, so I'm not afforded the luxury of lying down. But I slept better than they did and am not fighting a hangover. The only people not quietly dozing are another pair of talkative Germans beside me, the original motivation for the headphones and Ali Farka. I finished The
Ferry ride to Ko Phangan
on the boat ride - the end is disturbing.
"At the port in Surat Thani, Ko Phangnan, I met a trio of Israelis going to Hat Rin, on the southern tip of the island. Hat Rin is party central, home to the gigantic Full-Moon Party, and apparently, hordes of Israelis. It's funny - every time I hear Hebrew, I want to say hello. But, then I remember my Hebrew isn't exactly perfect. They were an interesting bunch. All three had motorcycle rashes, known as the "Ko Phangan tattoos" since they are so common. It put a damper on my desires to rent a scooter. We talked mostly in English since I couldn't keep up with them in Hebrew. As we wandered into Hat Rin, they told me they wanted to find lunch before finding a guesthouse. Sounds good. But then they tell me they want Israeli food, because not one of them likes Thai food. And of course, because it's Thailand and because it's Hat Rin, we have no problem finding an Israeli restaurant with Hebrew speaking Thai staff. 'So all three of you', I ask, 'came all the way to Thailand to eat Israeli food?' The
Between beaches. There are no good pictures of Hat Rin, because I'm an idiot and didn't snap pictures of Hebrew signs. I'll try again in Bangkok.
"I spent one night in Hat Rin. I missed the partying because I came down with a light fever, nausea and the chills. I realized later that it was dehydration. I'd spent the day wandering up and down the streets with my heavy backpack, being choosy about my accomodations. From Hat Rin, I went to Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi (YOU try to pronounce that). It was too... resorty. Couples everywhere. Over-priced beach bars. Not a good vibe. After a night there, I took a long-tail boat (see pictures) to Bottle Beach, where I stayed at the creatively named Bottle Beach 2 (BB2) Resort. I'd gone there, admittedly, because LP described it as "the current darling of the self-respecting backpacker posse," a comical if flowing phrase. Bottle Beach is only accessible by boat, a charming quality in itself.
"BB2 was nice. I'd chosen it, over the other resorts on the beach, because it didn't look as nice. For 250 Baht (7 or 8 dollars) a night, I got a little cabin, right on the beach. I spent three nights there. During the day I read on the beach, pausing for breaks to swim and eat. At night,
I hung out with what little comapny there was - a few more Germans and French. Watched the movie version of The Beach - god, it sucked. I think it might be the last movie before Leo Dicap figured out how to act. My cabin became more and more uncomfortable as ants and then cockroaches made a bridgehead into the bathroom. Despite my valiant "water-cannon" mass-murder methods, they kept coming back. I changed rooms.
"I learned that people will rent out these cabins for months at a time. Months. Of the beach. I guess one aim of my three days was to get a taste of that, of doing nothing. While "The Beach" is a cliche, there is some truth to the feeling of wanting that untouched paradise to live in for a while. To the dismay at development (even though it is enriching Thailand) everywhere.
"Imagine that you're swimming in the sea, on your back, face up to the sky. You're swimming parallel to the shore, not too far out. When you look down, you see the sun setting over the mountain top at the end of the beach. The water is calm and warm as you
slowly backstroke your way to the guesthouse.
"Another moment: at dusk the skies open up. Flashes of lightning appear every few seconds in different parts of the sky, sometimes near, sometimes far away over the water. I can hear the rain flattening out the sand, banging on my rooftop. I'm sitting on the porch, chatting idly with an English couple next door, watching the show.
"In truth, it can get boring. I might have done it for a week. But, that would be enough. I'd long (and I did long, after only three days) for a little adventure."
There are more photos below