Thailand - Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Bangkok


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February 16th 2012
Published: February 16th 2012
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Thailand:

I decided to use Thailand as a resting point before the major part of my trip begins. I flew to Phuket from Kuala Lumpur and took a bus to my hotel in Patong. Patong is one of the biggest party towns I’ve ever seen. I got there late and was a bit hungry so I walked a few blocks to Bangla Road thinking I would find something. The streets were completely filled with people; with the occasional moped trying to make it’s way through the crowd. The clubs there really don’t have doors since it’s so hot. Each club seemed to be competing with the one beside it for how loud they could play their music. Prostitutes and ‘ladyboys’ were everywhere. I noticed a lot of people video recording some of the dancers from the street, probably wondering if the dancer was a guy or girl. I came to find out that the ‘ladyboy’ phenomenon is big in Thailand because homosexuality is still taboo – but I guess it’s no problem if a guy wants to dress up like a chick.

The next morning I got up early and took a walk on the beach. Phuket has some of the nicest beaches I’ve ever seen. The water is warm and at this time of year there aren’t really any waves. When I got back to my hotel I had a message from a former colleague at Deloitte whose sister lives in Phuket. I was able to meet her and her boyfriend for lunch that day in nearby Kata Beach. Chi and Paul took me to lunch. Paul had traveled all over the world working for companies that extract minerals. He even lived in Mongolia for five years. I totally understand why he chose to live in Phuket after that experience. I had my favorite dish, Pad Thai. I think I probably ate Pad Thai the first five or six times I ate in Thailand.

After lunch, Paul and Chi took me to a spot up the hillside that overlooked the western side of the island and pointed out the parts that were affected by the Tsunami in 2004. I didn’t realize until I arrived that the Tsunami had devastated Phuket. However, there were no signs of anything like that. I YouTube’d some videos of those beaches being hit that night and they are pretty disturbing.

After the lookout Chi suggested I get a Thai massage while I was there and pointed out the one she went to. I didn’t have anything else planned so I decided to give it a try. Back in Pittsburgh across from my apartment there was a massage place called “So Relax Chinese Massage”. I went there once when I had pulled a muscle in my back and it was ‘So Relax’. I wasn’t prepared for the Thai massage. Thai massages are like going to the chiropractor and having someone stretch you out until you scream. I don’t think the girl who gave me the massage had ever had someone with dense yet sensitive muscles either. She had to stop a few times to tell me in Thai that I needed to relax (I assume). 'Oh Ted talk Thai - Ted talk Thai real good.' However, that’s hard to do when someone is walking on your back or sitting you up and pulling your arms back behind you while simultaneously pushing their feet into your back. I think I’ll stick with “So Relax” from here on out. After that experience I needed to recuperate so I went to the beach for a few hours before heading back to Patong.

The next day I moved down to Karon Beach - aka ‘Little Russia’. Everyone was from Russia it seemed. A guy on the street asked me, “Ruski? Ruski?” – he couldn’t understand why I didn’t understand him. The guesthouse I checked into was about a 15-minute walk from the beach. A little far but fine since I didn’t know anyone there. The first day I made plans to do one of the two tours I wanted to see while in Phuket. The first being a tour of ‘James Bond Island’. This is the island where ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ was filmed. Being a huge Bond fan, this was a must. I booked the tour with one of the travel agents (which also doubled as a massage place). Every shop offers massages in Thailand it seems. Even one of the temples had massages offered. I made a deal with the woman for both the tour and a 30-minute massage, given that I was still sore from the day before. This time it was just a normal oil massage. Massages are so cheap in Thailand. You can get an hour massage for around $10.

The tour to James Bond Island required a bus to pick me up at about 7:30. We went and picked up about seven other people and then headed to the port where we caught a high-speed boat. The tour had about 35 people on it. I met a group of Australians who let me tag along with them. There were a lot of islands on the way to James Bond Island. It’s amazing to see how these islands just jet straight up out from the water. Most of them have no beaches, they’re just straight cliffs that have vegetation at the top.

The trip included a stop at a gift shop of sorts and lunch. I find that most tours bake in time to take the tourists to gift shops or factories because everyone is trying to sell stuff here. After that it was on to James Bond Island. It was cool to see where Bond and Scaramanga had dueled it out. However, it was pretty clear that it wouldn’t have been big enough to house the entire set used in the movie.

The next stop let us canoe through some caverns. It was nice to see, but so hot. It was tempting to jump in the water but some people claimed to see jellyfish. The last stop was on another island where we were given time to go swimming and to relax on the beach. By the time we got back to the port the tide had pulled out and there were boats sitting on the land.

I just spent the next few days in Karon Beach enjoying the days there and going to the beach. I also did something I would never do in the US. Since no one was around that I knew, and no photos, I did the unthinkable. Yes ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls - in an effort to fit in, I did what no resectable American would do on the great shores of the USA - Eurotrunks!

Phuket has a giant Buddha that's about 45 meters tall. It overlooks the island. It was good to take an afternoon to see that and Phuket Town. On Saturday night I decided to go to mass in Patong. There was a mass in Italian. I got a cab and headed over. On the way a guy and girl were sitting
Golden BuddhaGolden BuddhaGolden Buddha

The sign says, "PLEASE DO NOT SIT ON/STAND ON/ TOUCH THE BUDDHA'S HEAD OR DO ANY DISRESPECTFUL TO THE STATUE"
on the side of the road with their moped in a ditch. My cab driver asked if it was ok if we stopped to see if they were ok. I thought it would look pretty bad if we ignored the injured people on the road in order to get me to church on time. Apparently my cab driver was also a certified EMT. He got his bag out and went to treat the girl who was hurt. She looked like she had a bad cut on her leg and her wrist was either sprained or broken. She was definitely startled and woozy. I suggested we take her to the hospital and again, my cab driver asked me again if that would be ‘ok’. Obviously, since it was my suggestion. The two injured were a young married Russian couple that taught English. We got them to the hospital and then my cab driver took me to the chapel. Apparently the mass started 30 minutes later than published so I made it on time. By this time it was dark out, yet all the Italian women were still wearing their huge sunglasses inside. Got to love the Italians.

The next day it was on to the Phi Phi Islands. Ko Phi Phi Leh offered the second tour I wanted to do. It’s where the move “The Beach” was filmed with Leonardo DiCaprio, and is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

The world is a small place it seems. If someone were to ask me what I saw as the biggest difference between my generation and my parents, I would have to say communication and travel. I have so many friends who have been to multiple countries, states, and cities. What was once considered a lifetime trip, is now a typical vacation or average weekend getaway to another part of the world. Working as a consultant I took planes like most people take the bus. If I did take the bus it was an Airbus – 320, 321, or 330. It can also be said that six degrees of separation separate all of us on earth. I’m starting to believe that. Sitting on the ferry two guys ask if they can sit beside me. We start talking and I tell them that I live in Los Angeles, but that I’m originally from Pittsburgh. One of the guys, Jim, said he was originally from from Mt. Lebanon (the part of Pittsburgh I moved from) and lived in Philadelphia now. Both of them went to Penn State.

Jim: What do you do Ted?

Ted: Well, I just quit a consulting company, moved to LA, and decided to take an extended trip someplace I had never been before I start looking for a job again.

Jim: What consulting company?

Ted: Deloitte Consulting

Jim: That’s where I work.

Ted: What group?

Jim: ERS

Ted: Do you know Alex Vaz or Dave Caruso?

Jim: Yes

I need to mention that we also studied at the same school in Rome. Small world. Jim and John let me hang out with them. I have to point out that John was from Northern Virginia, where I lived for five years. It was nice to have people to go out with, let alone to have some sort of connection to. Those guys where heading to the Philippines for a wedding, then on to Ho Chi Min City. I’m hoping to meet them there.

Jim and John’s accommodations where pretty sweet. Their resort was a bunch of these cool bungalows built in the woods. We got off the ferry and headed to their place first and decided to go to the beach. At the beach we met some girls from Argentina who barely spoke English, so I got to practice my Spanish a lot.

The next day we decided to take a boat tour of the two islands, Ko Phi Phi Don and Ko Phi Phi Leh. Jim and John had arranged it with the hotel and we invited the Argentinean girls along. They took their good old time getting to the port and only 2 of the 4 girls showed up. Not only that but they thought we were going to take the tour from the port from one of the travel agents there, rather than having the hotel set it up, which was more expensive. It became even more expense after the total group dropped from 7 to 5. At this point the Argentinean girls said ‘hasta lluego’ and just went to the beach. So, the three of us paid even more for our own private tour of Ko Phi Phi Dom and Ko Phi Phi Leh.

Our driver, Dom, knew these islands like the back of his hand. Dom had worked at the resort for 12 years. Everyday he takes people out on his long boat. It’s one of those boats you see in the movies with the long engine that extends about 12 feet. Dom was also a master at drinking and boating. There’s nothing like knocking a few back and enjoying the open seas. Dom took us to some really amazing coves to snorkel and swim. He also made us lunch that consisted of rice mixed with egg and chicken, with watermelon for desert. On the last island we all got out to grab some drinks. That’s when Dom started telling us about the Tsunami and how big the wave was and the devastation. He asked us how we liked Thailand and SE Asia and asked where we were all going afterwards, especially wanting to know if we were going to Laos. Dom was a big fan of Laos. Apparently, the have the youngest prostitutes in Asia. 17-18 year olds, not the old 24 year olds you have to settle for in Thailand. Dom loves Laos.

Unfortunately, my accommodations in Ko Phi Phi were not as nice as Jim and John's. The hotel I picked online was right beside a waste waster treatment facility. That, combined with being in the sun for 8 days straight, swimming in salt water, and just the stress of traveling, took its toll. I was run down and tired the two days I stayed in Ko Phi Phi. By the time I got to the airport to fly to Bangkok I knew I was going to be really sick soon. I was hoping that being out of the sun and away from that hotel would do it but that was not the case.

I got to Bangkok in the late afternoon. My hotel was not far from the subway station. I took a 3 wheel open taxi, but that turned out to be a big mistake. The guy had no idea where to go. I had to read his map for him and he still didn’t understand where I was pointing. I figured out that the address given online really was an intersection, rather than an actual street number. My cab driver was just hopeless. I made him call the hotel, which seemed to work. It was a frustrating experience. He even had the audacity to ask if I wanted him to take me around the city.

There's no way to really explain what it’s like to show up in a foreign country sick, check into a room, and pop on the news to find out that the local Iranian terrorist just accidentally blew the roof to his house, along with his legs, just down the street from where you are staying. I suppose these things happen. Such was the case for me the other day. Iran seems to be on a vendetta to kill Israeli diplomats in response to their nuclear scientists randomly dying in Iran. There were other bombings in India and Georgia as well.

Bangkok is probably the dirtiest city I’ve been to in my life. The air is choked with smog like no other (though I hear Beijing takes the crown). You can smell exhaust everywhere mixed with street meat, which has a flavor of it’s own that should be considered pollution. I stayed in the first night hoping to heal up a bit. The next day I thought I was doing better, but would find out I was wrong. I headed to the river to get a river boat to go up to the royal palace. Like before, everyone is trying to
Maya BayMaya BayMaya Bay

Where 'The Beach' was filmed
make as much off you as they can here. The cab driver was telling me it would cost about 1500 baht (~$45) for the boat ticket. I knew this was not possible. So, I decided I would just take the cab there and then ask someone. I made the cab driver use the meter. These guys always ask you how much you want to pay first, hoping you will offer more than what it would cost with the meter. This guy thought that by letting me use the meter he would get a commission from his friend who would have sold me the $45 ticket (for a private tour). Well, when I got out I asked two Canadians walking out how much it cost and they said they were walking to the public boat where it was only 15 baht one way (or 150 baht all day unlimited). I walked with them passing the cab driver looking at him shaking my head and laughing. No commission today bro!

I took the water taxi up to the Royal Palace. The palace is an amazing complex. When I got inside I was told I had to put on a sarong because you can’t wear shorts inside. As I was waiting in line I realized I was getting sicker rapidly and decided to immediately go back to the hotel. Of course the first cab I got into doesn’t put the meter on. He asks how much I want to pay so I told him I’d give him 100 baht or the meter. He wanted 300 baht or meter plus he would take me to a factory and hope I would buy something so he could get a commission. After a few frank works I got out of the cab and found a driver who would use the meter. I was in no mood to negotiate at this point. When I got back to the hotel I went to my room where I remained sick the whole night. I think I lost 5 lbs in one night, each time unsure how it could be possible for anything to be left in my system after the previous time I had gone to the bathroom. Luckily I was able to skype or google voice with my parents and a few doctors I went to school with as to the best course of action. Unfortunately, I
My taxi in BangkokMy taxi in BangkokMy taxi in Bangkok

Big Mistake!
didn’t get to see Bangkok. I took my last day to rest and am feeling much better. The plan now is to do a circle through Cambodia, up through Vietnam, go though Laos (Dom’s favorite), then to Chang Mai in northern Thailand before heading back to Bangkok and flying to my next destination. Bangkok is a very happening city. There is a lot of nightlife here. I’d say its affluent parts are as good as Singapore’s. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much yet. I’ll continue this blog when I come through Chang Mai. Next stop – Cambodia!

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27th November 2012

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