Sleepless in Phi Mai

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January 27th 2010
Published: February 8th 2010
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After a short bus ride from Khorat, I arrived in Phi Mai at about 2:00. As we pulled into the town, it had an undeniable small town quaintness. Unfortunately my guidebook only had a writeup about Phi Mai, and no map, so while I suspected the small cluster of guesthouses was close to the bus stop, I really had no clue where, so I forked out the 30 baht to have a moto-taxi drive me half a block to a guesthouse. The guesthouse, which was recommended by my guidebook, was full, but the lady running the guesthouse kindly walked me to a nearby one with vacancy. The guesthouse she brought me to could have been mistaken for a restaurant as the entire main level is a duck soup kitchen, and smelt rightly so. I enquired about the room, and the price was right, they even had wi-fi for an extra fee (one that I was willing to pay at this point). However, he explained that they were doing some construction to some nearby rooms, and that it would be noisy from 6am-6pm, which really wasn't an issue as I planned to be out and about during the day. So after a brief look at my room, I dropped off my bags, had a nice hot shower, checked out the internet connection and watched some TV. After my 15 minutes of unwind time, I decided that with a few hours before dark I might be able to see a few sights.

The guesthouse owner gave me a map to work with, and it was at that point that I realized really how small Phi Mai was. The towns tourism was based around a couple of sites according to my guesthouse, a Khmer ruin from around the Ankhor Wat period (the last one on the highway coming from ancient Angkor into Thailand), and a grove of Banyon trees that were quite old and eery. The map would show that there were actually a few other sites, and I got to thinking that while I would probably see the two recommended sites in the afternoon, I might spend an extra day trekking about and seeing some other minor sites, especially with the towns apparent charm. So, with a sketched out plan in mind I took to the Khmer ruins.

The temple was quite impressive, both well kept and beautiful to behold, if not a little crowded. There were a lot more Thai tourists here than foreigners, and they were really enthusiastic about sightseeing. I took a lot of photos, a couple with me in them, and a really nice shot of some local monks in the doorway of one of the temples. I spent almost an hour in the temple grounds, with more than half of it listening to tunes on my MP3 player, and just taking it all in.

After leaving the temple, I took a brief stroll through the night market as it was setting up. It was very aromatic, with smells of fresh fish & meats, battered desserts, and a whole variety of foods for sale. The rest of the walk to the grove was fairly long, and along a side road. I stopped briefly to look at a "lake" near the road, which really amounted to more of a large pond. I got some directions as I went along from some locals, and after about 20 minutes of walking, I found myself at the tree grove.

I have to say, I was impressed. While I was a little confused as to what the grove actually was (at first I thought it was one big tree), it was truly a sight to behold. This mass of trees had one big canopy and was a huge area, like the size of a football field. It was situated next to a lake, where locals were picknicking. The grove itself had a mystical feel to it, with a tarot card reader and a shrine adding to the effect. I ate lunch across the road from the grove, and had a local dish (Was it Pee Mee?). It was essentially Pad Thai with some sort of minor twist (maybe it was different noodles). It was good, and as my meal finished, I asked for the total in an attempt at Thai. I won't lie, I have some good days with the language, and I have some bad. The lady just stood there looking at me. I tried again, and I can't remember if i had to resort to English, but she clued in. Well, as I was leaving she actually gave me a little language lesson, just a tip that there is actually a different phrase to use when collecting the bill at a resteraunt than there is for asking for the price for something. I've used it since effectively, so I must say her tip paid off. With the sun making its way down, I made my way back into town, once again browsing the night market and then heading back to my guesthouse for a much needed warm shower. I played around on the internet for a bit, and had started forming a plan of stay the next day and see the rest of the sights. Things were looking good, until....

Until I noticed something on my leg. Is that a watermelon seed? No, its a little bug. I flick it off, and flush it. Hmmmm... wait, there's more little bugs, on the bed. Bugs on bed. Bed with bugs. No, it can't be. A google search would confirm it. Bed Bugs. Well, at that point I was only a bed bug rookie, although the internet gave me some insight. Apparently those streaks that kinda looked like blood, those are bed bug trails. I'm not sure why I was okay with little blood streaks in the first place, but there were two beds and I figured I could avoid it. Then, I read the part where they can get in your bag. Just as I get near my bag, I see one about half a foot away. shit. Plus, the bed is just crawling with them. Okay, no problem, I'll just move rooms. So, I go downstairs and try my best to explain to the guy that there are bed bugs, and while he doesn't quite understand the severity of this, he does let me change rooms. Now, in hindsight, i should have left guesthouses, because it seems that bed bugs in one bed, means bed bugs in more beds. I went to the next room with some trepidation, but after a brief inspection, no bloods streaks, and I even checked out the mattress, no bugs. With that, I turned on my laptop, and started some web browsing. As I browsed, I occasionally would take a brief look back at the mattress (You need to understand that I was severely offended by the idea of bed bugs). Only problem is that on one look back, what do I see? Another bed bug! In my new room! I might have been able to handle that, maybe, but less than 5 minutes later, I saw another one, a big one. At this point I'm thinking "Okay, I'm not impressed, I'm out of here". Only to go downstairs and realized that the front door (like garage door) is pad locked to the floor, all the lights are out, and I have no clue where the actual owners are sleeping. So, it was at that point that I made my decision. I was leaving. Okay, so I wasn't leaving right then, but I'd be out of Phi Mai on the 5 am bus. Or thats what I thought.

Lets just say that the next 7 hours went by very slowly. Thank you to everyone on Facebook who helped me keep my sanity. In that time I actually wrote the whole set of blogs that came before these ones, I did a thorough investigating of all my bags seam by seam, took multiple showers, and hung out on the rooftop patio (which was absolutely stunning). However, by the time 5 am rolled around, I was a wreck. I have some videos to prove it. I was losing my sanity, and fast, I needed out! So, at about 4:45 I go downstairs, bags packed, ready to go. But, I had overlooked this possibility, that while I was ready to go, my guesthouse owners weren't. It wasn't until 7am that one of the owners would wake up, and as soon as there was any signs of life, I was downstairs and out that door.

Now, while I am severely offended by the guesthouse experience, I have chosen not to mention the name of the guesthouse. One reason is because I really liked the owners, and I thought that the atmosphere, the rooftop patio, and even the rooms were quite nice despite the bugs. And in a place as small and unvisited as Phi Mai, I don't feel they need the bad rap, but I do hope that they made the necessary changes to correct their problem, because even though I haven't been verbal about it, others will be.

So, while not hungover, probably in worse off shape than ever, I boarded the 7am bus. At this point I only had one thing on my mind, "Get me as far away from bed bugs as possible!" So it was then I decided it was time to go back to the city, back to the center of it all, back to get centered, back to Bangkok. The next 6 hours was just a blur of makeshift beds, from Bus seats that leaked air-conditioner residue on me to proper reclining seats. Finally, I arrived in Bangkok, and instead of catching a Taxi into town, I decide I want to save a buck or two, and take the local bus. After a long, unecessary ride into town, I finally start seeing some farangs. I'm close. I can sense it. Then there it is, Khao San Road. I'm back!

Additional photos below
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Photo 11

This is how I felt at 6am in the morning...

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