How to have an herbal sauna, and other Ko Phangan life lessons

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November 15th 2006
Published: November 16th 2006
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Today was a wet, wet, stormy day. In fact, today's showers were probably the most extended time of rainfall we've seen on our trip. The rain didn't leave many activity options for us since beaches were out, but Derek and I did have our eye on a monastary which advertised a herbal sauna, so we decided that would be how we would spend our last day on this island. We've become fed up with paying so much everyday for transportation, so we decided to walk to Wat Po instead of take a songthaew. It took about an hour, but I was NOT going to pay another 100baht roundtrip. And so, the lessons begin...

Lesson #1: How to have a Thai herbal sauna at Wat Po
Upon arriving at the "temple," look around in a confused fashion at the seemingly deserted ceremonial buildings and street restaurant style tables and chairs. Follow the handpainted sign labeled "sauna" to some buildings through the jungle around back. Put a donation in the box to pay for your time at the sauna. How much is a good donation? Nooooo idea. I gave 50B. Hopefully that was enough! Pay 10B to rent a sarong to wear, if you didn't bring your own (we sure didn't!). Pay attention to the helpful hand gestures of the guy watching TV. He doesn't speak English at all, but he's patient and good with his body language! Put your valuables in a little locker, and take the key (no charge). Then, go into the toilet rooms and change into your sarong. It's like a tube of cotton fabric that you just sort of wrap yourself in and hope for no unfortunate unwrapping incidents. Put your normal clothes in the little cubby below your locker. Go to the oil drum full of water and use the bowl to drench your head and shoulders. Don't be shy--a good dousing is best! Enter the gender separated herbal sauna, and breathe deeply! Mmmmm delicious lemon grass and other herbs. You can bring your own herbs and/or creams and/or oilds like tumeric, baby oil, and cocoa butter to rub in to your body while you are in there, although the herbs used to make the steam are nice just on their own. You can sit in silence, or strike up a conversation with a nice Thai lady or other traveller. You probably don't want to stay in for more than 10 minutes at a time. When you're done, you can have a rinse in the cold showers out back and then change back into your clothes. Optionally, have a Thai herbal massage afterwards (we realllly wanted to do this, but couldn't justify the expense). Seems straight-forward, but it sure didn't seem that way to us at the time! Wellll worth the hour long walk, however.

Lesson #2: Derek and Jess are not good at riding motorbikes, and accidents can happen
Well, we rented motorbikes yesterday, and while they were great fun and definitely the best way to see the island, the warnings we heard about them proved to be correct. Although we were not naive enough to think that we were immune to physical damage and insisted on wearning helmets, close-toed runners, and as thick clothing as we had, we thought we would be able to get away without having to deal with any big bike repair charges which we'd been warned against. Turns out... accidents happen. We didn't hurt ourselves at all, but Derek and I both managed to end up paying stupidly high bike repair bills, after two separate incidents, when it was all said and done. They have a rediculous policy here of completely replacing a part even if a minor scratch or paint chip occurs. Totally wasteful and unneccessary, but we knew the risks going in and unfortunately, we got caught. Oh well. It won't be spoken of again. On the plus side, we got to meet a nice girl, named Amanda, who went to UVic. There are TONS of people from Victoria associated with our resort. Amanda, the head dive guy, two guests (who graded from Stelly's a couple years ago and sort of maybe know Chris McDonald)... the list goes on.

Lesson #3: Don't let finances ruin your trip
Being thirfty and making smart choices in one thing. Passing up great opportunities or having a miserable time due to money issues is another. Unexpected expenses do arise (see above) so be prepared, but in the end sometimes it's necessary to break the budget and just enjoy yourself. You've come all this way, right? (Note to Mom and Dad: a loan is DEFINITELY going to need to be requested sometime during Europe leg....)

Lesson #4: Do your OWN research to make up your budget; don't rely on other traveller's advice about how much is necessary on a daily basis (then you can actually save enough money and won't have to beg your parents for loans, mid trip)
I guess different people have different needs when they're travelling, because even though we eat the absolute cheapest thing on the menu every day, walk as much as we can, barely buy anything and almost never do anything extravagant, we are still way over the $15/day mark that many people say was the norm. Granted our current digs are a bit pricey, but even once we get back to hostel life things are going to be tight...

Lesson #5: Snorkelling is amazing!

Derek and I took a super expensive taxi (well, $10 each roundtrip, but that's a lot here!) to this incredible beach on the northwest corner of the island. The beach itself is gorgeous, and its connected to an island, Ko Mah, that's just offshore buy a sandbar that you can walk across. The snorkelling there was great! Our first time with our new stuff in the ocean (well, we went once on Ko Samui but we were just playing around--the visibility was so bad you couldn't see your own hand in front of your face). We saw gorgeous tropical fish and swam in a school of big yellow ones. We saw coral reefs (although it didn't look to be in great shape) and MASSIVE black sea cucumbers with their feeding tentacles extended. I saw a neat hermit crab, and some interesting algae. Most of the marine life appeared to be fish. I barely saw any inverts, although Mark went to the same reef the next day with his dive course and saw huge anemones and stuff in the deeper parts where they were diving. Snorkelling was amazing, though. I can't believe I've never done it before. The equipment purchase was definitely worth it! We don't have any pictures because we had to leave our stuff on the beach so we didn't take cameras. Too bad. It was gorgeous.

Lesson #6: Somethings transcend culture and languages--music, smiling, and.... shaver settings?
Derek wanted to get his head reshaved because it was getting a bit long, but he wasn't sure how to tell the barber that he wanted his trusty "#3" shaver setting. As soon as he walked in to the barber, though, the first words out of the guy's mouth were "what number?" Hahaha! I'm sort of getting due for a trim myself, but I'll probably try to hold out till I get back to Victoria in January.

Lesson #7: When I get tired and stressed, I get grumpy
I didn't sleep well last night, and all my clothes are wet right now (from one thing or another) and won't dry in the is super humid air. I have to pack everything up because we're leaving tomorrow for Krabi, but I don't even want to start the process because I'm so drained. ugghhhhhh. I also need to finish this blog entry (which appears quite lame despite the amount of time it's taken me) and find a place online to stay tomorrow. Our boat leaves at 7am. Goodbye Ko Phagnan!


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