Well, it has been a while since I was in touch with everyone and for that I apologize as much as is necessary. Though it sounds strange and cliché, I find that I think of so many of you on such a regular basis that it seems like I have been in better touch. I guess that speaks to the significance of all of you in my life. I am presently on Koh Tao (Turtle Island) in the Gulf of Thailand and anticipate being here for a while longer. I am not sure what constitutes a while, but I will work that out eventually.
I really like it here… I find that a mix of different experiences is best for me and unlike so many of my travels before; I am not so inclined to simply do the party tour. I guess that means I am more mature. Ha. Not there have not been great times and good excuses to party, it is just that there is soooooo much else to see and do. It is funny the life of a traveler. There are so many different types of travelers, and I find that for the most part since I do not robustly share my tall tales of mis/adventure and experience with the general public I am regarded as an ignorant novice. Oh well, at least it keeps the expectations low and my self satisfaction high as I listen to the same damn stories from everyone over and over, each one a little louder, trying to outdo the other and not even realizing that they are telling the same freaking tale.
I landed in Bangkok on April 4 with my intended travel partner/fellow adventurer, Ben. We were on separate flights, though we landed at the same time, and I think that was good because it sort of let us have a little time to get personally in touch with our mutual returns to Thailand after four raucous days on Lamma Island. I was immediately glad to be back in Bangkok and the feeling took over all of my senses; the smell, the sounds, the temperature, the people and the oxymoronic mellow-mania that is Thailand, even the taste of the air (you know you have been in Hong Kong for a while when you are coming to Bangkok for fresh air.) Ben was glad as well, though I know for really different reasons.
Our time in Bangkok was intentionally brief, as we hoped to get to the islands in time for Ben’s birthday (though, to be fair we had been celebrating it already and it was to go on in my favorite tradition of birthdays… for days and days.) We spent an interesting night in Bangkok, for Ben revisiting all the places he wanted to remember and searching for the familiar sights of his last trip three years earlier, for me reminding myself that this adventure was about to get REAL.
Koh San Road, BKK
The next morning we got up and took some time to take care of some errands around Bangkok. A visit to a tailor to sew zippers in Bens favorite shorts, a visit to MBK to try to make sense of the simcard situation in our cell phones, a wander down Koh San Road to pick up sarongs and fishermans pants to supplement my wardrobe which Ben had been systematically decimating since his arrival in Hong Kong. (I managed to smuggle my Chuck Taylors and my favorite jean jacket but their fate will be unveiled shortly.) I left my favorite Levi’s from NYC, several shirts and all my make-up in the hotel in BKK. Yes, it was on purpose, and no, I have not had a call for any of it yet, but it was still hard for me. We could not get on a night train to Surat Thani (the departure point for the island bound ferries in the South) because as we were to find, lots of the standard transportation strategies were being undone by the onset of the Songkran Festival for the Thai New Year. Eventually, we got on to a “VIP” night bus that would put us in Surat Thani in the early morning at which point we would then manage to be put on a ferry to get us to Koh Pha Ngan. The bus trip SUCKED. I hate busses anyhow, but if I have to be on one I would prefer it to be open air, full of interesting things, and above all a short trip. This ride was ‘none of the above.’ The seats were ridiculously uncomfortable, made more so by the fact that the girl in front of me had her seat reclined fully and the guy behind me was not having any of that. Oh, and the air conditioner dripped on my head Chinese Water Torture style all night. How could my first night in the deep tropics find me freezing cold? None the less, we made it and were soon on a ferry in the amazing Gulf of Thailand watching the water go turquoise and acknowledging the arrival of Bens 29th birthday. It was a beautiful moment.
We arrived in Koh Pha Ngan happy, hot and sunburned. We looked as much the road newbies as we were. Koh Pha Ngan is THE party island here. It is home of the in/famous Full Moon Party and basically a non-stop MTV Beach Party, at least in Haad Rin where we were staying. There are definitely good times to be had and I enjoyed being there, if not only for the opportunity to feel utterly superior to so many of the people around me. You can dance until dawn every night (and I took the opportunity to enjoy that often,) the music is the same every night in every club, so you can actually work out some sort of choreographed routine if the mood strikes you. Madonna always follows Bob Sinclare always follows The Killers always follows well, you get the point. It was a wild ten days, lots of buckets (this is actually a cocktail and it involves an entire bottle of Sangsom Thai Rum, a bottle of Thai Red Bull illegal in the States and a can of soda, generally Coke, poured over ice in a bucket with a handful of straws; sound good?) lots of Faranged Feet (farang is the Thai equivalent of gweilo, means white foreigner basically, higher prices more specifically) which are feet all torn up from lesser intelligent activities like barefoot rock climbing, dancing, motorbiking, etcetera. I left my Chuck Taylors and my jean jacket in our room in Koh Pha Ngan, along with an assortment of other things that were determined to be uneccessary. In fairness I have not missed them at all except in the sentimental way. I did fry my iPod there and I am afraid it may be beyond repair. Oddly, it did not ruin me as I had imagined such a thing might.
Highlights of Koh Pha Ngan for me:
1) Learning to ride a motorbike on my own… through torrential rain, on mountain roads in search of an elusive (an unspectacular waterfall) while meeting Pierre and Stephen from Paris and finding the unspoiled North side of the island… to be sure one of my most fun days
2) Dancing… dancing… dancing… and running around with my Swedish Sister Jennie!
3) The Cafe Hiatus in Haad Rin and coconut shakes so good they made me want to bathe in them
4) The Songkran Festival in Thongsala where we spent an entire day soaking wet and dousing everyone we could see with water and feeling that silly way that you can only feel when you are all wet in your clothes and running around all over the place making friends with the most unusual people (I am a true believer that water breeds euphoria and that it is impossible to be unhappy when you are in water)
5) Running into a friend from Lamma Island at the Full Moon Party and feeling reconnected to a place that has turned out to have an amazing resonance for me
Motorbiking in the rain… a really good day.
Stephen and Pierre… our lovely Frenchies…
Me and my girl Jennie… miss her mucho!
Cafe Hiatus, Haad Rin… yummy.
My lovely Songkran friends from BKK… until we meet again!!
Buckets for sale…
Full Moon Madness, Koh Pha Ngan, TH.
After Koh Pha Ngan we detoured to Koh Samui because my friend Pete from Lamma was staying there a few days with some of her friends. Koh Samui is a beautiful island (that will start to sound redundant shortly) but it is not cool to like it because it has been so heavily developed lately. I didn’t care, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I will tell anyone who asks that same story even if the travelers give me a bad time about it. We stayed in Taling Nan on the SW corner of the island near some land that a friend of Pete’s bought (yes, to develop but for now it is a truly phenomenal spot with views of everything around.) I really enjoyed the people we were with and appreciated being in the company of people less bent on impressing people with their backpackers tales and more interested in funny conversations and hanging out.
My Samui Highlights include:
1) Watching the sunset over Hugh’s land with a cold drink and smile listening to Ben’s impressive selection of reggae on his non-fried mp3 player
2) Dinner at The Five Islands Restaurant where we were served an AMAZING Thai meal at a big private table on the beach
3) A full day speed boat excursion to the Anangthon Marine Park where we saw dramatic weather, a salt water lagoon way above sea level and a traditional fishing village, snorkeled, ate great food and laughed a lot
4) Lighting and sending off a traditional Thai floating lantern of the type I saw millions of in Chiang Mai over New Year’s
5) The company and conversation
Peta in Koh Samui, TH Sunset from Hugh’s land on Koh Samui, the Five Islands in the background. Heading out to the marine park, Koh Samui. TH The lagoon at the marine park in the rain… Crusing off Koh Samui Is that water clear enough for you? Koh Samui & the Five Islands.
We left Samui in a weird way because I thought there might really be something wrong with my leg. My knee and ankle in my right leg had been really bothering me and were grotesquely swollen. The decision was made to head to Koh Lanta on the Andaman side of the peninsula where I could see a doctor and chill out for a while. The trip there was not exactly as we had planned, but then, most trips in Thailand are not exactly as you had planned, yet somehow, they always get you to the intended destination the exception to this rule will be forthcoming. I was grateful to Ben for dealing with it at any event. Our arrival on Koh Lanta was smooth and the island was amazing in a totally different kind of way… it was smaller and funkier in comparison to Koh Samui; like comparing old Santa Cruz to Catalina. Ben had selected a beach called Klong Nin after doing some research somewhere, and he chose perfectly. The beach was gorgeous and opened to the green sea… definitely a different feel than the Gulf side. Also, this is the Muslim side of Thailand so it was altogether a different vibe. We walked along the beach to look at potential places to stay; we were going to get bamboo beach bungalows finally! We saw a few and kept going. Ben saw a group of people in the distance – his calling – and so we thought we would keep on going but a voice called hello to us from the bungalows nearest to where we were walking and we went up and took a look. The voice was Sak, a lithe, long haired, shirtless Thai guy who came out to greet us. We were at Charlee’s the family run bungalows that were set to be our home for the next two weeks. Charlee’s was the perfect place for me at the perfect moment and I am grateful that Ben got us to that island and that beach. I went to the doctor on my own by borrowing a motorbike the next morning and spent days just relaxing and enjoying the ocean and Charlees family: Charlee, the patriarch; Mama, the boss; Dao, the only Thai cook who absolutely cannot cook; Kate, the ex-pat in residence; Sak, the Thai manager with more stories than I could imagine in a lifetime; Fong and Lin, Charlee and Mama’s daughters; Hen and Eli, my Israeli brothers in residence. Others came and went, but this was the core group and in them I feel confident that I made friends, shared something really special, and recovered enough to feel confident that I do not have some serious bodily injury that is going to hamper my travels. On leaving Lanta I realized that I was adjusting to the laid back pace of the islands and that was good. Of course, I had a wicked hangover, so that could have been what I was feeling also.
My favorite moments on Koh Lanta would be hard to summarize I will try:
1) Waking up to the beautiful Andaman Sea every morning and watching it change from a tropical green to a rough and serious low season shade of olive
2) Learning about how the tsunami changed everything for this one family and therefore for so many more in ways that are impossible to put into context without being there
3) Sharing pistachios with three little Thai girls, remembering what it was like to be a child and the inconsequence of a language barrier when you want to play
4) Meeting Hen and Eli and trying to come to terms with so many of the stereotypes I hold about certain groups of people… these are two very special individuals
5) Seeing Koh Phi Phi for the day (yes, I went to “the beach” where they filmed “The Beach”) and seeing how much nature can alter the existence of a place, people, and life
6) Surviving my first motorbike mishap with only a slightly jacked up foot
7) Seeing a double rainbow over the beach at sunrise…
8) Not having to leave anything behind, along with the eventual recovery of our white laundry which had gone missing for several days
The view from our bungalow at Charlee’s, Koh Lanta, TH
The girls… Koh Lanta. TH
Klong Nin Beach Sunset, Koh Lanta, TH
Eli & Hen, Koh Lanta, TH
My Klong Nin family, Koh Lanta, TH
Maya Bay, “The Beach,” Koh Phi Phi, TH
Me @ Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi
Hamburger Toes… all better now…
Yes, a double rainbow… there sre some things worth getting up early for…
The going away party… Charlee, me, Ben… Sangsom.
From Koh Lanta we decided to go back to the Gulf side of the peninsula as the water was changing so dramatically on the Andaman side (by the time we left Charlee’s there was no beach left and we had spent a day piling sandbags in front of the property.) Because the trip was going to be requiring a lot of bus travel Ben thought we might check out Railey Beach in Krabi. This beach is famous for the rock climbing and would get us started on our journey without too much travel by bus in one day (this turned out to be a very fortunate decision in light of my hung over condition induced by a night of drinking Sangsom Thai Rum and Mekong Whiskey -truly vile – with Charlee and company at a sort of going away celebration for Hen, Eli, Ben and I.) Railey Beach is not so amazing. In fact it is straight weird in some ways, but it had some really beautiful parts. It is also a place that is much nicer in the dark which seems like a weird thing to say about a tropical beach. Anyhow, Ben took care of getting a room for us since I was useless and I slept much of the day while he found the pretty side of the beach. We met a couple of really cute Canadians on our way there and ended up seeing them throughout our days there. Bud and Sarah have been traveling for nearly a year including a mountain bike trip from the western most point in Canada all the way to St. John’s in Newfoundland. The area around this beach is small and there are a few cool things to do, I cannot imagine staying there long unless you were a serious rock climber, but I am glad I went, as my friend Stuart says, even if you can’t work it out at the time, everything is always as it should be.
Railey Beach Highlights:
1) Hiking, though more like climbing, to a salt water lagoon in the cliffs and swimming in water that looked like Lake Louise, but felt like a warm, salty breeze
2) Meeting Bud and Sarah and spending the evening walking around the island with them and sharing stories about life, love, and happiness
3) Seeing monkeys in the trees, snakes on the beach, and a cobra show on stage
4) Finding a cave full of linguses (those are representations of the male genitalia) of all shapes and sizes left in honor of a long dead princess
5) Remembering how freaking horrible I am at shooting pool
Climbing to the Lagoon, Railey Beach, Krabi, TH
The Lagoon, Railey Beach, Krabi, TH
Beach snake… Railey Beach
Cobra Show… he kissed that thing, eventually, Railey Beach
Railey Beach @ Sunset
We left Railey Beach later than we intended for the same old reasons… mostly that there just never seems to be a hurry to go anywhere. We decided that we would take care of all the travel arrangements to head to Koh Tao on our own since we were tired of paying the travel agents these big (relatively) prices and getting stuck on horrible “VIP” busses and minivans. We got in a long tail boat and headed to Krabi Town. Then it was a really long, but interesting, taxi ride in the back of a truck (open air is the way forward in the tropics for sure) to the public bus station where we would take a bus to Surat Thani and then get a ferry to Koh Tao. We missed the noon bus by minutes but were on the 1:00 at the bargain basement price of 140 baht a person. That is about $3.50. We were doing okay to beat the travel agents. The bus ride was fine because it was not so crowded, but it was still a bus ride and for the most part I would like to avoid them if they are longer than an hour. This was three and a half. On arrival in Surat Thani all I wanted to do was figure out how we were getting to Koh Tao, but that was not to be. I couldn’t deal with anymore sitting and everywhere were travel agents trying to book us on ferries and in hotels. I had to get out of that scene. Later there was an incredible rainstorm and the streets were full of water. I hung out with some of the locals while Ben walked around town with a girl he met on the bus. By the time the rain passed and they were able to get back, the travel agent was telling us that the night ferry to Koh Tao was not running. We could stay at his hotel conveniently enough. I was so bugged because I really wanted to get to Koh Tao; this is an island that I have been especially looking forward to since talking to Rodney and Kate and basically everyone about it. We opted to get tickets to Koh Samui on that night ferry and then we would wait in Samui in the morning to get another ferry to Koh Tao. We got to the pier and low and behold, there was the Koh Tao night ferry. There is nothing so irritating as realizing you have the solution to your travel dilemma at hand but cannot take advantage of it we were now three and we were locked on to the Samui trip. Grr. At least the ferry had comfortable beds, though the Swedish girls next to me said that when they are crowded they are hell on earth. We arrived on Samui at 5:13 am. You all know what a peach I am in the morning… throw into that equation that I am not where I want to be and I feel like I have no control over my situation, and you get a small picture of the storm cloud that was over my head. I was so irritated… and on top of that irritated about the fact that I was irritated whilst sitting on a beautiful tropical island. Time to readjust. I called Erica back home because it was her birthday and that cheered me up. I miss so much of the easiness of being around old friends. I guess that is normal since I have been away for nine months. Anyhow, we of course eventually made it to Koh Tao and as we pulled into the Mae Had pier I saw the clearest water I have ever seen. It was absolutely unbelievable. This was a big improvement. I also met two really sweet girls from Western Canada, Heather and Karen. Now came the big decision where to stay. Everywhere on Koh Tao is built around diving and so it is best to look around and find a place that offers you the best deal for diving and accommodation. This was a bit of a chore and really overwhelming. We eventually opted for the place that gave us the best price and hoped the diving and instruction would be good.
And so here I sit and I can say this this diving has been great fun, my instructor is great, the water is amazing, I met a couple of really cool people diving who I see around. My DJ friend is going to reload my iPod with a bunch of music (assuming the hard drive is not fried, but it was very cool of him to offer.) I am super tan. I am going to get my advanced dive certification because it is so cheap here and I love the teachers and will be able to do some deep water dives and night dives. We get free accommodation if we are diving or doing courses and there is a little dog that has adopted our bungalow which we now share with a fellow dive student from my class (don’t ask.) Now we are in search of a whale shark. It should be good.
As I said, I plan to stay here a while longer. But so far there have been a lot of highlights:
1) Scuba certification (no longer am I a renegade illegal diver) with Claus and Michael and the crew Brent, Jan, Auf, Neng, Jessie etc.
2) Dinner with the Phoenix divers and the Pink Party at the AC Bar which was not at all pink, but great fun and we got to hear Brent DJ and he is awesome
3) Meeting George “Ja Ja Bumsen” the crazy Bavarian just in from three months of relief work in Sri Lanka, and Karen and Heather from Canada
4) Beautiful water, and as I said, I think it is hard to be anything but happy when you are in the water
5) Bars with big bean bag chairs and low tables that set up on the beach every night in spite of the fact that they will have to remove the seats because of the high tide before midnight
The water on arrival to Koh Tao. Yeah, and that is as bad as it gets.
Claus, my fearless leader and scuba guru…
Auf, Brendon and Ja Ja Bumsen at the Pink Party, AC Bar, Koh Tao, TH
DJ-Dive Master Brent Burns. Yes he IS that freaking hot.
Sunset, Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, TH
So that is a taste of the Thailand I have had the chance to explore so far. I am still looking forward to returning to Chiang Mai and seeing some more of the north. For now I am here, looking forward to a rendezvous with another friend from Lamma Island and hoping to see some more of this island outside of Sairee Beach where we are staying. Oh, and though mildly reshaped, my toes have healed from the motorbike scraping
Life is good and it is challenging, even when it seems like it is so easy. Maybe it is the times in life when things are outwardly so simple that we have time to look more closely at the challenges that we carry around with us. I am really trying hard to put into practice the belief that our attitude is always a choice and that the choice to be happy is always the one that brings the best results. Nothing is ever as it seems and I am guessing that is one of the greatest gifts.