A Lemonade at Last

Trip Start Aug 01, 2005
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Trip End Dec 15, 2005


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Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, September 5, 2005

This morning I was tasked with finding us transport from Georgetown, Malaysia to Hat Yai, Thailand. The [[Lonely Planet]] doesn't really have a lot of info on getting out of Georgetown, so it was question time. The hostel owner said she could arrange us a mini-bus to pick us up at the hostel and take us on the 4 hour drive for Rm25.00 each but that we should reserve it by 9am for the noon bus.

I went down to the bus station to try and find an actual bus heading north, but really none exists. The only official way to travel north is by the train, but it leaves at 6 in the morning! I soon found that ever vendor and his brother would call the same magic bus company and arrange to have us picked up for the same price. Eventually I settled on a vendor who had a shop in an actual building, figuring he at least couldn't run away with my money. For a mere Rm22.00 ($6) each, we had a van ride up to Thailand.

I'll jump in here and add that in Malaysia, the stoplights at big intersections often have numbers that countdown how many seconds are left on the redlight, and sometimes how many are left on the green light. It takes away all the mystery, but its really nice if you're trying to do something else in the car at a light. Most of the crosswalks in KL had timers on them with an animated walk symbol that got faster as the time decreased. When the timer hits 0, the drivers hit the gas so watch out!

Around 12:15 the air conditioned van picked us up and off we went. This is my first ride in a non-bus in Asia, and its not as thrilling as I'd hoped. The most exciting part was just kind of drifting around the lanes. In Asia (and Malta for that matter), the right-of-way is a 'might makes right' system. If you are a bus, everyone yields to you. If you're a motorbike, you always yield (except to bicycles). If you're a pedestrian, you never have the right-of-way. There are tons of motorbikes here. It's like a cross between the European bike system and the US car system. Everyone has a small motorcycle. You'll see large packs of 20 bikes or more riding together on the highway. The highway in Malaysia reminds me of the ones back home. It's mostly all forested or small farms on the side, and the lanes are wide like the US.

When we got to the border, the 8 of us (4 strangers) shuffled out of the van, and through the passport control of Malaysia. Then we jumped back in and headed a little ways down the road to the actual border where Thailand checked our passports and gave us a 30 day visa stamp. As always, customs didn't check any of our luggage or belongings for any bad items. I really wonder how much of a moron you have to look like to get them to check you. Perhaps acting like a lost tourist relives them of any desire to mess with you.

As soon as we crossed the border, the wide open spaces and decent highway changed to a narrower road with city-like buildings on both sides. Our driver is from [[w:Hat Yai|Hat Yai]] so he knew his way around fairly well. After an hour, he dropped us off a block or so from about 8 different guest houses.

We walked over to one called the Cathay Guesthouse that was listed in the Lonely Planet. This is by far the cheapeast place we've been so far, and it shows. A 4 person room was a total of 297 baht, or $7.25. Split that 4 ways! The accomodations are equally bad though, yet sufficient enough for me. The bed is a frame with a mattress thats not really a mattress, but more like one of those pads on the wall of a school gymnasium. We have our own bathroom, but the toilet is an Asian style squat toilet, the smallest of which our local expert on the subject has ever seen. In fact, it isn't even the flush kind. After you're done doing your business, you fill up this bucket of water and wash it all down the drain. The sink isn't bad, but it drains into a drain on the floor. The shower is once again just a nozzle on the wall that showers the bathroom floor. No hot water, but the room temperature water is probably 80 degrees anyways.

Wandering about in search of food is kind of strange. You're surrounded by so many smells and sights, but you're not sure whats safe to eat. Since its my first day in Thailand I decided to stay relatively safe and just have some chicken and rice. Food isn't my thing anyways, its no big deal to me. Not having anywhere to sit, I started wandering around town looking for things. I found an eyeglasses place that I'll return to tomorrow to try and get some prescription sunglasses made. My companion says that many people come to Thailand to have LASIK surgery done for half the price found in the US. I may consider this one day, but I'm not sure when that will be. I don't trust the US doctors yet so the Thai ones will stay on hold.

Every country I've visited so far seems to have a specific allocation of foreign drinks and snacks. Every shop you go to will inevitable have exactly the same items as the next. For example, everywhere so far has had Mentos. Most places have M&M's. Everywhere in Asia has had Fanta drinks and regular Coke. The local drinks vary some though. Finally in a small shop, I found what I've been looking for the entire time since I left the US: a can of lemonade. It even said "non carbonated" on it. It was the last can, it must be fortune.

Thailand is the first place so far where English is not known by a majority of the population. Shopkeepers have few options for getting your attention, and their vocabulary is almost always limited to just "you buy" or numbers of prices. Signs are almost never in English. Street signs and signs for international schools are some of the few readable things around Thailand. Some stores have descriptions in English, but its usually subtitled and smaller instead of being 'the name' of the store. One man I walked past had kind of a goofy grin on, and I swear he said "G'day" as I walked by. I said hello to him and he said hello back as I went past. Very strange. I think he's watched too many Aussie movies.

Every since the first day in Paris, I've realized that I need at least one more T-shirt, preferably a somewhat interesting looking one. I've waited as long as I've been able. Nothing should be much cheaper than Thailand. The first guy I came to I haggled down to 140 baht ($3.40) but I didn't like his shirt very much and so I walked off. Down the street I found a shirt I liked so the lady offered me 150 and I gave her 140. She didn't complain at all. The price thing is a learning process so it'll take some time. I know now that I'll never pay more than 140 for a t-shirt. Hopefully never more than 75.

The humidity is just unrelenting. Without A/C, it will get you. I got back to the hostel, took a shower, started typing, and my forehead is already sweating. I'm sitting down with a fan blowing on me! So much for today. I'll probably look for more food tonight or just hit the sack early. I'm not sure how safe it is at night. Luckily I have people to walk around with. Thailand is an hour behind Malaysia, so I've fallen to only 12 hours ahead of home. Makes it easier to convert at least.
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