A week of Thailand

Trip Start Apr 01, 2007
1
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17
Trip End Ongoing


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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cast of Characters

The trip was an all-male November affair (I really waited to write this one), though it was originally supposed to include one female. Two of the guys are teachers at my school in Korea, Incheon English Village. Matt is an eccentric former trucker from Oklahoma, who is a great pianist and thus teaches Mozart. Randal is a very creative graphic designer from Arkansas who teaches Picasso. The guy not teaching in Korea, Joe, played lacrosse for Michigan, and is a fifth grade teacher in Las Vegas. Joe was one of my best buddies while I was teaching in Vegas, and it was wonderful to reunite in Thailand after our 8-month absence form one another.

The one missing traveling companion, Pam, had a climbing accident at Red Rock Canyon and was unable to join due to a broken leg...ouch. Pam, if you are reading this, I hope you are fully healed and get a chance to go to Thailand someday.

Hey Joe

On Friday, Matt, Randal and I headed to the airport right after our shift ended at 5 p.m. We all did a tremendous job of sleeping on the flight, some of us more alcohol induced than others. Randal has a hard time sleeping on flights otherwise.

Joe was a welcome sight for sore eyes at the airport early Saturday morning. It was great to reminisce with a long-departed friend, and he knew what he was doing. He had been in the country for four days already. After he negotiated a cab ride, we headed to Khoasan Road where our hotel and all the action is. This famous main drag is similar to State Street of Madision, Hongdae of Seoul and the Strip of Vegas. Not because it looks or feels like any of these places, because this is where people party.

This street, which was featured in "The Beach," is packed with cheap, delicious food vendors, farang (foreigners), and 'lady-boys.' Thailand is renowned for cheap sex-change operations and you quickly become skilled at pointing out who has partaken in this thriving industry. It certainly makes the people watching more interesting.

After navigating many revelers, we arrived at our hotel, the fairly upscale D&D Inn (cool rooftop pool!). Once changed and unpacked, we joined the party for some drinks and grub. Much to our surprise the party was not really happening at 3 a.m. Based on numerous accounts and secondhand advice, we were expecting to be up all night experiencing Thai night-life. Instead, we ate dinner and went to bed, ready to explore the capital city the next morning.

Swasdee Krap (hello) Bangkok!

Bangkok is huge, often dirty and smelly. In general, visitors either love it or hate it. While I was there, I was mostly ready to leave for quieter, cleaner and more beautiful tropical islands. That being said, we did have fun exploring for a day.

After a nice breakfast buffet we meandered to the Chao Phraya River that runs through the city for a long-boat ride. The river is amazingly brown, from silt rather than pollution, I hope/think. Also, the dwellings on the river are amazingly ramshackle. I'm talking dirt poor, using the river as the daily bath. Once out of the city, I felt like I was in the jungle and I appreciated the scenery much more (which did include a couple of monitor lizards fishing). The best part of the river boat tour was exiting into a street market where I could pick up my favorite dish, pad thai. To me, Thai food is not only greasily delicious, but also wonderfully cheap, the perfect combo.

After lunch, we headed to the reclining Buddha statue, a monstrous, gold statue of the Big Guy (for Thais, who are mostly Buddhist). By the time we finished seeing Buddha, we realized we were running out of time to get to the airport to fly to Krabi. Unfortunately, our taxi driver would not help our tardiness, literally taking us in a circle in horribe rush-hour traffic. He spoke almost no English, so we just endured it.

Krabi for a bit

A plane and a taxi ride later we arrived in a dark, small town called Krabi. The KR Mansion, according to Lonely Planet had a "funky rooftop beer garden." Like most Thai travellers, we were excited to experience some funkiness. We were pretty let down to discover the beer garden consisted of a roof with some potted plants. As more foreigners trickled in and were disappointed by the same discovery, we decided to hit the town. We ended up at a bar called Wild West where two Thais were playing heavily accented western songs. The Mozart teacher among us (Matt) helped sing a rendition of Let it Be. After too many Singhas (Thai beer) we headed back to the 'mansion.'

Beaching it at Railay

After some significant bumming around, we headed to the riverside dock at Krabi and hired a long boat to take us to Railay. The hour long boat ride was grey and gorgeous. The sky looked as if it would break out in a downpour in any second, but never did. In the background were beautiful limestone islands, taller than wide.

We arrived at the east mangrove beach not at all hospitable for swimming, but ripe for climbing. People were on the rock as we waded to shore. We found our hotel on the east side and headed to the west to find a swimming beach. Fortunately, we found paradise! Absolutely tranfixed by its beauty, we spent the whole day swimming, exploring and playing volleyball and frisbee (Thais are suprisingly good at both) at the west Railay beach.

Finally hunger brought us back to our hotel. We ate a deliciously fresh swordfish dinner and then headed to the local bar, literally 50 feet from the restaurant. We made a pack to stay up and catch the Indianapolis/New England game (when they were still undefeated). By game time (6 a.m.), the only sports channel was showing a replay of a Kansas/Nebraska blowout. Needless to say, we went to bed slightly disappointed.

The next day we successfully relaxed all day without travelling anywhere. At least no where that couldn't be reached on foot. To enhance our relaxing Joe and I picked up some Thai rum. We went back to the hotel and wrote postcards on our porch while it poured. Next to our bungalow a British couple moved in. They had been travelling the world via world ticket. Joe and I found this profoundly intersting and made our tentative plans to do so. To anyone concerned about this idea (Mom and Dad perharps), details are forthcoming.

Once we felt significantly relaxed on the porch, we decided to find a new lounging location. We walked to the other more secluded beach with monkeys and caves. We finished the rum amid a gorgeous starlit sky and great conversation. I swear I'm not trying to write a trashy romance novel

Great time time at Phi Phi

The long-boat ride to Phi Phi island was 2 hours. Eventhough we were enjoying the scenery as usual, we were quite glad to be on land. Long boats are long, but very narrow, and not the most comfortable. Once we gathered our bearings (the driver dropped us off on the wrong beach), we found some bright-pink, cheap bungalows to sleep for a couple nights. We headed to the wonderful beach that was playing reggae music (mostly Jack Johnson and Bob Marley) and relaxed the day away.

It was hard to believe that this island was completely devastated in the 2004 tsunami. It is doing remarkably well and the community, tourism is flourishing. Hopefully such a catastrophe will not happen again to this wonderful paradise.

The next day began at a slow-service, but friendly cafe that taught us how to count from 1 to 10 in Thai. Sorry, I no longer remember. If you are interested in my foreign language counting skills, I count fairly fast in Korean in both of their number systems (I can show you in person some time). From there we headed to the highest point of the island to check out the view, not too shabby. Wanting to experience Long Beach (the beach the driver was supposed to take us to) we hiked through some rather treacherous up and down slopes and made it to yet another paradise featuring topless women (not that I was looking) and beautiful views of Phi Phi Lay, the uninhabited island filmed in "The Beach."

We scrambled back and made it just in time for our sunset snorkeling tour of Phi Phi Lay. The first stop was Monkey Island. A ridiculously tiny beach with tons of ornery monkeys. You were given two options snorkel or kayak. I took the first, but quickly realized this was not wise because the coral was so shallow. Somehow I nerve-rackingly edged over coral and made it to shore. There we were allowed to feed nasty monkeys watermelon...yeah! At least on the way back I was able to hitch a ride with a kayaker.

The next stop was much more exciting. We were given the same options once again, but this time without coral danger or crazy monkeys . I enjoyed both thoroughly. On the last stop we hiked through a cave to the beach where "The Beach" was filmed. I've never seen the movie, but I'm sure it was more beautiful in person anyway. While waiting to depart a group of Swedes started a game of beach soccer with the Thai guides. I don't remember who won, but I think it may have ended in a Thai (wow, that was bad).

Back on our big boat we were just in time for our first sunset (overcast or facing the wrong direction prior). While watching our star descend into the ocean we enjoyed a buffet provided by the boat. On the way home it became quite dark and started to rain. No matter, we were treated to the homemade video of ourselves snorkelling and kayaking made by one of the guides. Not too bad, but not worth buying. Once relaxed and showered we headed back to the reggae beach for a Thai fireshow. These occur at almost any beautiful Thai beach (for which there are hundreds), but they are still worth seeing. They usually include young Thai dudes swinging firesticks around themselves in hypnotizing patterns to techno beats. Certainly, an added visual bonus when slurping down one of Thailand's infamous buckets (bucket full of booze and chasers).

Rain rain, Go away, Come again, When we move away (from Phi Phi)

Thailand is in the tropics, so they have rainy season and not-so-rainy season. We were fortunate enough to go at the tail end of rainy season, but we still saw rain. It rained all morning in our last full day of Phi Phi. To occupy the time, I bought tickets back to Bangkok.

When the skies finally cleared we hired a long boat to go cliff jumping. Beside the pain due to bad form (flailing is not encouraged), I had a great time. The only thing that could have made it better would've been a mid-air completed frisbee toss. The only try was incredibly unsuccessful due to a poor throw on my end, oops.

The next morning included more rain. We packed and boarded our ferry to Phuket. The boat was astonishingly fast, and choppy water made for some serious bumps. The ferry station is located far from anything, so mini-bus drivers make out pretty well. We got one of the more surly ones. He was very angry that we didn't know where we were going to be staying. Does anyone? Ok, yes, some people,  me included at times, make all kinds of proper arrangements. However, we were not those people that day. We just wanted to be dropped off and get out of the incessant rain. We found our hotel 10 feet from where we were dropped off, a 15-minute walk to the beach. Who needs plans?

Phuket Party People...not really

Phuket is pretty seedy. Full of lady bars (bars with Thai women beckoning you in) and older expatriates. Overall, not my favorite Thai destination. For our last night in town, instead of embracing the seediness, we took a long nap and then followed it up with movies, cards and pizza. Although not the most ideal or glamorous end to a Thai vacation, it worked out fine for us weary travellers.

For breakfast the next day we ate at a western pub that served all kinds of food: American, British, German, etc. It was delicious and a great escape from the morning rain. After finishing there Joe and I got shaves while Randal and Matt got massages. We met later on the beach for some of the strangest parasailing I have ever seen. Instead of starting on the boat, the parasailer runs toward the water and a Thai boy jumps on his back and then situates above you without any kind of harness. After floating for 10 minutes you have to make a beach landing. It's all quite comical for onlookers. Especially when my big-boned friend Randal (trying to be as PC as possible) plunges into the water before being jerked up into the air on take-off. Originally booked as a group activity, I opted to skip out considering the strange Thai-style.

Leaving on a jet plane...twice

After some final frisbee playing on Phuket's wonderful beach, Joe and I did some shopping and then everyone regrouped back at the hotel. Everyone wished Joe farewell. He still had another 5 days in Thailand. We missed our ride, but caught the next one. The flight to Bangkok was short. The long flight to Incheon seemed short because I slept most of the way. We returned to relatively cold weather and a longing to be back in Thailand longer.

Final Notes

This trip happened a long time ago. Four months ago to be exact! My goal is to finish upcoming China, Jeju and Gyeongju blogs in time for my trip home, which I will also blog. My trip home is from March 29 to April 14. I am going to be in FL, Dallas, Chicago, Madison, Twin Cities and Las Vegas. So, hopefully I can see you when I'm back.

As always, drop me a note about how you are doing and how and where we can meet in the USA. Also, any questions or comments about the blog are always welcomed.


Editor's Note

I started writing this blog in late January, and didn't continue again until early March. The beginning is fairly strange and doesn't really fit, but for you avid readers I will include it in the end, because it's philosophical and quasi-interesting.

Anyway, here is an alternative beginning:

Frustration and Random Self-Inquiry

I wrote the first couple paragraphs, but lost it all, because I had been idle on-line for so long. Now, I must do it again...blah! The problem with simply redoing it, is typing the same thing is boring for me. However, I liked what I had written, so I think it is beneficial for the audience (however small that might be) to read what I had written. Hmm, this is quite the dilemma. Excuse my personal ramblings for a moment, but I've been reading "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" of late, and it is intriguing how self-reflective it is. Most writing isn't and authors are often so far removed that we often forget entirely about him or her. Anyway, I just wanted to remind you that I am typing all this business in my apartment and it's a struggle. 

I equally love and hate writing. I love being able to create something and go back and read it later. I'm not the most artistic person. I can't paint,draw or play a musical instrument particularly well (I can whistle pretty well though). So, really, if I want to exercise my creative juices, writing is my most reliable medium. However, it's also highly frustrating for many reasons. One being that it's so slow. I'm not the most patient person on Earth and sometimes I wish I could just get all these ideas on paper (or screen, more accurately). I have to remind myself that most of the fun comes in the frustratingly long and slow process.

Furthermore, it's really hard. I'm the anal type, you know, reverse of Kerouac. After almost every sentence and definitely after every paragraph, I'm going back to reread what I wrote to check for grammar, style and accuracy. This makes my writing fairly polished, but it takes awhile to make significant progress. Finally, conveying ideas is hard. It's never fun to have a hilarious or brilliant idea stay in my head because I can't write about it clearly. These frustrations are also a source of pleasure, though. I can keep writing and writing, and I will never be quite finished. There will always be more to say and more ways to experiment with words. I look forward to those future words and I hope you do as well. 
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