Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thailand trip September 2011


18th September – THAILAND

When I come to write about Thailand, I realise that I didn’t even write half of the stuff down. Or, I did, but I wrote it somewhere else and can’t seem to… find it.

So you’re dealing with my memory for now.

Up at an early hour with Tracey and Jordy. We’re off to Thailand! We leave while it is still dark (my favourite time to travel – early morning before the sun). We travel to Fukuoka and get on our flight. We stopover in Taipei, where we have coffees, take photos of gorillas and stuffed animals, and generally make a menace of ourselves. Next flight to Thailand!

Thailand airport is lovely. Until you get downstairs into the heat and the people talking quickly and trying to shove you in unmarked taxi cabs. It seems semi-official because there’s a wee cardboard booth set up, so we allow our stuff to get whisked into the boot and we are on our way. The drive from the airport is just beautiful. White gates, clean statues, purple and orange ribbons everywhere. It’s lovely, and surprising. Our driver is very shy and our excitement makes him smile awkwardly. Despite all this I’m nervous at the car (it’s a normal car with “Taxi” painted onto it) and the neighbourhoods we’re starting to travel through. We pass a lot of people living under bridges or in shacks. When we’re dropped off my fears of being kidnapped and sold are abated and all I’m worrying about is that he’s going to drive off with our stuff. Finally we’re safely deposited on the side of the road and he has double the usual taxi fare because we’re too nervous to care about it.

One of the first things we see is a car accident. A man on a scooter piled high with stuff is knocked straight off it at an intersection by a small truck. He gets up, dusty and limping, and someone wheels his scooter over to the side. Traffic continues as usual. Welcome to Thailand.

Our hostel is beautiful. It’s tucked away in a busy street covered in foodstalls and dark alleyways, but it’s painted a bright orange and once we’re inside the beds are white-sheeted with purple cushions. We feel like royalty. (Looks can be deceiving – I got bedbugs my first night.) Aside from this though we are very happy. The showers are stone and look like they belong in a magazine.

Our first night we are tired, but excited to see the city. As we leave, there are a bunch of people in the common room watching a DVD. Not our scene. We go out for dinner, and randomly find an AMAZING restaurant that just had everything you could hope for in terms of foreign food (foreign from that of Japan, I mean) and exquisite cocktails. We order a few rounds, eat a large amount of deliciousness, tip our waitress outrageously like the money-speaking people we are, and carry on.

Bangkok is insane. There are places to drink and eat everywhere. Everything is catered toward tourists and making money off of them. They know what we want. There are stalls open all night selling sweet rave glasses, shirts, souvenirs, everything. This has always been an idea in the back of my head – if you ever wanted to make money in life, why not sell things to drunk people? We buy everything. And happily.

Two things to note before I go much further – public toilets are often not equipped with toilet paper, and when you are lucky enough to find it you must place it in the BIN or risk flooding it. Needless to say all the bathrooms are flooded at about 1 or 2am by ignorant foreigners. The other option is the shower hose which I laughed at when I first saw it – (who would want to shower in a toilet?) until I realised it explains the absence of toilet paper and why when Thai people use Thai toilets they don’t flood. End. Also the water here is undrinkable (probably because of all the flooding toilets) so you must buy it everywhere you go. Double end.

Anyway, it’s still reasonably early so we go to a sports bar and have a few drinks there. We meet a couple other travellers, and realise that everyone is familiar with the islands in Thailand and has been travelling for months. We’re somewhat out of place, having only two weeks. Most of these people are real backpackers and have been to Vietnam and everywhere. Anyway, we sit around, make friends over the world cup that’s going on, and then head over the road to more of a dancing club.

We are still some of the first people there (story of my life) but this doesn’t stop us taking up the entire dance floor. This holiday is definitely about doing everything the un-Japanese way and we are ready to get obnoxious. We make friends with some other travellers (seriously that’s nearly all this place is) and Tracey gets into a sweet dance off. It’s glorious. Two small Thai girls pull me up on stage to dance with them, and we spend the better part of the night like that. They are really happy and sweet, and keep pointing out boys for me to dance with and then clapping excitedly when I say I’m having too much fun without any. Whenever I go to get a drink they pull me back onto the stage. I love them! Eventually, it gets late, and I notice a big guy come in and gesture to them. They tell me they have to go, but if I want I can go with them! I decide against it, because Tracey and Jordy are still here - and because I’ve suddenly realised that they’re prostitutes. This does not phase me at all, but I still stay behind.

So after they leave I get a drink at the bar and start talking to someone, but I’m getting tired. Then I notice a sharp pain in my foot and realise I’ve stepped on glass. After being kidnapped by taxi drivers, this is my worst fear in Thailand. As I lift my foot to inspect it, blood spatters across my other foot. When I put it back down a puddle forms and my foot starts to slip around inside my shoe. I show the guy next to me, who buys a water and we wash it off and plug it up with toilet paper like the classy lady I am. I take this as my cue to leave.

As I head back, I realise that instead of taking the loop, there’s an alleyway that goes directly through to our hostel. Obviously I take it. In hindsight this is probably not the best idea, but all I see is a giant rat the length of my arm shaking its fur like a dog. Back at the hostel I jump in the shower and scrub my feet for about an hour.

19th Sept

The next day, due to my fears of amputation, we go to a foreigners clinic. These are dotted all over Thailand, probably because of the abundance of stupid people like me. After filling out all the paperwork, I go in, to have the lady poke at my toe, put some meths on it, and a plaster. As we come out she says it’s the size of a pin-wound and there’s no point even charging me or putting it in the roster. I am duely mortified.

We then catch another taxi, who charges us half the price of the first one, and he takes us back to the airport so we can get on our plane to the south of Thailand. This plane is small, and we ordered food, which we awkwardly eat in front of everyone else who didn’t order food. When we get to the next airport it is tiny, and you literally just pick up your stuff and walk through it. On the other side at the bus counter we are given stickers, and then roughly herded onto and off of buses as they figure out just who we paid. Finally we are on our way, and travel over really traditional Thai landscape, full of huge waxy leaved trees and brown rivers. It’s easy to feel like you’re in a jungle. We are randomly taken off our bus and deposited (along with no other foreigners) next to a creaky brown ferry. We board amidst a bunch of Thai people and their trucks of merchandise. One of my favourite things to do on holidays is people-watch, and we got our fill watching over the back of the boat. A bunch of men on scooters were joking around as they directed the trucks where to go, and it was great to watch them. One of them brought a baby which they passed around and gave attention unashamedly. A small truck, complete with giant live yak, was loaded onto the boat. Goofing around with each other, they also managed to hose down the yak in the heat. It was great to watch. It must be interesting, to be a local in a tourist world, to know all your actions and your life are just used as notes in a tourist’s travels. You never have to impress any of the people that pass through your hands each day because they’re all only temporary.

Today was super busy, so as the ferry pulls away, we are rewarded by watching the sunset over the water, and a huge Buddha statue rising over the trees as we see more of the land. It’s truly beautiful.

We arrive at Koh Samui in the dark. The taxi peddling begins right as we get off the boat. The man literally paces us as we walk up the landing, talking as fast as he can about how he’s the only option to get us where we need to go and if we don’t get in his taxi we’ll be stranded and wont ever make it on the road. I’ve said this before, but do people not realise this is a way of tack that makes us NOT trust you? He shows us a sign, which is roughly made out of cardboard, and then also has the audacity to tell us that the man next to him in normal clothes is a policeman. I’ve found so far in all my dealings that there’s a particular voice in Thailand that’s half angry, fast, and designed to fluster you so you’ll give them money to make them stop. While this frustrates me to the point of tears, it also works. We attempt to hold out, trying to ignore him and talk to a lady instead, who takes our money, and then PUTS US IN HIS VAN. I am literally about to cry. He proceeds to drive us into the darkness on dirt roads, talking on his phone in Thai, throwing us into each corner, with me holding Jordy’s hand. Eventually I calm down, not because I suddenly trust him, but because I’m convinced he’s going to get into an accident and kill us all, in which case I won’t be sold or left penniless in a Thai jungle. A silver lining to every cloud.

Obviously we get there safe and he roars up to the hotel and drops us outside. I want to kiss him for not selling/killing/stealing from me. I gather that he assumed that we assumed as much and is offended. But seriously. If you’re going to be dodgy about money, at least be only dodgy enough to assume we’re being overcharged (which we DON’T care about – taxis here are cheap as chips anyway) and not dodgy enough to convince us we’re going to become a statistic. He speeds away at breakneck speed, still acting every inch the criminal he has proved himself not to be. Life has never felt so precious.


Okay so… Our room. This place is gorgeous. Just beautiful. We’re led down a tropical garden to a little cabin with luxurious beds. We proceed to destroy the atmosphere with all our stuff, (at least Jords and I do) and head directly out for food. Being women, and subject to blood sugar crashes that end friendships, we’ve been trying to eat pre-emptively. Usually though, it goes from us saying to each other – “I’m weirdly not hungry?” to twenty minutes later absolutely rampaging for curries and snapping at people like angry turtles. This is where pina coladas come in handy.

Walking out from our hotel, we are directly on the beach. These beaches are set up just for drunk tourists in much the same way you would attract moths or zombies. True to our name, we stumble dazedly up to the first brightly lit UV sign we see. Turns out to be a restaurant right on the beach, and who could ask for more. We eat dinner with sand under our feet, have drinks, be obnoxious, lie down on deckchairs for hashish, and are straight up entertained by fire dancing and waiters. Bliss. We also explode with cuteness over a little dog that starts to growl and wimper every time his owner picks up a fire staff. The waiter says it’s his body guard, and then gives him a blanket, which the dog promptly burrows under and hides. So cute. Another man wanders up with a monkey and takes our photos for money. We feel guilty for the monkey, but we pay and do it anyway because we’re nasty.

As this was meant to be our “quiet night” we head home, promptly getting lost. At this stage we’ve been travelling all day and we’re exhausted. A man pulls up on a scooter and accuses us of not paying for one of our rounds of drinks. By this stage we are so sick of being poked and prodded for money that I don’t think the poor guy is quite ready for the three spitting hellcats he’s just unleashed on himself. Still, he’s persistent, and we pay up to make him shut up. As we walk away I realise that we had, indeed, paid the wrong person for our drinks. Just adding to the foreigner stereotype one day at a time. Awash with guilt, I vow that no matter how culture shocked I am, to always give the benefit of the doubt.

Blissful sleep.

20th

I’m up at 7am. Can’t sleep in. I go for a swim in the pool, overhear someone talking about a small town in NZ, and go wake up the girls for breakfast. Breakfast is a buffet of fruit and juices and basically everything that you see in the travel catalogues.

After this we have a smutty conversation and lie in the sun. Unfortunately it’s time to pack but that’s okay because we’re also going shopping. We stop for lunch at a quiet little house on the beach, where I have a “local delicacy” which turns out to be crab, shredded with pork, inside a crab shell. It’s delicious. I also have bananas and coconut milk which are perfect but a little rich. Especially when one is also trying to drink beach cocktails. There’s only so much one can take. Later this afternoon we go to a quaint little salon to take care of some business. I imagine Thai women are more than used to foreign girls coming in for manicures and massages. What they seemed a little less used to however, was us essentially asking them to eradicate a year's worth of bikini line growth. (Waxing doesn't exist in Japan.) Cut to: Jordy and I separated by a curtain lying on our backs with a veritable team of Thai ladies on top of us, her hand clenching mine, while ripping sounds and muffled squeaks escape from behind the cloth. I think one of Jordy's waxers even held her other hand. Tracey, from her calm leisurely manicure standpoint, chortles at us. Otsukaresama to all involved. 

Taxi to the ferry which went through some more shanty towns that are totally out of the tourist’s eye, and then stopped at a restaurant which set us up in a little cabana hut facing the ocean, telling us to relax and they’d tell us when our ferry was there. Naturally we have a drink while we wait.

We also make a new friend, Ruthie, who is lovely. We make our way across a long skinny jetty to our ferry. Everyone on the boat to Koh Phangan has only one thing on their minds – Half-moon party! We have some beers and size each other up. Jordy tries to read a book. I laugh. At her. Toilets aboard are a lesson in dexterity, luckily I’ve been in Japan long enough to be a pro at the squatter. Throw in some kicking waves and a window wide open to the sea and you’re in for an experience.

When we arrive at the island, someone with a ute is yelling the name of our hotel. We all clamber onto the back of it with our luggage, and off we go. After roaring through town and making friends with the other randos on the back, we’re suddenly lurching down the steepest hill known to man. We’ve arrived! We try to check in amidst beer-hilarity (our own, not anyone elses) and a lovely porter named Ben shows us to our room. We. Are. Ecstatic. The biggest, fluffiest bed you ever saw, on a terrace. Beautiful!

Downstairs. Drinks. Upstairs. Clothes. Downstairs. Food. Drinks. Upstairs. Bucket. A bucket here is about 300 baht, ($9) and includes: a flask of your choice of alcohol. A concentrated red bull. Soda of your choice. Multiple straws for sharing. Excite!

After some hotel room hilarity that was caught on camera (which was later stolen and probably wtf’d over by strangers/may endup on the internet someday), we got into a taxi for the Half-moon party. Imagine our drunken excitement to be sharing it with Japanese people! We love you!

The half-moon party is an organised event. There’s also the full-moon, which is even bigger. Full-moon is held on a beach, half-moon in a jungle. It’s packed with UV lights, trance music, buckets, and fire dancers. My kind of place. At the party we meet: French, Isreali, Ecuadorean, Japanese, Australian, American, annnnnnnnnnd a zebra and a tiger. Wonderful.

Sooo… Dance, drink, eat, get painted, drink, dance. Partway through the night the toilets become a swamp of disgusting sewage water. Barely notice. An Ecuadorian man claims me for the night and does not let me do anything on my own, which is immensely frustrating and a bit of a downer on the night. He makes up for it the slightest bit by teaching me salsa on the sand as the sun is coming up. A poetic picture, if you can manage to lay aside your seething rage.

When the sun is fully up we catch our open-air ute home. The guy we’re with barters up a storm for us which is interesting to watch, as we usually just agree to anything. Girls.

As we travel back we see Jordy walking down the street. We exchange open air pleasantries. Back at the hotel we nap for an hour, then wake up to meet Jords for free hotel breakfast (to be honest I can’t even remember what it was) and swap memories. Back to bed, sleep until 3pm.

At 3.30 we have raging hunger. We go directly for food (and cocktails), where I accidentally use a pre-broken toilet at bill paying time and we make a hasty retreat. We dip into a couple stores, and walk literally 200 metres down the beach before we decide to stop at ANOTHER restaurant and order coffees. And cocktails. Our friends the zebra and tiger (from England) walk past and we invite them to join us, where a casual coffee and drink turns rapidly into drinking games and buckets. One of these games involves singing songs with certain key words in them. Or drinking. Every round turns into a rowdy sing along and buckets quickly disappear. Best game ever.

Eventually the place packs up, but this is fine because we only have to walk another 600m before we find a beach-bar. Here we dance most of the night away. Trace and I have an epic sand dance before her bag is stolen, which puts an unfortunate dampener on things. She rallies, and we comb the beach looking for it. Beach combing turns into us drifting apart, Will the zebra making sandcastles, and all of us making our own way home at indiscriminate hours of the morning.

22nd

Standard routine of getting up for breakfast, and then sleeping. We change rooms to one even higher and more beautiful, which has a view over the entire hotel and ocean beyond. At about midday we rally for lunch (hard life I know) and head onto the beach. It’s a glorious day. We are invited to hangout with some Israelis, go swimming, buy sarongs, listen to music and just lie prone. Bliss.

As afternoon comes, (despite our pleas of “we just got up a couple hours ago!!”) we head into town for some shopping and to see if there’s any news on Tracey’s purse. No luck. Food, cocktails, sun over a flat sea. I get murdered by insects.

The girls head back to the hotel for a nap and I stay around to get a Thai massage. It’s very public and naked but by this stage I just don’t care. The woman massaging me hooks her leg over mine, grips my shoulders, and wrenches my spine in a direction it has never been before. The thing crunches like cocopops. Before I have time to object she does the other side and I let out an involuntary groan. I just. No words.

Thoroughly relaxed, I begin the slow amble home. When I arrive I start to get ready to go out, realise the girls are dead to the world, crawl into bed, and am out like a light. We wake up at 10pm.

By this stage I’m too groggy to get ready so I just go down to the beach looking like a pirate. We meet our jungle friends and have some cheap drinks, watch the fireshow and Steve trying to breathe fire and generally spitting petrol all over himself. Jords and I get pad thai in town. Midnight and it’s my first pad thai of the trip. Luckily it’s amazing.

We see Trace, dance a little, and then end up going for a wander. Will and I sit at an intersection drinking beers and watching the three taxi scooters and 2 dogs milling around there. One of them keeps asking if we need a ride, and then when he finds out I’m single he puts his arm around me and leads me to his taxi saying loudly “MY DAHHHLLING”. I lol. Beach, paddle, wander, goodbyes. The sun is rising.

As I begin to walk home, in near daylight, I walk up behind a pack of dogs which are fighting. On seeing me they begin barking and suddenly ignore each other. I turn around, go back to the intersection, find my taxi scooter driver, and climb aboard behind him with my arms around his ample middle. I’ve come a long way from my taxi-terror of earlier times. He’s super jolly and berates me all the way home for not bartering more for my hotel and assures me he’s a pro as we hurtle face first down the hill.

As soon as I knock on the door, Tracey opens it looking panicked. Her first words to me are: “our ferry is at 7.30.”

And so it happens that I am on a tiny tin boat for 3 hours, completely crashed out over 3 plastic chairs, having eaten an entire packet of cookies and a berocca for breakfast. Breakfast of champions.

Hour-long bus ride that I sleep through. We arrive at the airport 5 hours early so we do what we do best, which is obnoxious lunching. We lunch for a good couple of hours, watch a trail of ants carry a dead wasp between my feet and over our bags, “shop” in the tourist stores, and spend another good two hours trying to finagle 10 Baht coins out of shopkeepers for internet usage. We have money but not the right coins, and we are caught unawares. Our two hours of hunting culminates in about 14min of drip-fed internet each. We finally crash out exhausted in the massage chairs, unable to pay to make them work.

Later we get up and find Trace, who has fallen asleep on the ground on the first floor, unashamedly. By now we are so hysterical we spend an hour cackling madly in the departure lounge. We are finally allowed to board. Asleep in moments.

Bangkok again! Same backpackers, chill and extreme rally. Eat an entire pizza. Go shopping tipsily on Khaosan, which is packed – it being a Friday. This is the first time I’ve known what the day of the week is our entire holiday. Make friends but I’m too tired to keep them so go to bed.

24th

Packing, travelling, home, sleep.

END

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