Thailand Part One

Apr 13, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Brandyn's blogs, Uncategorized, Zimbabwe

Our itinerary was simple. Fly from Kathmandu to Bangkok on December 7th with a minimal layover in Delhi, then store or luggage at the Bangkok airport for a few hours and explore the city before flying to Krabi in the south of Thailand and taking a ferry to Koh Lanta the following day arriving on the December 9th. This was all easier said than done; getting to Thailand was a debacle. It certainly wasn’t as easy as it was supposed to be and drove me to writing a letter to Kingfisher Airlines which borders on maniacal with tones of an author diagnosed with borderline personality disorder to mildly amusing. We arrived midmorning but it felt like we were swimming in air. We were not jetlagged, not tired, but somewhere in between, numb.

Our next flight wasn’t due to leave for another 8 or so hours. I walked as briskly as I could while shaking from Dunkin Donuts coffee and exhaustion to the Air Asia ticket counter. After standing twiddling my thumbs I realized that I needed to draw a number rather than stand in line. I didn’t understand why there was a line if we all had to draw numbers. My number was called and I gently strolled to the counter with a smile and the simple request to please put me on one of the two flights in between when I was standing there and when mine was due to leave. I left thanking the woman with a smile having not immediately realized that she had told me that it was simply not possible and there was nothing I could do. She was just so nice and I was so stunned, that I couldn’t comprehend being disappointed. We opted for a high class hotel by the hour that was built for travelers with lack of sleep and a layover. We got a room with aircon, cable television, and a shuttle service for six hours and 900 Baht (USD$30). The exchange rate is approximately USD$1 = 30 Thai Baht.

The place was classy but not worth 900 Baht. We immediately fell asleep and woke a few hours later. Still in a fog I walked down a few streets admiring the fact that there were cars and they were new Hondas and Toyotas at that. I was amazed by the condition of the roads and that there was no garbage strewn about. I couldn’t believe that there were sidewalks and that no one was honking. I also couldn’t believe how bloody hot it was. After a brief stroll I finally came across a restaurant filled with patrons who worked in the industrial areas around the airport. We both hadn’t eaten any seafood in a few months and Cori hadn’t eaten chicken since the raw chicken incident in Delhi and before that probably in South Africa six months prior. I ordered the two things I could recognize and happily the cheapest things on the menu to boot, one pad Thai with chicken and one shrimp pad Thai for me.

The meal was devoured. One thing that I’m sure most people don’t know is that pad Thai is one of the only Thai dishes were using chopsticks is appropriate. Most Thai food is eaten with a fork and a spoon. The fork is used to shovel food with one hand onto the spoon in the other. Food is eaten with the spoon. The Air Asia flight was brief and we were greeted by an extremely nice hotel worker who took us to our hotel in Krabitown. We got a fan room with no windows for around $18 a night. We had to get used to the extravagant Thai prices. I was blown away by how quick the internet was. I was getting speeds about 3x faster than my cable internet at home. We downloaded the Grinch That Stole Christmas and a few other movies that helped cure our homesickness over the holiday season.

We left the next morning for Koh Lanta. Koh means island in Thai. So anytime you see Ko or Koh, just know that it is island. We broke the budget for a few nights because it was Cori’s birthday and we wanted to stay someplace fancy. I think in these two days we called everyone of our family members because the internet was so fast and free. This was the first time in almost six months where we had good internet that didn’t cost a fortune. Believe it or not but internet in Africa is bloody expensive. In South Africa it costs about $4 to download the information the size of a gnat fart.

For the amount of money we were paying, we were surprised that breakfast was not included, that it was a 10 minute walk across the main road through another resort to get to the beach, and that the nearest restaurant was an Australian burger place. It did however have a decent kitchen and I made one good breakfast and one bad one because the water was turned off so I had to use what little water we had to boil eggs instead of washing the previous morning’s dishes. The beach in Koh Lanta is not one to write home about. I called Cori a beach snob in my previous blog about Goa but after spending so much time in Zanzibar, I had now become a beach snob. We’ll just say Koh Lanta is not Koh Zanzibar (yes, I know that Zanzibar is an archipelago not the name of an island, and therefore this is a lame joke. But most people don’t know that fact).

Cori’s birthday was great. We woke up late I made breakfast for us and we went to the beach. We lazed around for the better half of the day at the Funky Fish beach resort. It was a nice place with a really good atmosphere. We had a few beers and sat on triangle pillows. The triangle pillow is a Thai staple for lounging around. It is perfect for using as a pillow for your head, to lean back on against your lower back, or even to put one underneath your knees to prop the legs up. They’re excellent and dirt cheap. Unfortunately because of how bulky they are the cheapest we could find them on the internet was for about $125 a piece back home. I think that I may go into the triangle pillow business.

We have always had the rule of ordering new and exciting foods instead of sticking with what we knew. I pointed at the menu and what came back mystified me. It was a shrimp that was surrounded by a crunchy noodle with spicy sauce. It was excellent. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it again in all the time we spent in Thailand but I would love to revisit it. Koh Lanta isn’t a crazy party island like Phi Phi or Samui but it was a full moon the night of Cori’s birthday and we were a little worried that we’d be kept up until dawn. After an amazing dinner on the beach, we walked back across the street and on our way noticed that it was a full lunar eclipse. This was one of the few times I’d ever seen that. It was pretty incredible.

After spending two overpriced nights in a nice place far from the beach, we decided to spend 450 Baht on a bungalow about 25 meters from the beach. We went back to Funky Fish. We liked that it was on the water, had really good food and is run by an overly friendly ladyboy. We spent four days in total on the beach lounging around and enjoying the relative silence in comparison with Kathmandu.

Ladyboys are a funny phenomenon. They are extremely feminine and live their lives as women. Some are pre-op some are post op, but they are all a staple in Thai culture. I by no means have any kind of repressed attraction to them. I am however attracted to the fact that they are lucky enough to live in a place as accepting as Thailand. After traveling through a few places in Africa where that kind of thing would have had you killed, it was a welcome change. There is a general rule in Thailand that when in doubt, she probably has a penis. Even when not in doubt, she could probably have a penis.

Like I mentioned the beach wasn’t the best in the world, but it was an excellent spot for sunsets. I couldn’t believe how every night we were there we blessed with an incredible one. The other part that made Koh Lanta worth visiting was the food. Every dish we had whether it was at Fat Cats or a shed on the side of the street was epic. We have more pictures of us eating than we do of us on the beach.

We took a scooter around and cruised the length of the island a few times checking out all the different beaches along the coast. The island has great amenities and made us feel like we could be anywhere. It was clean, safe, and relatively inexpensive. The bike broke down a few times that day and we ran out of petrol, but otherwise it was fun and I only tried to drive on the right hand side of the road twice out of habit.

We broke the budget one day and went on a ‘four island tour.’ It sounded good and got a resounding review from an Irish couple we made friends with. The place I was most excited to see was Koh Mook with the Emerald Cave. It was the inspiration for the movie The Beach. The Beach was not filmed there but on Phi Phi Leh. The book described Koh Mook perfectly. We hopped into the water about 20 meters from a giant limestone karst. The cave was nearly impossible to see. We had a guide behind us and one in front of us to lead us. They both had flashlights and without them it was pitch black. We swam for around 15 minutes until we arrived at one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. It was the most pristine beach imaginable with limestone cliffs at least a hundred meters up all around. The sand was so white and pure it squeaked when walking on it. The water looked fake and the pictures we took did it a disservice. Imagine floating rock a hundred meters high and maybe a hundred across that is shaped like a wheel with a tiny cave that opens up into the middle of the wheel. The wheel has the most incredible beach imaginable and insane forest and plant life inside. It was ethereal.

On the way to visit the other two islands our boat’s propeller shattered leaving us marooned for 30 minutes until we could get a tow from another boat. We had lunch and did some snorkeling. The snorkeling was pretty good and come to find out fish really love rice. I threw handfuls of rice in front of my face while snorkeling so that I could immerse myself completely in the life of a hungry fish. After we snorkeled for a while another boat came that was going to take us back to the pier. For clarification, we had visited four places, but all of the guests concurred that being marooned didn’t count as one. The French guy who worked for the snorkeling company said (insert insanely thick French accent here) ‘so we see everything and we go back now, no?’ We overpaid for the trip by about $40 so I came a little unglued and said ‘NO, you didn’t take us to four places and we paid for four.’ ‘But the weather is bad and the sea is rough, so we cannot go to the fourth place.’ I called him on his BS and settled on sitting on a deserted beach for about 20 minutes so that he wouldn’t have to hear me marveling at the atrocity of not seeing the fourth island.

Something worse than being stuck on a boat with an extremely pompous Frenchman happened that day, our camera broke. It was the third camera from the trip. We had two stolen in Quito, Ecuador the day before we were going to leave to the Galapagos Islands and now this one. We got a lot of use out of it and took over 14,000 pictures which considering that I probably took more pictures with that camera than most people in their lifetime, I am happy. Goodnight sweet prince you will be missed Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS 2011-2011.

We took the amazingly comfortable overnight bus from Krabitown to Bangkok. We were a little apprehensive and on edge about entering a metropolis over 7,000,000 inhabitants after relaxing on a beach for four days. Bangkok is an incredible city but our first impression left us craving more. All overnight buses seem to arrive before the sun comes up. Our bus was due to arrive at around 7am however we arrived at 4:30am. Arriving too early is even worse than being stuck in traffic at times. We had absolutely nowhere to go and didn’t want to get a taxi ride into the city at that hour. We sat around for an hour and a half until the sun started to peek up. We found out that we had gotten off at the wrong terminal about 30 minutes further away from where we wanted to go. The taxi drivers were merciless, it was so early in the morning that the taxi stand operator wasn’t working and the drivers could name their own price and refuse to turn on the meter. I finally managed to get a price for half of what they were originally telling me but probably six times more than it should have cost.

We had reservations at a place near the infamous Khao San Road. The taxi took us directly to our place and because we had a fixed price we didn’t have to worry about him driving us all over Bangkok to milk the meter. The door was locked and a metal grate similar to the ones in New York had to be lifted. A groggy woman opened the door, took our bags, and impolitely let us know that we were welcome to return after 11am and not before. We did what anyone else in our position would do. We wandered around the streets of Banglamphu and Khao San Road. It was amazingly well organized and chipper for being a street known for being a haven for drunken travelers leaving their country for the first time. The 18-20 year old British male who’d been out drinking all night continuing into the morning demographic was well represented and out in numbers. Most were friendly and knew that this was simply what you do on Khao San as not to expect any dirty looks from anyone.

One great thing about the area is the breakfasts. In every country there is a hangover food and on Khao San you can get said hangover food from around the globe. The American is almost always cheesy eggs, toast, potatoes, and bacon. The Englishman is eggs, beans, toast, a fried tomato, and sausage. The Aussie is usually the granddaddy of them both which will be eggs, beans, toast, a fried tomato, potatoes, sausage, bacon, and ham. I don’t know if it is a competition, but if so I think that it would seem from the menu alone (forget my personal experience here) that the Aussies can drink; or get really bad hangovers.

Lack of sleep is like a hangover but without the fun of the previous night. I ate my monthly quota of pig and marveled at the amount of people having beers while we were having brekky. The street smelled like a frat house and was stained black from spilt booze. We did a fair amount of walking around and walked into an internet café to skype with family. One hangover breakfast, a few family conversations over, and 200 times getting turned around later, we could finally get our room. The room was one of the most spacious in Bangkok. What it had in space it lacked in windows and air circulation, but for 350 Baht we were in good shape.

Commence operation buy a new camera. We knew we wanted another Cannon because we love them and know how to use them. However, being that we only had a few months left on our trip, our budget was greatly diminished.

Thailand is completely in love with their king. It is not creepy or fear driven like in a lot of nations. This is genuine love. His picture is proudly adorned nearly everywhere and at many street intersections. Before any movie at the theater there is a 4-5 minute propaganda film about the king showing him do a number of different things, visiting farms, holding babies, smiling with strangers, whatever. It is kind of cool and extremely unique.

The back of the 1,000 Baht note has a picture of the king from the waist up. Adorned behind his neck is what? A Cannon camera. It is the camera of choice for the Thai people. Cannon sales in Thailand are significantly higher than any other brand. If you win on Jeopardy because of this morsel of knowledge, please keep me in mind. We felt lucky that we hadn’t wanted to buy a Nikon.

We went to MBK. MBK is kind of like a cross between an entertainment mega center, an indoor swap meet, and a congregation for tweens escaping the oppressive Bangkok heat. There is an entire floor that sells knock off clothing, another for cameras and cell phones, and everywhere you look is crap to buy. 9/10 of what is under the roof of this building is garbage with flashy packaging. I managed to do some excellent bargaining and got a camera for around 70% of what I would have at the Cannon store.

New camera in hand it was time to start getting temple fatigue. A disease that is common amongst travelers after seeing hundreds of temples in Asia, they all start to look the same. I will say though that the reclining Buddha is truly spectacular. Wat Pho that houses the reclining Buddha is one of the biggest and oldest temples in Thailand. The Buddha is over 150 feet long. It was well worth the visit. We walked into the complex through an open gate and wandered around for about an hour before we saw the ticket booth. Not believing in Karma but knowing it would only help it, we paid the entrance fee and even gave a donation on the way out.

We decided that we were going to go to the Sunrise Temple or Wat Arun even though it was the afternoon. To get there we took the ferry across the river, but before that we had the most amazing lunch to date. We had fried tofu and seafood padthai on the side of the road for less than 100 Baht. The Sunrise Temple was great too. Again it was a building that we could climb all over and roam freely. I don’t think I’m going to visit another American or European site until I’m too old to climb on things so I don’t get upset that I cannot do so. The structure itself is about 250 feet high with very steep steps and an awesome view from the top.

We took the water ferry from there back to our neighborhood in time for happy hour. We didn’t bring the new camera with us I think out of preservation. The next morning we left super early for Cambodia via train, tuk tuk, bus, and taxi. But more about that later.

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April 2012
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