Being in Thailand a second time was like returning somewhere familiar yet foreign at the same time. The great street food, shopping and Thai friendliness were there, but it also occurred to me that Thailand is the strangest country I have ever visited. The sheer number of visible prostitutes, ladyboys, the extreme reverence for their King and the existence of Ping Pong shows can’t let it be anything but.
When we arrived in Bangkok it was at the height of the airport siege and I was concerned that the situation would boil over. After all, protests are a daily occurrence in Bangkok but airport sieges are not. We were assured by the Canadian embassy that it was safe to come back to Thailand. If you did not know about the protests, you would have no idea that they were actually on. The city was functioning as it normally does and the only trace of the airport situation was at the airport itself. Barbwire and luggage trolleys were used as barriers to entry and the parking lot was empty.
I did not like Bangkok when I first visited; I did not like Bangkok when I visited a second time. We spent most of our time visiting the superfluous shopping malls and markets, and sitting in traffic. Bangkok planners fell asleep when they devised its infrastructure. The skytrain and metro seem to service the exact same parts of the city. The stoplights take forever to change colour. There are far too many cars, most with only one passengers. Traffic jams are a reality at all hours of the day. It once took us 1.5 hours to travel 8 km!
We gratefully left the smoggy metropolis for the clean-aired south.
It was an ordeal to get here. We bought a bus-boat combo ticket which was to bus us to Chumphon and then boat us to Koh Tao. My friend and I were the last people to board the bus, hence we got the worst seats. We sat at the very back of the bus, my friend sitting to my right with a chair in front and me in the seat in front of the aisle. My friend sat next to a Danish guy, and both had their legs squashed by some inconsiderate girls in front. I’m not sure about others, but I always make sure that the people behind me have ample leg room. You could excuse them for being ignorant of the situation but partway through the ride, they dropped their passports and asked the guy to pick them up. He said that he couldn’t move and that they would have to lift their seat up. They obliged, he handed them the passports and then BOOM! – they lowered their seat as far down as possible again! These same girls blasted their iPod throughout the entire ride which was painfully loud in the otherwise silence of the bus. They must be hard of hearing because I could hear their music by the downstairs toilet. On my left was a tall man. There was an empty seat between us and he decided to use both up. I didn’t mind because he is tall and I am very short. But then he decided to use up the seats by putting his head down in the empty seat. His head was jutting into my thigh. After I went to the toilet, I sat down on his head because he trespassed the line that demarcated our territories. To make matters worse, he was coughing – a lot. And if that wasn’t enough, after a rest stop at about 12 am, the three people in front of the man decided to have a loud conversation until 3 am.
We were dropped off in Surat Thani instead of Chumphon and told that we had to ride a boat to Koh Tao via Koh Samui. This was because the waves were too unsafe to ride along the usual route. Unfortunately, the waves were still really high on the alternative route and we had to change ferries twice, once in Koh Samui and another in Koh Phangan. Most people were green from sea sickness and on the third ride, I could not fall asleep and got sick (and vomited).
Koh Tao is the diving capital of Thailand, primarily because it’s the cheapest place to do it. My friend got her open-water course and I spent most of the time swimming, biking and reading. I tried a discovery dive but my lifelong fear of open water prevailed and I bailed after jumping into the water. I was disappointed in myself but I guess some fears can’t be conquered.
We came for the infamous Full Moon party. I’m not much of a party person and went simply for the novelty. We stayed in a bungalow right by the main beach which was lined with alcohol stalls, all fighting for our money. Each vendor had their hand outreached with a smile on their face, begging you to buy with them. Many had signs that said I LUV U LONGTIME and gave straw roses and leis upon purchase. The bars along the beach each specialized in a music genre: trance, top 40, hip hop. The beach, which was initially composed of Westerners and Thai vendors was suddenly overpopulated by the addition of many, many Thai prostitutes (men and women). As the night progressed, debauchery prevailed: people got more drunk and high, Westerners were hooking up with prostitutes, the beach got filthier and filthier. I witnessed a couple fighting because one was making out with a prostitute and two boys fighting over a woman. One Western guy bumped into me and gave me an apologetic wai, another drank out of my straw. My friend, another Asian-Canadian, and I feared that people perceived us to be prostitutes. We were sitting on the edge of the road and a guy walked by and stared. He backtracked and shook my hand. Oh no!, I thought. He wants to buy my services But he was Canadian and told me that he didn’t think I was Thai. These are the things you fear when you are an Asian travelling through Thailand!!
My friend and I went back to our room at 5 am while our friend Bryan joined us a little later. We were too tired to make it to sunrise. We woke up the next morning at 2 pm, hungover and lethargic. Most of the day was spent eating, relaxing and watching Season 8 of friends (which only further confirmed my dislike of the show). It was an experience to be at the Full Moon party but I will never go back again.
We visited Ang Thong Marine Park which consists of 42 islands. It’s beautiful here but unfortunately, we were victims of the group tour. We had to get to the park by ferry but in order to get on land, we had to ride a longtail boat, which was an onerous task. They crammed 50 passengers into two longtail boats. My friend remarked that she felt like an immigrant. We must have spent an hour total moving from boat to land and land to boat which ate into our time on the land.
The climb to the viewpoint was difficult and somewhat dangerous. They placed ropes along the trail for support. At the top, the ground consisted of pointy, sharp rocks. The view from was stunning but, as been the norm on my trip, hazy.
Because of the undue time spent moving from boat to land, we did not have enough time to visit the nearby cave. The park is beautiful but it simply reconfirmed my hatred of group tours.
The worst town that we visited down South. Mostly older European people red as lobsters. It’s funny to be on the touristy beaches of Thailand. They are Whiter than the major cities of Canada which is funny since we are in Asia! The highlights from our time here: a sangthaew ride with a very sick man holding a photosensitive bag with what we presumed to be blood, Phuket Carneval with its overwhelming amount of food stalls, being asked to see a Ping Pong show by a pregnant lady, the beautiful sunsets and the ladyboy Cabaret show where every heterosexual man in the audience was questioning his sexuality.
Ko Phi Phi
The highlight of my time in Southern Thailand. The island was devastated by the 2004 tsunami and is still being rebuilt. The island has a lovely relaxed atmosphere. The only downside is there is not much to do which was hard for someone restless like me. We befriended three Swedish guys who my friend met while diving. We ate good food and drank a lot of alcohol. I probably drank more in Southern Thailand than I had the entire year of 2007!
They love stickers in Thailand. They make you wear one with your destination on every boat ride. When I was getting ready to disembark from the boat, the lady asked me where mine was. I had it in my hand and showed it to her. The ramp from the boat to the pier was really steep (Thai safety standards) and I had a premonition that I would get hurt. My flip flop got caught and I flew at least 5 feet onto my knee with nearly 20 kilos on my back! It was very painful, I nearly cried and I was angry! All I could say was, I lost my sticker! I was on the ground for awhile and finally someone stopped to help. I looked at the pavement which had two blood stains and looked at my knee which was missing a chunk.
We spent Christmas eve and day with our Swedish friends. It was two nice low-key dinners and the best Christmas in recent memory.
Thailand is a nice country but I was glad to leave. I am not a beach person. Before I met my friend, I was planning to spend 1-2 weeks down south. Instead, I was there for 3 weeks and nearly went stir-crazy. And, GASP, I was sick of Thai food which I love but also found too salty for my palette. But mainly, I was looking forward to walking more, seeing monuments and experiencing some culture.