I had a rather uneventful solo trip from Krabi to Koh Pha Ngan, just the way I like it. The problem is that when you’re by yourself on a boat you have to really size up the people around you, give them a good once-over, before you leave your backpack for any reason. To take a leak, for example. I know, I know, you never let your bag out of your sight, but I decided that the only people that knew which bag was mine really would have nowhere to go, not to mention that they all seemed to have a second pack that looked more impressive than my first. I don’t think they were exactly drooling with desire for my meagre-looking purple backpack.
I spent my first few days on Koh Pha Ngan at Mae Haad, a quiet little place in the northwest corner, mostly relaxing and hanging out on the beach. Shocking, I’m sure. I did rent a moped one day and cruised around most of the island, partially scouting out a good place to stay when Laynni and her parents arrived, but mostly just playing. This time there was no gremlin on the seat behind me warning, “Deeeaaan, slow down” and “Dean! Don’t fool around!” There’s something vaguely unsettling about having only myself to keep me from doing something stupid, dangerous, or, more likely, dangerously stupid.
Sure, Laynni’s advice is generally practical but believe me, I’ve rarely been accused of being practical. With that in mind, my first thought was to rent the big 250 Enduro. I checked it all out, it looked pretty good (to my well-trained eye), and like a hell of a lot of fun. Then I went to leave, started it up, pulled the clutch in, dropped it into first……and it jumps forward and stalls. What the hell? So I try it again, making extra-sure I’ve got the clutch in all the way. Same thing. Meanwhile, the lady who rents the bikes has sidled up and, by her look, has obviously judged me incompetent.
“Give it gas”, she said, smiling the way you would when talking to a small child.
“But I shouldn’t need to give it gas when the clutch is in.” She responded by nodding knowingly and giving me the revving motion with her right hand.
“No, see, I think the clutch is screwed. It’s not supposed to do that.”
“You want helmet?”
“Well, sure, but that’s really not the point. I think I better take one of the other ones.” At that point she shrugged, motioned towards one of the mopeds and walked away, leaving me to wonder why I wasn’t offered a helmet before, and why I apparently wasn’t getting one now, either. So it goes.
After meandering around the island for a few hours I stopped in at Haad Rin, the infamous Full Moon Party beach. Well, it turned out to be by far the nicest beach on the island that I saw. It also has huge crowds of backpackers, tons of loud music, and a zillion things going on at all times like volleyball, frisbee, soccer, and, of course, topless girl-watching. I took part in a couple of these activities, I won’t specify which, except that one was volleyball. Then, in my own predictably self-destructive way, I somehow managed to crack my knee wide open on the only three-foot stretch of cement within a hundred yards. It’s truly a gift.
After that I spent a few days just taking it easy, mostly lying around in the hammock and occasionally doing a little snorkelling. Despite my overall inactivity there was a little bit of excitement, mostly involving a four-foot long monitor lizard that apparently lived in the rocks next to my hut. My innate creativity kicked in almost immediately – I named him “Lizard”. Actually, the next morning (when I sobered up) I thought about changing it but decided it was too late; I didn’t want him suddenly having to question his identity. After a few days we were practically best friends. I had almost stopped shitting myself and throwing things at him when he appeared, and he……well, he kept doing pretty much whatever the hell he wanted. Hey, it’s not like I don’t have friends like that at home.
Changing gears a bit, during my last day in Mae Haad I walked into the restaurant only to be stopped by the puzzling scene before me. It was two in the afternoon and there was this guy sleeping on a table. Now, as many of you know, I’ve done my fair share of passing out in public places but, to the best of my knowledge, I have never actually climbed on top of the table to do it (pass out, that is). Maybe I’ll try it sometime, he looked real comfy. Eventually some of the staff got him up and he moved over to the hammock, looking and acting perfectly straight. That’s really the disturbing part, in my mind. Drunkenness, I understand (boy, do I). Soberly weighing his options and deciding that, yes, the best place for his nap would be on a table in the middle of the restaurant, now that baffled me.
The day got even stranger from there. Almost immediately after the table episode a young German guy came walking up from the beach. As so many people seem to be here he was about 6′0, 120 pounds, but at least this guy had the unusual good sense to not be wearing speedos. Anyway, as luck would have it, he came into the restaurant just in time to catch the tail end of “Slide” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We were soon to learn that he really……really likes that song. Suddenly, his eyes lit up and for a minute his mouth worked soundlessly as he fought for words. Eventually, he choked out enough English to frantically beg Ali to play the song over again, which he did with a shrug.
“Ah loof de Cheelee Peepers!”
Apparently, that was his cue to start what could only loosely be described as dancing. Remember Bert’s “Pigeon Dance” on Sesame Street? Well, this guy made Bert look like Fred Astaire. The dance itself actually looked quite similar, if you were to do it with a trick knee and using someone else’s arms. I could almost hear the how-to tape:
“Wave the arms to the left, crumple that right knee, left leg out to the side……..now twirl! Catch your balance, just, and repeat using your towel like a cape. OK, now your towel is a pair of wings, you can fly! Don’t forget to crumple that knee! There you’ve got it.” Germans. God help us all.
Well, as much as I’d like to consider myself at least mildly unconventional, it was all just a little too much for me. I decided to pick up camp and move to Chalok Lum Bay. All right, there were other reasons, like closer proximity to the village and nicer bungalows, but still, sometimes a person just needs to take a moral stand in order to sleep at night.
At Chalok Lum, I was about 200 metres from my destination, Fanta Bungalows (which came first: the guesthouse or the drink?), when I accidentally made brief, yet uncomfortable, eye contact with a group of three other travellers. It became painfully apparent to all of us that we were heading to the same place. Now you have to understand, months of scrounging for decent and available rooms in guesthouses that are generally thin in both areas inevitably instils in a person a deep-seated fear of hearing the words, “Sorry. Full.” Instinct kicked in…….and the race was on. Of course, we still have a little pride, it’s not like we were going to full-out run, that would look ridiculous. Instead, we each started into our own unique, hip-wiggling impersonation of a speed-walker, hands gripping our backpack straps and phoney looks of indifference plastered on our faces. Much better. Not ridiculous at all. So, 200 metres later, guess who had themselves a cozy little beach-front cabin at Fanta Bungalows? You got it (gimme a break, I’m going through some serious competition withdrawal over here).
Anyway, it turned out to be a great place; nice beach, good view of the bay, volleyball (at least a version of-) every afternoon, and outstanding food. The next day I got another room to be ready for Laynni’s parents when the three of them showed up………six hours late. Shocking, really. In all fairness it wasn’t really their fault. The train from Bangkok took three hours longer than it was supposed to and they missed the morning boat (or so I was told). As for their adventures in Bangkok; I understand they involved a fair bit of sightseeing mixed in with just a touch of cloak-and-dagger that resulted in Laynni’s possession of two SE Asia-map pillowcases. How’s that for a bold start into a life of crime? In the end, though, everyone is present, accounted for, and enjoying the laid-back atmosphere. Having Lyle and Nadine here has also made us realize how many things we’ve started taking for granted on this trip. Base tans, for example. Hey, how was Lyle supposed to know the sun would be so hot in the tropics?
Yesterday we rented a couple mopeds and did some wandering. We went to a waterfall (a testy little one hour hike), Thong Sala (for a cheeseburger & fries), and Mae Haad beach (there really is some good snorkelling there). Along the way I learned just where Laynni came by her cautious use of roof-less motor vehicles. I may be jumping to conclusions, but I’m willing to bet that Lyle would have been comfortable breaking the 30 km/hr barrier. Nadine insists that her hair actually moved at one point, but I’m relatively certain it was just the draft from when the kid on the pedal bike blew past them. Nonetheless, we eventually made it everywhere we wanted to go and this morning they decided to go for a drive by themselves so that they could go at their own pace. I wonder where they walked?
Our other reason for renting a bike was that last night was the famous full-moon party at Haad Rin and I had been planning to drive down there around midnight to check out what all the fuss was about. Alas, my ambition seems to have reached yet another record low, and I (once again) couldn’t drag myself out of the hammock. It just seemed like such a long way, I was tired, etc. I have a whole list of excuses if anyone would like to hear them. Oh well, being solo (Laynni had no interest in going) and having to drive the so-called “death road” with thousands of other punks in various mind-altered states probably wouldn’t have been the best plan anyway. The jack-off sitting at the computer beside me right now is probably a pretty good example of the kind of crowd to expect. He’s got a wreath of flowers around his neck, keeps speaking rapid German interspersed with the words, “fuck” and “Katrina”, and repeatedly breaks into the song, “Celebration”. I’m guessing things worked out for him. There must have been a lot of drugs involved, though, because this guy ain’t too pretty.
Well, on that note, I’m off. A couple more days here and then we head to Koh Tao, where Laynni and I are going to take our Advanced Open Water scuba course, and from there, up to northern Thailand. Don’t worry, you’re going to hear all about it.