Hello again. It’s been quite awhile since my last update so I’m sure you’re all just on the edge of your seat waiting to find out what kind of wacky shenanigans we’ve been up to. If not, this is still a great opportunity to kill about half an hour of work time. It’s win-win, really.
Well, after my last message we had an uneventful overnight train ride to Bangkok where we got settled, dropped off some laundry (believe me, it was long overdue) and tromped off to see the wonders that are Khao San Road. Although Layne had already had the “pleasure”, the infamous backpacker hangout was new to me. Not surprisingly, it fit expectations to a tee; about 3 blocks of stores, stalls and bars selling everything from books, t-shirts and CD’s to tattoos, overpriced beer and inner peace. And all items definitely “buyer beware”. Regardless, it was time for a complete overhaul of our much-too-large book collection so I spent most of the day haggling, book-by-book, with street sellers. I’ve got to say that even though I’ve improved immensely since the start of this trip I still really suck at bartering.
The next day we headed down to Chinatown via the Chao Phraya River ferry. Cheap, easy, and a far cry from Bangkok’s notorious traffic jams and pollution. Mind you, the river itself resembled (and probably consisted of) a combination of raw sewage and rust remover but, when all goes well, the idea is for there to be no actual skin contact, hence no worries. The part of Chinatown we visited was a stupefying hodge-podge of food stalls and fabric vendors all based around one long “street” that was covered with tarps and encroached upon by table after table of crap until it was about three feet wide. Although the close quarters did deter normal vehicles, scooter drivers had no qualms about forcing their way comically down the tiny alley which was made even more miniscule by the mobs of people.
Once we’d had enough I shamefully broke the number one rule of travelling – I tried to think for myself. Foolish, foolish. Anyway, after studying a map on a bus stop sign I eventually determined (one could also use the word “presumed”) that bus #6 would take us back to our hotel and save us having to walk all the way back to the river (about 3 blocks). Great idea, right? Yeah, sure. Ten minutes later our mouths were gaping open, eyes wide, as we crossed the bridge, staring back at the road we had expected (hoped?) to take disappearing rapidly into the distance. By the time we managed to recover our so-called wits we were already across the river and wallowing in the midst of the exceedingly unknown (to us, anyway) Southwest Bangkok. We then managed to put another couple miles between us and familiar territory while we argued about whether we should get off immediately (we didn’t want to get out in the rain) or ride the route all the way back around. I decided it was time for an ultimatum.
“If the bus doesn’t turn left at the next corner we’re getting off.”
Right turn. We looked at each other, looked at the rain, and choked.
“OK, no problem. If it turns right again then we’ll be heading the right way.”
“All right, this is stupid. Next stop we get off.”
Of course, after that the next stop didn’t happen for at least ten more minutes and several more miles. I slowly came to realize the obvious.
An hour later we were ushered off the bus (no “riding the loop” here) along with the last of the other passengers. The best I could determine we were somewhere south of the most southwesterly point shown on Lonely Planet’s Greater Bangkok map. Not walking distance, that’s for sure. After a long while of soliciting directions from very surprised Thais (you wouldn’t exactly call this a tourist area) and a failed attempt to board a cargo barge we ended up back on another good ol’ #6 for the return journey. Of course, we were now in the midst of rush hour and it took nearly two hours to get back. Now we could honestly say that we had seen real Bangkok traffic.
Well, after all that stress and adventure (those two words seem to go together all too often) we had worked up quite an appetite. When we spotted a McDonald’s we quickly jumped off. As it turned out, we were about two blocks from where we had started nearly four hours earlier. Nice. But not to worry, the day wasn’t over quite yet. As luck would have it, it was “Cowboy Week” at Mickey D’s. Most of the employees were dressed as cowboys. A few, however, were dressed as Indians. This special few were known as the “cowgirls”. Interesting. Actually, most were dressed as some combination of the two. Feathered headdress and war paint, along with a vest, sheriff’s badge and chaps, that sort of thing. To get to the counter you passed through a “Bonanza”-style gate that was adorned with AK47s (?). Country karaoke was being sung in the corner and every fifteen minutes the Indians, or cowgirls, would dance, beat a drum and take photos with customers. McDonald’s, Bangkok-style. Something tells me that whole scheme wouldn’t get too far in Saskatchewan.
Eventually we made it “home”, and a few hours later we set out for the airport to meet up with Jamie and Mike. After some minor (although if felt sort of major at the time) confusion involving two terminals and four different waiting areas we managed to find them and all four of us were ushered off to their hotel, compliments of Jamie and her travel agent perks. Oooh, baby. Two bedrooms, a fridge, a fully equipped bathroom (with flush toilet, of course), a table, and honest-to-goodness carpet. Mind you, I didn’t notice any of this until much later as immediately upon entering the room my concentration had locked on the exquisite vision before me. Couch! TV! Remote control! About half an hour later the shock finally wore off and I realized that I didn’t really care about the college basketball blowout I was watching. The point, though, was that I could watch it. And besides that, there’s always MTV. After a couple beer and some Kaiser (yet another treat) we packed it in for the night and, unfortunately, were back on the road about four hours later. So long, couch. Remember me fondly, TV. We’ll meet again some day, remote.
The following day was a blur as we took the rookies on a mini-tour of some of Bangkok’s highlights (Grand Palace, Reclining Buddha, river ferry, Khao San Road). Jamie may have seen a little more than Mike after we split up to tour the Khao San area. Laynni and Jamie shopped, snacked, wandered, etc. Mike and I walked about two blocks, got sucked into a bar, and just drank until it was time to meet the girls. Ah, good times.
That very night we boarded the night train for Koh Samui. As usual, Laynni and I enjoyed it thoroughly. We learned from Mike and Jamie, however, that the sleeper train is much less effective if you don’t sleep. They blamed jet lag and described the entire train, bus, and boat excursion as “the trip from hell”. As much as we tried we couldn’t even pretend to agree. Everything’s relative, right? Regardless, by afternoon we were settled into a couple of nice beachside bungalows on Lamai Beach (reputedly the second-best beach on the island but really kind of disappointing; let’s just say that I have no interest in seeing the third). We wasted no time getting started pounding down Changs and Sangsom like our lives depended on it. In a roundabout way they sort of did since we all wished we were dead the next morning.
Anyway, two days of that sort of thing and then we decided to rent a couple motorbikes (mopeds) and see some more of the island. We stopped at a waterfall, Mike and Jamie went for an elephant ride, fun was had by all. Incidentally, the most fascinating part of it all for me was their basketball-sized shits (the elephants, not Mike and Jamie). I was suitably impressed. Mike said that he particularly liked the feel of the elephant’s Brillo-pad skin between his legs. Mmmmmm, brillo-pad. After a brief stop to see the Big Buddha (the statue, not the beer guts on Lamai Beach) we pulled into Chaweng Beach. This is supposed to be the best beach on Samui and guess what, it was. There was no comparison. We really wished we’d gone there in the first place. Mile after mile of beautiful white sand and calm, clear water. Plus, another McDonald’s. Boool-ya!
The day wound down and we decided it was time to head back. We’re cruising along Chaweng’s main drag when some tourist goes flying by us doing at least 80 or 90 (km/hr, of course, these are mopeds we’re talking about). Whoa, usually just the locals do that. As I’m thinking that another guy goes buzzing past us way too close, hollering all the way down the road. In German, I think. Fucking idiots. So we’re still watching that guy when somebody else starts yelling right behind us. Shocked, we both turn to look and see another foreigner, about 40, hollering at us, not really in a hostile way, but not exactly friendly either. I can tell that this guy’s speaking German but that puts me no further ahead in figuring out what he wants. Then he starts tugging on the front of his shirt as if to say, “Look at my shirt”, or maybe “I’m talking about your shirt” (I never was any good at charades). We both just stared at him in confusion until I finally glanced forward and realized we were about to drive right through a ninety-degree corner. I desperately tried to make the turn but unfortunately someone had decided to put a nice sprinkling of gravel on the pavement (just in the corner, mind) and boom, we’re down, both of us going over the top, with Laynni, luckily for her, landing on top of me. Not so luckily for her, I was forced to shed her from my back (sorry, babe) in order to begin my pursuit of the previously-noted moron. I somehow managed to get up and moving almost in time to catch him but he sped off just out of reach, followed closely by my various clever curses. Apparently, “Come back here you stupid fucker!” wasn’t part of his English repertoire or I’m sure he would have stopped.
Anyway, even though it looked at the time like I’d lost the best half my big toe we actually escaped with just some scrapes and bruises, nothing too serious. The guy from the travel agency on the corner was really friendly and extremely helpful in providing water for us to clean up. I felt a little better when he told us that we were the third bike of the day to bite it in that corner. Unfortunately, we never did find out if the German guy wanted something or if he was just jerking us off. I’ve been kind of hoping to run into him again.
On to Koh Pha Ngan. Had Rin, the “party beach”. Our days became varying mixtures of the beach, reading, napping, drinking, eating, playing cards and watching movies. Jamie and Mike indulged in a revolutionary new method of travel by which they chose to forgo sleeping through the night in favour of napping spontaneously at any time of the day or night for equally unpredictable lengths of time. The jury’s still out on that tactic. As for the drinking, at various times we all managed to fit our standard boozing profiles.
Laynni suddenly froze in mid-drink stating, “I’m done”, and refusing to budge.
Jamie tried to stumble away without accepting 430 baht of change at supper before passing out sprawled facedown on her bed.
Mike quietly snuck off to pass out under the pretense of going to the bathroom.
And, of course, “Drunk Dean” made an appearance or two, which may have resulted in some photos of me (gasp!) passed out in a chair. If I had a nickel for every one of those floating around………….well, I’d probably just use it to by more beer.
One of the days Mike and I rented some real dirtbikes for a change and went cruising around the island engaging in some fairly fun, if unintentional, off-roading. And while I had been under the impression that other than one cop I was the only person on the island wearing a helmet Mike claims to have seen two elderly Thai women playing it safe as well. Whew, for a minute there I was starting to feel like a loser. While we were gone, Jamie and Laynni took the opportunity to try topless sunbathing which is very popular here (only among tourists, of course). Unfortunately, I’m told there were some problems getting Jamie’s boobs to bounce symmetrically. Oh well, what can you do?
April 1st, the convergence of three major happenings:
1) April Fool’s Day
2) Mike and Jamie leaving the islands for Bangkok (refer to item #1)
3) Mike getting his first full night’s sleep. Way to kick that jet lag in the ass buddy! And after only ten days, to boot.
The idea was for them to have one more day in Bangkok for Jamie to shop and Mike to serve as her porter. Then on to their fully equipped “101 Ways To Say I Love You With A Paddle”-room above The Limber Squirrel go-go bar in Patpong, before finally flying home to Saskatoon. A perfect way to end a holiday. Hope you enjoyed it, kids!
As for us, we’ve decided to spend our remaining three weeks lazing on Koh Phangan. From everything we’ve seen all the islands around here are pretty similar and we don’t feel like moving around a lot, wasting some of our last days on boats and buses. There’s also a good chance that I won’t be sending any more updates until we get back to Bangkok, at which point I should be able to wrap up this whole sordid little adventure. Til then, or April 24th.
p.s. It’s the hot season now and it hit 38C yesterday.