Back in Thailand, this time to actually stay for a while. This was already our third time in Bangkok this trip and we’d spent a total of four days in the country. Here we met up with Laynni’s parents who were once again joining us for a small portion of our journey (I say “once again” in a good way, not the “once again” I woke up with a cold sore way that you’re thinking). From earlier this year loyal readers may remember such riveting page-scrollers as “Lyle Sunburns Across the Mediterranean” and “Turkish Tea for Nadine”.
If nothing else, having them here alleviates Laynni’s homesickness, rejuvenating her for the final stretch like a marathoner carbo-loading with a heaping plate of fettucini alfredo at the 20-mile mark. Plus, Tahnni now has a Blackberry, which is obstensibly to be used for Gordie’s job, but with 75% of her family overseas in practice it serves to provide us with hourly updates on the Life and Times of the Dupre family. We’re now more well-informed than Sarah Palin’s speechwriters.
After a couple days in Bangkok getting our shit together, so to speak (that Nepali diet wreaked havoc on my digestive schedule), we moved on to the island of Koh Chang, situated in a national park just a couple hours from the Cambodian border. I can’t be sure but we’ve decided it is at least possible that “national park” in Thai actually means “a beautiful slice of nature grandly improved by the addition of construction crews, half a dozen 7-11’s and a boatload of white people riding motorbikes for the first time.”
Nonetheless, it is still a very nice island, the hotels and huts don’t really seem to overrun the beaches…yet, and the further south you go the quieter it gets. This becomes readily apparent from the back of the songthaew (a small truck) when you leave the dock and cruise along the island’s only road hanging on for dear life as you bounce up and down on the sparsely padded benches like Pamela’s boobs did back in her Baywatch days. The best part, though, is that once the ride was over we’d gotten the “Thai” part of the experience out of the way, allowing us to spend the rest of our week reading American novels next to the cozy Dutch pool free from any lingering travel-guilt enjoying the blissful ozone-free rays of the sun…
After five relaxing and mostly uneventful days on Koh Chang it was time to part ways again with Laynni escorting the parents back to Cambodia where they would visit most of the places she and I had been to back in early October including the Angkor complex. Since we saw no burning need for both of us to backtrack (oh, how they begged for my witty company though) I found myself improvising a week of travel in Northeastern Thailand, which would almost certainly involve a rented motorbike since that’s just what I do when Safety Girl is away, like a guy eating chicken wings on the couch and watching Friday night Cinemax when his wife has taken the kids to her parents’ for the weekend.
We rode together as far as the mainland where I was dropped off for the 10 am bus to Khorat. The nice big Pullman bus edged away from the curb at precisely 9:58 with a driver and just one eager passenger, me, smiling idiotically out the window, mentally cheering my good fortune and already brainstorming ways to build a really cool fort out of seat cushions and vomit bags. Unfortunately, though, we continued to pick up more passengers along the route, most of whom only seemed interested in doing grown-up things like sleeping or frowning and showed little interest in hide-and-seek or naked human pyramids.
At this point, I should mention that since the Triumvarate was going to be paying a charitable visit to an orphanage in Cambodia while I was just “pissing around” and, even moreso, due to last year’s ruling that made Laynni a 1 1/2 to 1 majority shareholder in our relationship, she took the camera. Hence, I have been forced to rely solely on my uncanny ability to capture the very essence and depth of any given situation using merely a pen and paper.
First stop, Nakhon Ratchisima, inexplicably called Khorat, a large city in the province of Isaan, which I would use as my base for the week. Got off to a somewhat inauspicious start, though, with the manager of the Tokyo Hotel seeming quite put out by the fact I wouldn’t take a room sight unseen. I soon learned why when it took him about half an hour to Tim Conway-step all the way up to the 5th floor, carefully shuffling his feet inches at a time like his scrotum was inconveniently stapled to his thigh. By the time we finally got there, and he flung the door open like a triumphant mountain climber conquering a new peak, there was no way I was going to turn it down. Which was unfortunate since I then spent the rest of the night alternately chasing and being chased by – cockroaches, depending on their size and relative agressiveness. I may not have won every battle but I’m proud to say I was never pinned for a full three count.
The next morning I set off on a little red Honda Wave, completely unaware that I was starting an epic 600 km journey with a faulty helmet and very little suspension. I spent a couple nights in a town called Nang Rong where I visited a couple interesting Khmer temples (pretty impressive but hard to get excited about after Angkor) and enjoyed the gregarious company of the older female owner of the Honey Inn who wasn’t feeling up to cooking a full meal but continued to ply us with more and more pieces of toast, encouraging us cheerfully to “Eat till you full! Eat till you full!” Her brief attempt to cut up some bananas ended in frustration as she wielded a fierce looking knife and lamented the fact she now had “No power. No power.” as though in her earlier days she had been a brave and feared knight. So myself and a few of the other guests ventured out and found a good local restaurant where the waitress went down the street to procure a huge photo album roughly the size of a dead orangutan that seemed to be shared throughout the entire town and was apparently to be used in the unlikely event someone with blond- or facial-hair showed up. While waiting for them to prepare photos 17, 61, and two 85’s we amused ourselves watching the little sulking white guy, Scottish or Irish, literally guzzle half a beer any time his Thai wife or child spoke, and sometimes closer to a whole beer when the cute little girl poked him playfully in the face with her obscenely oversized blow-up rabbit. If ever a crazy night at a Patpong go-go bar had backfired, this guy was living proof.
The next day I traveled nearly two hours to try to catch the final day of the famous Surin Elephant Round-Up, expecting a tacky, campy but ultimately amusing performance by a highly trained elephant troupe. Got there around 9:30, followed the huge crowds of people to the stadium, wandered around the packed carnival-like midway/market for a while before staking out a prime shady spot in the sparsely-filled bleachers. I leaned back comfortably, enjoying some ice cream and feeling pretty smug about my foresight. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. And waited a little more. Until I was finally approached by a small but loud 60 year old white guy covered head to toe with tattoos and piercings. He and his 20 year old female Thai friend informed me that “Them fuckin’ elephants are already done, man! Fuckin’ split! Just found out! Fuckin’ crazy, man!” I was speechless, but glad he let me know and, to be honest, just a little bit afraid of him. So I caught the next bus back to Nang Rong, stopping only briefly to buy another new hat.
After that I spent a long day puttering along on the shoulder of a major highway on my way to Khao Yai National Park where, completely unprepared as usual, I was forced to rent a tent, a sleeping bag that smelled like stale beer and was covered in toilet paper, and a couple of wicker “sleeping mats” (not sure if they really get the purpose of a sleeping mat). I set myself up in an idyllic position perched on the riverbank, surrounded by nature and next to a group of degenerate punks who abused a guitar and laughed nonsensically until 5am. Felt just like Beaver Glen. I almost apporached the only other white couple in the campground to take solace in shared grievances but veered off at the last minute when I got a closer look at her hefty arms and technically-stylish but frighteningly-repulsive mullet and the pale skinny wanna-be Rasta with his extensive collection of jewelry and vast number of colourful scarves meticulously woven into his cutting edge dreadlocks.
Since I, of course, had brought no food and the campground’s restaurant defied logic and their clearly posted sign which stated they were open until 7:30pm by shutting down at 5pm, I had to force my aching glutes back onto the bike and ride 5km in the dark back to the Visitor Centre where, luckily, a couple small foodstalls remained open. The rice and chili were actually quite good, although I was a bit put off by the bored-looking Thai man sitting a couple tables away who spent the entire time staring at me as he slowly, repeatedly and loudly scraped his dry and already hairless face with a tiny razor blade attached to his keychain. It felt like I was either in a weird Stanley Kubrick film or was receiving a subtle warning from the Thai male population to stop taunting them with my luxuriantly handsome beard. Either way I got the hell outta there.
The park itself was great and I did a bunch of hiking on some surprisingly varied trails, everything from rolling hills covered in chest high grass waving in the breeze to narrow, humid jungle paths knotted and thick with undergrowth like untrimmed pubic hair after a day in the ocean. And, while I spotted a plethora of lesser wildlife such as (at the risk of boring you with technical jargon) many different types of birds, some weird-looking deer and a kind of small fox or wild dog, I came up empty as far as the park’s more famous and elusive inhabitants, wild elephants and Asian tigers (presumably wild as well). I saw plenty of evidence of elephants, often coming across huge swaths of trampled grass and bush, as well as many impressive deposits of elephant dung that reminded me of neatly piled yellow footballs.
I nearly left my own deposit when I thought I spotted a large tiger lounging on a branch off in the distant jungle. I hastily dug out the binoculars, excited to finally use them for something other than spotting thongs from 3rd floor hotel windows, only to discover that the rare predator I was so clumsily stalking was actually just a clump of orange leaves and some dead bark. I should have known it wasn’t real when I failed to hear the stock-footage tiger/panther roar from Swiss Family Robinson. Everybody knows that’s how you track them.
Then a brief stop in Ayutthaya where once again the ancient temples paled in comparison to Angkor (which ones won’t?) and then it was back to Bangkok to meet up with Laynni and her parents. Which is where I learned from Gordie, in Canada, that the Bangkok airports had been take over by government protesters and nobody was flying in or out of the city, not even Laynni’s parents, not even when we asked really nice. Yada, yada, yada, we’re now in Hat Yai in southern Thailand, on our way to an island tomorrow, Koh Lipe, while Lyle and Nadine just left on a minibus for Penang, Malaysia where they will spend a day before flying to Singapore to catch their re-routed flight home. But we are all safe, and Laynni just had her first shower since Cambodia, so thankfully there is still some good news to be had.