So, I believe we left off in Bangkok, where a few thousand unarmed protestors all wearing bright yellow, not exactly stealthy, had somehow seized control of both international airports. They were demanding the Prime Minister step down, as apparently he had already been charged with tampering with the election that put him power a year ago. Either way, what the hell? What’s next – a few dozen ping-pong show specialists sneaking past the sleeping guards and turning the Reclining Buddha into the world’s coolest stripper stage?
Anyway, the airports remained closed for more than a week, stranding over 350,000 would-be passengers, and soon the city started filling up like the tampon you dropped in your buddy’s beer that time as a joke. Basically, a lot of people were coming to Bangkok but nobody was leaving. And a lot of these people were true shoestring backpackers, which by definition means they will sleep on a dirty roach-infested pallet to save 100 Baht, haggle for half an hour to save 30 baht on a ride to the bus station and then, after a meagre 20 baht supper of fried rice, will spend 850 baht on beer. With many of these financial wizards having spent their last few baht getting to Bangkok for their flight every day brought more and more desperate faces to town, plugging away in Internet cafes in search of options, lined up around the block for the Western Union counter, jostling for space at the cheapest food stalls, and trading oily handjobs for bottles of Chang. Lyle and Nadine, however, were fortunate to have us on their side and, of course, some money, which allowed them to continue saving their baby oil for some future special occasion.
Fast forward to Hat Yai, a transport hub in southern Thailand, all four of us at the travel agency nearest the train station jockeying for position among the crowd that had just descended like flies on a pus-filled scab. It seemed everyone was trying to move on – Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore – wherever their airline was willing to give them a seat. Which is how Lyle and Nadine ended up continuing their exhausting stretch of trains, buses, and planes, eventually making it home safely from Singapore a mere four days late. We, on the other hand, stayed overnight to catch a minibus/ferry to Koh Lipe, a small island in Tarutao National Park although as it turned out, we almost never made it out at all. It was raining when we arrived in Hat Yai, it was raining when we tried to leave, and apparently it had been raining for some time before that since the city was literally starting to flood. By the time we got to the bus station the water was too deep for minibuses, but we were lucky enough that they had rounded up a large bus instead, not that these have ever struck me as particularly all-terrain or anything but I guess the theory was the wheels were bigger at least. What can I say? It worked. We meandered slowly out of the city via a winding set of detours, once having to driving in reverse for almost ten minutes after coming to an underpass that was too low, past submerged streets with women trudging through water with groceries held over their heads, kids swimming, a group of men actually trying to fish and one guy in the waist high water with a foolish grin on his face like he’d just finished farting on your grilled cheese sandwich who I’m pretty sure was taking a piss.
Koh Lipe: For us, almost the perfect little island. Small enough to walk around the entire thing in half an hour, just one little village, no real roads, basically just a couple of large sidewalks and a handful of scooters and enough civilization to provide Internet and a choice of restaurants without being overun by mega-resorts or 7-11s. Some might like a little more action, others might say it’s already ruined, but as Goldilocks – and every prostitute aiming to please – says “This one is juuuust right.” Throw in some pretty impressive right-off-the-beach snorkeling and we had ourselves a little chunk of heaven.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t somehow fit in the word “cusp”, as in “Man, this place is so just on the cusp!”, which Laynni mentioned in an amazed and awestruck tone every day or two. She’s right, though, you can actually see the boom taking place, with several new shops and even one relatively large resort (large in the scheme of Koh Lipe, not most islands) literally having opened during our stay. With no central power station, somewhat random garbage pits scattered around the island and seemingly no effort being made to minimize the damage, especially from bottled water, things could start getting real ugly around here at some point. A perfect example: as I write this I’m watching a group of guys dig up large quantities of beautiful white sand from the beach, obviously the island’s bread and butter, and using it to make cement. The cement will then be used to build the new bungalows which they are desperately trying to squeeze into the tiny spaces between the existing bungalows. Yeesh. Who knows, though, maybe they’ll eventually start thinking further ahead than tomorrow’s dinner rush and, in any case, right now it’s still outstanding.
Upon arrival we chose to stay at the one and only place on Sunset Beach because A) it was the first place we saw, B) had a whole set of basic (i.e. cheap)-looking bungalows on a gorgeous stretch of secluded beach and most importantly, C) it was called Porn Resort. Put the kids to bed and plug in the hair dryer, Martha, she’s gonna be a wild one! Ah, if only it had lived up to its lofty name. Unfortunately, though, we found the staff to be somewhat aloof, as though we were just another in a long line of guys with gold chains, hairy shoulders and barbwire tattooed around our biceps. Plus all the beachfront cabins were already taken so we were relegated all the way back to the third row, left in the embarrassing position of being too far from the action to actually get a rug burn yet close enough to see all the debauchery we were missing, like we were Little Bill in Boogie Nights pushing our way through the crowd in the parking lot only to discover that it was our wife getting the business right there on the pavement.
So we moved over to Daya Resort on the larger, more popular Pattaya Beach where we wer able to snag a cool little bungalow right on the beach, anywhere from 30 to 60 metres from the ocean depending on the fickle tides. It was perfect – great view of the bay, good restaurant, comfortable deck excellent for lounging, writing and subtly creeping on the nearby sunbathers. We soon picked ourselves up a hammock which Laynni proceeded to monopolize for all but about the two waking hours over the next ten days, only graciously allowing me to test it out briefly once or twice before sending me on my way with an “Ok, that’s enough now”-frown and accompanying nod of her head in the direction of the cheap plastic chairs. She was even sick for about five days (fever, cold) but the only reason I even noticed was that there was a slight decrease in the number of insults I was enduring.
Really, the only downside to our new place was the pack of short-legged, agonizingly stupid dogs that call it home and use our beach as their Evening Barking Theatre. I have to say this wasn’t good for me as my nights were already pretty full, what with my chronic fidgeting and wonderfully geriatric habit of getting up every night to pee. The last thing I needed was to wake up several times a night to ludicrously monotonous barking, swearing under my breath for awhile before finally getting up, huffing and grunting out to the deck to throw rocks at dark spots in the distance. It usually only worked for a little while anyway, except for the time I actually hit one, and then I couldn’t sleep worried that I’d taken out its eye or something. Which I hadn’t, although maybe that would have done the trick – you know what they say: “It’s all fun and games until the scabby black dog with the droopy testicles loses an eye.”
Even in daylight they were painful as at least three times a day the dog from next door would venture out and our dogs would freak out, barking and running and pissing themselves as though he was the Devil’s Own Poodle come to defile all their little short-legged puppies. Of course, after a couple quick exploratory circles around each other they would settle into the sand side by side like they’ve probably done every day for the last five years.
All of which at least partially explains the inappropriate level of pleasure I got from seeing two of them end up physically stuck together in the act of copulation, whining and whimpering in pain as they shuffled from side to side in front of dozens of beachfront diners. They were locked ass to ass in fittingly Siamese fashion, looking extremely uncomfortable and truly humiliated.
One well-intentioned woman who probably read something once about using a hose to keep dogs from screwing took a couple tentative steps toward them like she was Wil-E-Coyote sneaking up on the Roadrunner before flinging half a glass of water in their general direction. This, of course, only served to startle them into yet another futile attempt to run in opposite directions, resulting in a fresh wave of cries and yelps. Ha ha! How ya like it now bitch?
Buuut…that’s probably enough about dogs….for now, anyway. Let’s see, oh, I know, another fun experience came about after a couple days of watching my grimy, salt-encrusted facial hair store up water to be doled out in annoying drops throughout the day – on my book, my shirt, my lunch, my wife, etc. So I decided to get a shave. Now, while there didn’t appear to be any barbers in the village there were a number of spa/massage/hairdresser places along tourist row. So I thought I may as well ask. Looking back, it shouldn’t have gone any further than the woman hesitating, asking me to repeat myself twice, then looking confused and a little embarrassed before her and her co-workers stepped aside for a short but intense football-style huddle, finally turning back to me with an enormous, reassuring grin, “One hundred baht?” So instead of the logical move – politely declining, not being so damn lazy and shaving myself – I naturally just smiled in relief, said “OK, great” and laid down on their reclining shaving chair. That’s right, laid down. There goes Clue Number Two, flying right over my head like I was John McCain smiling inanely at another of Jon Stewart’s barbs. From there it went downhill fast. Starting with the huge straight razor that was about as sharp as my second grade pink eraser. Undeterred, she really put her back into it, dragging it down my cheeks in fits and starts like she was removing a dog’s winter coat. After that there were multiple attempts to get at the tight spots, alternately pinching, pulling, and twisting my lips, nose and ears in hope of somehow magically turning my face into a two-dimensional surface.
On two separate occasions her fingers actually entered my nostrils, eventually she called in another girl to help swab up the blood from my numerous cuts and then just when I was ready to call it all off she doused my face in what was probably aftershave but felt very much like battery acid, and pronounced the job done. When I eventually stopped crying I took a quick inventory with my hand, feeling the two vastly different sideburns, the several stubbornly persevering patches of hair, noticed that she didn’t shave down my neck at all (that’s where the towel goes, you see) and that she had left a tiny little fringe of hairs in a perfect circle around my lips which produced all sorts of disturbing and unwanted images. “Yep, feels great, gotta go! No, no, I’ve got a mirror in my room, thanks anyway.”
Well, I think that’s enough about Koh Lipe, after reading such a descriptive and relevant travelogue you probably feel like you’ve actually been there. Anyway, we’re now back in Bangkok playing out the string, we fly home tomorrow, ending our 3 1/2 month Asian Extravaganza. That’s assuming, of course, that in the meantime the airport isn’t taken over by yet another group of protestors, maybe in red this time, or even a large group of especially rowdy Girl Guides, all hopped up on cookies and rambunctious about their rapidly changing bodies.