One of my favorite weeks this trip. My dear friend Leah from Texas visited me…Y’all! We spent a few days in Bangkok, then headed down south for some beach time. We started off in Krabi, where we stayed near Railay East. The most impressive part was the huge limestone cliffs towering over the beaches. We encountered monkeys, who love to eat winged ants, and we watched a really pretty sunset on the beach. From there we headed off to Ko Phi Phi.
I wasn’t really impressed with Ko Phi Phi. The island is overrun by basic b!$%#*s (and I mean both guys and girls) which kinda got to me, and I expect my friend felt the same way. My favorite day there was when we took a boat to visit Maya Beach, yes…the one in the movie The Beach (it was much prettier in the movie, but then again everything is). What they don’t tell you, until you arrive on the beach of course, is that there is a 400 baht fee to get off the goddamn boat and enjoy the beach. Apparently, it was only 100 baht until just a few days before our arrival. So… in protest, we didn’t pay the extortionistic amount and we didn’t leave the boat. Ok…well, when the boatman wasn’t looking, I put on my snorkel and goggles and slipped off the starboard side. I swam around for about 15 mins and climbed back on the boat James Bond-style before anyone caught on. The fee is supposed to go towards the clean-up of the beach. However, judging by the trash there, it’s more likely that the money is going straight into the pockets of the Phi Phi National Park officials.
However, after our 1.5 hours on the boat, we went to another area to snorkel. The water was clear enough to see quite far down and we swam amidst the towering cliffs. We swam back to the boat when my friend and I spotted a large jellyfish a few meters in front of us. Seeing the alien translucient body not 2 meters in front of me gave me a fright. We also stopped by at Monkey beach. A beach known for…it’s monkeys. Some westerners from other boats were acting like typical ignorant douchebags towards the monkeys, but otherwise it was cool to see them. One jumped on a boat as it pulled away from the coast and started eating other people’s lunches through the plastic, and finally dived into the water and swam back to the beach. That day was pretty eventful, and our bodies were a nice reddish color at the end of the day.
Finally we headed back to Krabi a day before our flight back to Bangkok, this time staying in Krabi town. We rented a motorbike and visited Fossil Beach, a beach with thousands of fossilized shell fish, and went to the top of a hill with Hindu deities.
Really the best part of the week was having a friend from back home with me. She was a very easy going travel partner, utterly patient with my non-planning aheadness, and ok with me blasting the air-con at night.
Koh Phangan is known for its full-moon party debauchery. Luckily for my tastes, when I went it was low-season and this otherwise party-hard island was calm and quiet. As the boat pulled up to the dock, I was instantly mesmerized by the blue water of a clarity that I so rarely get to see. I rented a motorbike, found a guesthouse and set about exploring the different beaches around the island.
And that defined my time there. I spent a lot of that time reflecting and processing some of the events of my trip and thinking about the people I’d met. My mind kept going to the lesson of impermanence that this trip keeps teaching me time and again. My favorite beaches were Chalokam and Bottle beach, I had to commandeer a boat to get to the latter. I even enjoyed Haad Rin beach, wehere the full-moon party takes place. I took a couple walks along that beach at night, looking out at the stars and listening to the gentle waves. Everyday was the same: Food, beach, food, beach, food, sleep…
My time on Koh Tao was much more eventful. Koh Tao is know for it’s scuba diving schools, and as soon as I arrived I had picked a small school to start me on my way to open-water diving certification. I stayed at Spicy Tao hostel, a nice out-of-the way place with a really friendly staff. I met some really cool people there, and in between my diving days I went out with a few of them to eat or grab a drink.
Scuba diving was an amazing and very alien experience for me. Growing up in the desert, I wasn’t around water much except in the summers when I’d hit the pool on the hottest days when the sun was really beating me down. Being underwater and having to breathe normally took a little getting used to. Once I felt a little more relaxed under the water, I was in awe. It’s another world down there, swimming close to the coral, the fish of different neon colors, the giant clams. Sometimes I would look up, unable to see the shimmer of the surface. I must say I didn’t enjoy some of the training like taking my mask completely off at the bottom and putting it back on, and clearing the water with my nose. Other than that, I enjoyed and completed my training and am now certified to dive in open-water up to 18 m.
During my final couple days in Hanoi, the overwhelming sensation that I had spent quite enough time in Vietnam came over me. The very next day I caught a flight back to Bangkok.
My lady from Brazil was also there awaiting her flight home a few days later. The first time I was in Bangkok I hated it. Too many tourists, too loud, too this, too that. However, this time I thoroughly enjoyed myself. One day, we spent time walking around the calm University Area and later took a boat to the other side of the city. It was pleasantly devoid of tourists. On another day we visited the enormous Chatuchak Weekend Market. We tried our best to restrain ourselves from buying things that would weigh down our packs. One night we walked around Chinatown enjoying the smells of the food stalls where we eventually ate before going back to our area. It was a wonderful week with wonderful company, eating and walking and taking it all in.
Once she left, I knew I had to get out of Bangkok because my experience of the city wouldn’t be the same. I took a train to Surat Thani and spent the next 10 days on the islands Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Whilst in Koh Phagnan, I learned that a dear friend from Austin would be visiting me for a week. A new phase of my Bangkok experience was under way. Enter Bangkok part 3…
This time we did many of the tourist things I didn’t do the first two times. Her first day in Thailand we visited the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho. The next day we checked out the Golden Mount and a few very impressive nearby Wats. That day was also a nature sighting day for us. In that area we saw a 3 ft (1 m) long Monitor lizard swimming in a dark-murky canal, and closeby we found a huge millipede and another large monitor in the alleys near the ramshackle homes that line the canal.
My favorite site that we visited was the Grand Palace. I was previously reluctant to go in because of the 500 baht ($17) entrance fee. Later after having been I was glad I went, as Wat Phra Kaew (home of the Emerald Buddha), and the pagodas and murals were the best I’ve seen in SE Asia. I enjoyed walking alongside the Wat’s 100 m long mural depicting very interesting stories of Thai mythology. I say ‘mythology’ for lack of a better word. Personally I believe in the possible partial truth of many culture’s mythologies. What stood out to me about the mural was the stark visual difference between many golden clad deities or figures and the simply dressed, dark-skinned humans. My friend and I talked about the correlation between these depictions and our own theories of Human-Alien hybridization.
My second and third visits to Bangkok were a huge improvement over the first. I learned that it’s a very interesting city once you get away from the boozy tourist spots near Khao San road. After a couple busy packed days in Bangkok, my friend and I headed south to Krabi for some beach time.
The day I left the Forest Monastery and hitchhiked to Mae Hong Son, my stomach started hurting. Luckily, I got all the way there before I came down with full blown gastroenteritis (yup…stupid ass stomach flu). That being said, I didn’t see a lot of Mae Hong Son. Though, I can tell you this:
1) There were few tourists – At least, I didn’t see very many. I think Mae Hong Son is a bit off the regular traveler’s route. I like that.
2) The food is the best I’ve had in Thailand – At least two meals I had there were the best I have eaten during my month in country.
3) The surrounding area is beautiful – If I coulda, I woulda rented a motorbike and explored. Oh well… another reason to come back.
Sorry folks, I don’t have a lot of advice about what to do in Mae Hong Son. I can however, give advice on what to do if you get gastroenteritis (stomach flu) in Thailand:
1) Go to pharmacy, buy three days worth of Imodium and something for stomach cramps.
2) Buy a bunch of Gatorade and Water.
3) Get a room with a bathroom in it (don’t pay more than 300 baht).
4) Don’t eat spicy food.
5) Do get banana smoothies for/with breakfast.
6) Wait patiently for the virus to fuck off…
So, if you are in northern Thailand, and you have the time, check out Mae Hong Son. Don’t get sick on the way, that way you’ll see more than I did! Next stop Chiang Rai!