Sunday, January 24, 2010

I didn’t sleep too good…barely got 3 hours in.  That was a bummer because since it was my last night at Carole’s in Bangkok, there was no clue the next time I would have a nice comfy bed and air conditioning.  I guess the jet lag is still going to be a factor for me.  I finally stopped fighting it and got up at 6 and packed everything up.   I was heading to Phuket to do some diving and enjoy the southern beaches of Thailand, which are meant to be some of the best in the world.

I went out in search of some breakfast…since it was early and it was Sunday, there wasn’t much to be found.  I lucked out and found a street vendor and she made a delicious breakfast for me…fried eggs with some meat and veggies over rice with a delicious Thai sauce that had just a hint of spice.  Ummmm…has anyone caught on to the idea yet that I love the food here!?

Back at the apartment, I said my goodbye’s to Carole and Martin and went and grabbed a Taxi to the airport.  The taxi driver was a very friendly guy who spoke decent English.  He was full of questions about the US and eager to talk about some of the places he liked in Thailand.  I also practiced Thai with him a little.  I hope I can get good enough to have interactions with local people but I fear with such a short amount of time, it may be asking too much.

The airport was a little strange so I’ll talk about it quickly.  It seems that here in Bangkok, they opened a brand new international airport about 2 years ago.  That was where I arrived when I flew in from the US.  Since I was now  flying domestically, I went to the old airport, which is only used for that purpose now.  Thailand really isn’t that big and very few people fly domestically as taking a bus is cheaper and unless you’re going to Phuket, the distances are not that large.  The result was a good 75% of the airport was completely unused.  The roads were even blocked off to traffic.  Hopefully they find a use for all those buildings but it was weird to arrive at a large airport in the middle of the day and see absolutely no sign of human life except at one far end.

The flight down to Phuket was barely half full.  These airlines must be struggling a little...although this is officially the tail end of the high season for people going down there.  I didn’t mind, I had a whole row to myself and was able to look out the window at the spectacular views as we approached Phuket, which is basically a large island just near the southern most part of Thailand.  It’s actually more like a Cape, if there is some sort of difference between the two because it’s really more like an extension of the country that broke off at some point but is connected to the mainland by a short bridge.  The main destination on the “island” seems to be a beach called Patong, a place I was sure would be too expensive for my tastes and probably way too packed with tourists.  I decided that I would go and stay in the town of Phuket instead, and use the buses to explore the beaches around the island.  I also figured I might be able to book a cheaper ferry from there to the nearby islands and maybe book a diving trip.

Well, right off the bat, luck was not going my way.  I had just barely missed the shuttle into town and was told there would not be another for 45 minutes or so.  I was not surprised when there was still no shuttle over an hour later.  While I waited, I was happy to learn that my instinct was right on the money...van load after van load of tourists with giant suitcases were being carted off towards Patong and one of the many expensive hotels there.  The whole time I waited, only 3 more people joined me in waiting to go to the main town, and two of them were local Thai people.   Finally, our shuttle came about an hour and 15 minutes into the wait, but to my dismay, it sat there for another 45 minutes waiting for enough people to fill it up.  I really didn’t mind too much...first off I was at the end of my audio book and I was enjoying listening to it.  Secondly, I now live the life of having all the time in the world.  That is the beauty.  No need to hurry around anymore...another problem I always had with the US mentality...everybody is in a hurry for no reason!  This is especially true out east.  A few months back, I went out to Pittsburgh with two friends from Boston.  We had a little snag with our hotel room there on the second day and we lost about 2 hours trying to find an alternative.  One guy had a complete and total melt down about it.  Frustrated and in a hurry for absolutely nothing...what a terrible and stressful way to go through life.  Traveling has taught me patience, and to relax a little and let things come to me.  This small inconvenience at the airport was another good reminder for me that I have all the time in the world now.  Later on, my patience paid off 100 fold.

I took us almost a full hour to get to town so I was definitely progressing slowly.  I got to the hostel and got the very last bed and was happy to find out it was in one of the air conditioned dorm rooms.  One thing that was clear from my time waiting at the is pretty damn hot down here.  My dorm room cost me 350 baht.  Back at the airport, I could have skipped waiting for the shuttle that only cost 100 baht and taken a taxi for 500.  The difference I saved by waiting for 2 hours paid for my nights accommodation and the rest of my food for the day.  Cool.  It was already paying off...but the real reward was still waiting for me, although I didn’t know it at the time.

After checking in a grabbing a beer, I met Emily/England who had just returned from some island called Ko Phi Phi.  Hmmm...I never heard of it but she raved and raved about it.  I had been thinking of going to the Similian islands...I place I read in the guide book had some really good diving.  After looking into it, I discovered that the islands were farther away than I thought, and going there to do any diving at all would cost me about $300 USD minimum.  Hmmmm...way too much.  I decided to ask around the hostel if anyone had dove in Ko Phi guy there said he had done it and it only cost him 2500 baht (USD $75) for a two tank dive.  He also went on and on about how great the place was as well as another guy who heard us talking about it.  That was more than enough endorsement for me.  The plan started falling into place.  I would use the next day to visit a few beaches around Phuket and then catch the ferry over to Ko Phi Phi on Tuesday.  Perfect.  This is the beauty of the hostels...I never heard of the place or knew anything about it and in just 30 minutes I had great recommendations, found out how much accommodation is, and how much the diving would cost.  Coming to places like this beats anything you could ever find in a guide book and you learn things you would never learn by staying in an expensive hotel and being isolated.

With that all settled, Emily and I went out to find some street food.  There weren’t nearly the options available that there were in Bangkok...probably because it was Sunday but I still managed to scrounge up some good stuff.  I was feeling pretty tired when we got back to the hostel.  A couple guys, Joe/England and Will/England were watching The Hunt for Red October.  I was determined to stay awake until at least 9 so that I would be able to sleep through the night.  I dozed on and off through the whole second half of the movie anyway.  I went to bed after that and for the first time since I got here I got some decent sleep.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I woke up around 4:30, which was fine with me because I wanted to watch a little of the NFL games that were on.  I fired up the laptop and was able to watch the second half of the Jets/Colts game and the entire Saints/Packers game with no problem.  You gotta love technology.

After the games were over it was already about 10:00.  Down in the common room I asked around and Joe/England and Will/England were both down for going over to Patong to check out what all the hype was about.  We caught the bus over there…it was just a 30 minute ride or so.  When we got there I was immediately disappointed.  After seeing everyone from the airport flocking there and from what I read online, it was supposed to be some spectacular beach.  It was nothing of the sort.  Perhaps I’m too spoiled, having spent so much time in northern Brazil and in the Carribean.  This beach was jam packed with people and every single one of them were sitting in beach chairs stretched the length of the entire beach AND were 3 or 4 rows deep.  The beach itself stretched on for about 1.5 miles and was more like a Bay with rocky hill sides jutting out on either side.   It wasn’t an ugly beach, but it didn’t even crack my top 50.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that tops were optional on the beach:)  Of course, in that situation it’s almost always more bad than good, and Patong was no exception.  Patong is full of very over weight and not so young Europeans.  Let’s just say I saw several things that I wish I could unsee.

We walked the length of the beach, chatting about our travels the whole way.  It was a nice walk and we worked up an appetite so we sat at a little stand on the beach and had a beer and a delicious chicken sandwich.  While we were sitting there, we met this crazy old French dude that may or may not have been hitting on all three of us.  About 10 minutes into the awkward exchange, the guy’s equally weird brother came up with a Thai girl that was about 45 years younger than him.  Young Thai girl with an old foreigner.  They would have fit in well back on Soi cowboy in Bangkok.  This was not an uncommon site in Patong by the way.

We had enough so we decided to go for a swim.  The water was great!  Then walked back along beach towards where we got off the bus, thinking we might be able to go find a better beach.  That mission got put on hold pretty fast when we stumbled across an Irish pub that we quickly discovered had beer specials and nachos.  We got a table there...before we ordered, Will was being a total ass to the waitress.  Not that he did anything completely offensive or anything, but he was just acting like a 22 year old...which was totally fine because that happens to be his age.  It is tough to be with young people sometimes, but that’s the game when you’re an old dinosaur on the travel circuit like myself.  The average age is probably something like 25 and from time to time, that is VERY evident.

After 3 big beers and food, we had killed pretty much the whole afternoon so we decided to head back to Phuket town.  We had to deal with a bus nazi on the way back, who was yelling at everybody telling people to move down and where to sit, but we made it just fine.  Back at the hostel, Joe/England and I booked our ferry tickets to Ko Phi Phi for the next day.  Later in the evening, Andre/Germany showed up in my dorm room so I invited him long.  He was down so now we had a crew of three...Will/England was unsure of what he would do next so he wasn’t coming with us.

That night, the four of us then went out for dinner and then tried to find good place to party.  Phuket city isn’t the most happening place.  We ended up on one street with small bars with live music in Thai.  It was a strange scene...these little bars were packed with young Thai people.  Every bar seemed to be the exact same, right down to having one person playing live acoustic guitar music in Thai.  I have to admit, the singers weren’t too bad, but the places were all mellow and nobody seemed to be talking to anyone except the other people at their tables.  We didn’t stay out too long.

Back at the hostel there wasn’t much happening either.  I ended up sitting on the roof talking to these guys from Sweden for about an hour.  Finally I called it a night...but I was very excited for what lied ahead.  The three of us would be leaving for Ko Phi Phi the next morning.  Being at the hostel for a couple days had been great.  Waiting to come to town instead of following the other lemmings to Patong had but me right where I wanted to be.  I was back in the travel world...where you stay in a place for a couple days and just like that you have new travel partners and you’re heading off to a place you never heard of.  This is what I live for...and trust me, Ko Phi Phi did NOT disappoint.



Southeast Asia Main Page