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Southern Thailand

2008 May 11
by rob

April 30, 2008

…Continued

So, yeah, I didn’t really do much else that day. At night, I emerged to take pictures of the sunset and find some food. I found a cheapo Thai restaurant and got myself some Pad Thai. I had many a disappointing Pad Thai in Laos and after a while I had to refuse to get them until I got back to Thailand. Thankfully, the Thais know how to make a proper Pad Thai and I was not disappointed.

One of the big inspirations for me on my trip was this blog about the travels of Sean Connolly in 1994-1995. One of the places he went on his trip was Haadrin, just like me. One of my side goals for my trip was to shadow some of the places that he visited 14 years ago. One of the places he really enjoyed was a bar in Haadrin called the Drop In Bar. It’s the location of the world famous Full Moon Party. Even though I wasn’t in Haadrin to attend this party, I still wanted to see what the place was all about.

Well, since it was the off-season and in between big scheduled party events, Haadrin was VERY QUIET. There were a few tourists there, but not many. I got to Drop In Bar around 8 PM and they were just getting set up. There was no one there yet. I was impressed by the bar’s setting though — right on the beach. I asked when the place gets busier. The staff dude said that it would somewhat more lively around 10 PM. There was no way, in my exhausted state, that I’d be able to stay awake that long. I decided to get just one beer and sit around on the beach to drink it. After that, I made the long trek back to my bungalow and passed out for the night.

May 1, 2008

I was not satisfied with my bungalow. It was so far from town that if I had to return back in the dark while drunk, I knew I would fall down a hill into a ditch and never be found again. It didn’t have air con, either, so it wasn’t particularly comfortable. The only thing that was going for it was that it was cheap (350 baht/night = CA$12/night) I’m pretty sure that there was NO ONE else staying there either. Being a loner sucks, so my first agenda for the day was to move to a place closer to the action in the city.

I checked myself into the backpacker place called Same Same right in town. It was well located AND had air conditioning. It was really expensive though. The dude asked 800 baht for my room, but I got him to knock it down to 650 baht/night (about CA$21/night). For Thailand, that’s ungodly expensive, but I guess its the normal sort of price for Haadrin. Oh well. I think one reason that I was able to knock the price down was because my room had a really funny smell in it. I didn’t really like hanging out in there. Ugh.

That reminds me. There seems to be this cultural meme in Southeast Asia that I just don’t understand. People everywhere have T-Shirts that same “Same Same” on the front, but “But Different” on the back. This instance of the Same Same guesthouse is not the first I’ve seen. It’s really common, but I have no idea why, or what it really is supposed to mean. Anyone else know?

I had very little planned for the day. The most important thing I wanted out of Southern Thailand was the BEACHES. I wanted sun. I wanted to tan. I wanted to kill my farmer’s tan once and for all. Swimming would be nice, too.

Haadrin has a really pretty beach. The water is crystal clear and really warm. You know how you often go swimming and the water is cold enough that you have a hard time walking all the way into the water. You edge yourself in slowly as much as you can tolerate. There’s a certain point that you can’t go any farther (usually about crotch level!) unless you force yourself in my jumping in all the way. This didn’t happen in Haadrin. The water was so warm I was just able to walk in without worrying. Beautiful!

I spent the afternoon tanning, reading, and swimming. So relaxing. I loved it. When I had enough sun, I went back to my hotel and played on my Nintendo DS. I was totally addicted to the game Puzzle Quest.

In the afternoon I also went to a bar and watched the movie Planet Terror (from Grindhouse). I was the only person who was watching it. There were a few bars in Haadrin that played movies all afternoon and night to encourage people to come in. It was a business model that was common in Vang Vieng in Laos as well. While watching the movie, I enjoyed a coconut milk soup with bananas.

That night I went to another bar called The Outback Bar and watched some of the British Office. Sorry everyone, I think the American Office is much better. Maybe it’s just because I’ve watched it more and I know the characters better.

At The Outback Bar I talked with a girl named Mish from Vancouver. She had unfortunately booked herself on a scam bus from Bangkok. Certain disreputable travel companies in Thailand offer dirt cheap fares for certain long distance routes (especially the Bangkok to Ko Pha Ngan route). These dirtbags sometimes use gas to knock the passengers out and steal their stuff. Mish had her iPod charger and her money stolen from her. Bummer. I let her borrow my iPod charger overnight so that she could at least charge hers. Who knows why the thieves didn’t steal hers. We traded some books and made plans to meet up in the morning for breakfast so she could return the iPod charger.

Mish went to bed and I went back to the beach. Drop In Bar was still dead, but there was a decent crowd of people in front of this other bar called Cactus Bar. I chatted with some people, drank beers, and watched fire dancers.

May 2, 2008

I met up with Mish for breakfast and got my iPod charger back. She needed to go back to Bangkok to visit the Chinese embassy to get a visa. She was teaching in Shianghai and needed to go back soon. It turned out that she had to leave IMMEDIATELY since the night bus was already full and the embassy was closed that weekend. I said goodbye to my new friend and returned to the beach for more tanning.

I did even less today than yesterday. More reading, tanning, swimming, and playing Puzzle Quest. I tried to watch the movie The Golden Compass at another bar, but the quality of the bootleg was so bad that I had to walk out on it.

That night, I met up with a few people in town and went back to Cactus Bar for more drinks and watching the Fire Dancers. There was a pack of children roaming around the beach trying to sell crappy necklaces to tourists. They were RELENTLESS and VERY ANNOYING. I refused to buy their junk, even though it only cost 20 baht (CA 60 cents). I’ve seen enough children being forced to work in Cambodia and Thailand. A lot of kids are exploited like this in Southeast Asia. Kids should be kids — not romaing around harrasing people at 11 PM trying to peddle wares. I had to be very forceful to get the kids to leave me alone. Gaaaak so annoying.

May 3, 2008

Today I was more ambitious and booked myself on a road safari around the island of Ko Pha Ngan. I really wanted to go snorkeling, but no snorkeling companies on any of the islands around there had optic goggles for me to use. Booo. I decided that I would buy disposable contact lenses when I got to Hong Kong next month and contented myself on the safari instead.

I was the only foreigner on the safari. There were about 8 Thai people that were also on it. The first stop was elephant riding. When I found out that the safari had elephant riding, I wanted to be sure that the animals were well taken care of. The guy at the travel agency (who DID seem really knowledgable), said that he had never heard any complaints and they should be okay. When I got there, though, I saw that they had two elephants chained up in the yard with tip jars around their necks. I was really sad for these elephants. I fed them bananas since I felt sorry for them. While I fed them the bananas, the elephants made a squeaking noise and bowed down to me. Cute, but I wasn’t that impressed.

After the elephants we went to the Chinese Buddhist Temple. It was in a beautiful setting near the northern side of the island. I lit some incense and had my fortune read. I shook a box of sticks until one stick fell out. I remember having my fortune read in Tokyo a really similar way. I’m not sure if this is one of those fortunes that is ruined if you tell anyone, so I’m not sharing it here :P

After the temple, we went to a waterfall. I got to swim in it. The water was cool and fast. When I stuck my head back in the falling water, the force of the water pushed my head down and my feet up in the air, making for an amusing picture.

There were two options for the tour — half and full days. The full day included lunch and snorkeling on top of the stuff I’d already done. I opted for the half day since the snorkeling wouldn’t be that fun for me. However, since I was the only person that day who booked the half day, they decided to let me join them for lunch. While the rest of the people went snorkeling, I could sit on the beach. That sounded fine to me! Free food is always good! And, my only plan that afternoon would have been to sit on the beach in Haadrin anyways.

Lunch was good — Massaman chicken curry (lots of peanuts in there), coconut soup, seafood salad, and lots of rice (as always). Lunch was at a resort with beautiful mountain and sea views.

The weather in Haadrin had been beautiful the whole time. Hot and sunny the whole time. However, right when I was getting back to town after the safari, there was a pretty big thunderstorm. Branches from palm trees were knocked down onto the ground. Our Toyota Land Cruisers made short work of them, though.. even when one branch fell down right on the truck.

That night, I had dinner at Same Same Guesthouse for the first time. I had looked at the menu before, and it had always seemed pretty expensive. However, everyone I talked to said that the food was really good and the portions were pretty big, so I decided to go for it. It was still raining, too, so I didn’t feel like wandering around to find food. Southern Thailand attracts a lot of European tourists, and I think Haadrin, in particular, attracts many Scandinavian ones. There were a few restaurants in town that served Scandinavian food, and Same Same was no exception. I had some fantastic Swedish meat balls, smashed potatoes, peas, carrots, gravy, lingonberry jam. So good. I watched part of a soccer game on the big TV there (Manchester United vs. West Ham, I think). There were a lot of people watching the game, too. During half time, a little Thai girl (I think her parents owned the guesthouse) danced on the stage to music. Cute.

May 4, 2008

Today would be a long day of travel. I was picked up as 6 AM from my guesthouse and driven to the main pier in Thongsala. Then three hours in a ferry back to the mainland. Then about five or six hours on a couple different buses to the city of Krabi on Thailand’s west coast. We got there somewhat late. It was raining most of the day. I wanted to go to Hat Ton Sai beach that night, but that would take almost another hour on a longtail boat then walking. Since it was raining, I decided to make the last leg of the journey in the morning and spend the night in the beach resort town of Ao Nang.

I think that today was the day of the massive cyclone in Myanmar. At the time, I had no idea that I was in a cyclone — or the edges of one, at least. It rained most of the day. At times, the rain was very heavy. It was also pretty windy, too. Thankfully (for me, at least), there was very little damage in Thailand.

May 5, 2008

In the morning I took a long tail boat the rest of the way to Hat Ton Sai. Even though Hat Ton Sai is on the mainland, its on a mountainous peninsula and has no road access to the rest of Thailand.

My real goal was to see the beaches of Railay. Ton Sai, however, is very close to Railay (easy walking distance), less touristy, and much cheaper to stay at — so that’s where I stayed!

The weather was still somewhat rainy today — not as bad as the day before though. When it wasn’t raining, the sky was still overcast and dreary. Bleck.

There’s four ways between Ton Sai and Railay. I knew that they were walking distance from each other before I got there, but I didn’t know how complicated it really was. The most important factor is the tide.

1. The easiest way between Ton Sai and Railay was by long tail boat. This would cost about 50 baht (CA$1.60). You’d usually have to wait for the boat to fill up with passengers before it would leave. Expensive and inconvenient. Bleck.

2. If the tide was low, then you could walk directly from Ton Sai to Railay over the exposed beach in about ten minutes.

3. If the tide was somewhat higher, you could still walk along the beach between the two places. You might have to wade through the water about waist deep, though. You couldn’t walk all the way around though, and would have to scramble between and over big rocks. It would take about twenty minutes.

4. If you didn’t want to get wet, or the sea was rough, there was a walking path around the mountain between the beaches. It was a long haul, and would take like an hour.

The funny thing is, you could see the beaches from each other. Getting between them was the interesting part.

On my first day in Ton Sai I booked myself into a very cheap bungalow. It was no where near the beach. Cold shower only. Electricity only between 7 PM and 7 AM. Fan only (aircon? ha!). I didn’t even have a mirror in my bathroom. For three days I didn’t shave or style my hair. Haha. The bungalow was only 150 baht/night (CA$5/night).

I didn’t really do much that day except walk around and take pictures. I tried swimming on the beach, but Ton Sai beach is too rocky to enjoy swimming at. I walked to Railay and swam a bit there. Much nicer. But the tide was coming up, so I didn’t stay there long.

May 6, 2008

The weather was gorgeous today. Hot and sunny. Perfect beach weather. I walked the long way around to Railay and took lots of pictures. I really wanted to get to Pha Ngan beach at the far southern end of the island. Since the tide was high, I had to wade through nipple deep water along Railay West to get there. I was rewarded with the most beautiful beach I had ever seen. Dramatic limestone mountains coming right out of the mountain. Powdery white sand. Turquoise water. Fantastic.

After I got back to Ton Sai, I enjoyed a Mango and Sticky Rice for lunch and spent the afternoon at Freedom Bar — a bar right on the beachside. The water was still high, so the beach didn’t really exist. That’s okay, they had a nice comfy patio with lots of pillows and mats to chill on. I was able to work on my tan just fine there.

May 7, 2008

I went to Railay again a bit today. The tide was high in the morning, so the beach was pretty small. Then it started to rain, so I escaped back to Ton Sai. Railay was really expensive, so I didn’t really want to do anything there other than sit and swim on their beach.

Sean Connolly had been to Railay on his travels 14 years ago too. When he was there, though, there was very little tourist development. It was a quiet place with only a few travelers. I can see that it would be as close to paradise as anything. He got stuck there for weeks before he moved on. I wish that could happen to me, but it wouldn’t be at Railay. There was just too much “stuff” there now. That, and the rain was uncool. It was like the rainy season in Thailand was started by hitting a switch. Before this week, it had barely rained on me at all in my two months in Asia. Now, it rained almost every day. I thought I had another few weeks before the rainy season really started. What a drag.

That night, I met up with a couple other travelers (Ryan from Vancouver and Karen from Scotland). We had a few buckets of cheap Thai Sangsom whiskey and coke at this really chill bar called Kasbah. The DJ played really good music (including some requests). It was the drunkest I had been in weeks. When I stumbled back to my dark bungalow, I fell and scratched the back of my leg. Ow.

May 8, 2008

It was time to leave Ton Sai. I needed to go to Malaysia next, but it was a bit too far to go the whole way in one shot. I decided a reasonable go would be to go to Trang first — about halfway between Krabi and the Malaysian border.

I was not feeling well after my whiskey the night before. It was the first time I had ever puked on a bus.

Trang is definitely off of the tourist trail. I don’t think there was anyone else staying at my guesthouse while I was there. I only saw like three other white people in the city — and most of them were old white men with young Thai girls. Ugh.

Trang has a cool night market. Lots of vendors with cheap and good food! My favourite! I also bought a pair of shorts for 400 baht (CA$12). That night, they had a live Thai band. I watched them for a bit, but they weren’t that good and it started to rain, so I left. I needed to play more Puzzle Quest!

May 9, 2008

Didn’t have much appetite today. I wasn’t really feeling well, to be honest. I couldn’t have been the whisky, that was two days ago. I didn’t really know what was wrong with me. I ate at the hours I was supposed to eat, but wasn’t really hungry. I spent a chunk of the afternoon playing Puzzle Quest and using the internet. There really wasn’t much to do in Trang, to be honest. My guesthouse actually had a TV so I spent a lot of time watching the news about the cyclone.

I wanted to hit up the night market again, but it was raining most of the afternoon, so they closed up early. Trang sucks. It was a good thing I was leaving in the morning.

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